All terms

What is a Catalectic?

A catalectic line of verse is missing an unstressed syllable at its end.

The Unfinished Symphony: An Exploration of Catalectic in Creative Writing

Catalectic, pronounced ca-ta-LEC-tic, is a technical term from the world of poetry and verse that refers to a line of poetry that is missing an unstressed syllable at the end.

This missing syllable results in a shortened line that can make the verse feel incomplete or unfinished, which can be used to create a sense of tension or suspense. The word comes from the Greek word katalēktikos, meaning 'incomplete' or 'lacking an end.'

In creative writing, catalectic lines can be used intentionally to create a specific effect, such as in a poem with a melancholy or unresolved theme. But it's also important to understand the difference between a catalectic line and a truncated line, which is simply a line that ends abruptly without any intended effect.

Understanding catalectic is a useful tool for writers looking to add depth and complexity to their work, and it's also an interesting example of how language and vocabulary evolve over time.

The Art of Leaving Things Unsaid: Examples of Catalectic in Literature
Catalectic adds layers of meaning and ambiguity to writing - here are two examples of how writers play with it:
Shakespeare's Sonnet 129

Shakespeare uses catalectic lines to capture the reeling, out-of-control nature of lust in this sonnet:

'The expense of spirit in a waste of shame / Is lust in action; and, till action, lust / Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame, / Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust…'

Verse in Lord Byron's "The Bride of Abydos"

Lord Byron uses catalectic lines to convey the sense of gloom and uncertainty hanging over the events of the poem:

'But with a milder mood [the star] does return; / And the cold world hath felt the sun's warm ray; / The widowed Indian, Asra, gazes on the urn, / Which holds his father's ashes, cold and grey…'