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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Hemistich \Hem"i*stich\ (?; 277), n. [L. hemistichium, Gr. "hmisti`chion; "hmi- half + sti`chos row, line, verse: cf. F. h['e]mistiche.] Half a poetic verse or line, or a verse or line not completed.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"half a poetic line," 1570s, from Middle French hémistiche, from Latin hemistichium, from Greek hemistikhion "half-line, half-verse," from hemi- "half" (see hemi-) + stikhos "row, line of verse" (see stair).


n. 1 An approximate half-line of verse, separated from another by a caesura, often for dramatic effect 2 An unfinished line of verse


A hemistich (; via Latin from Greek , from "half" and "verse") is a half-line of verse, followed and preceded by a caesura, that makes up a single overall prosodic or verse unit. In Classical poetry, the hemistich is generally confined to drama. In Greek tragedy, characters exchanging clipped dialogue to suggest rapidity and drama would speak in hemistichs (in hemistichomythia). The Roman poet Virgil employed hemistichs in the Aeneid to indicate great duress in his characters, where they were incapable of forming complete lines due to emotional or physical pain.

In neo-classicism, the hemistich was frowned upon (e.g. by John Dryden), but Germanic poetry employed the hemistich as a basic component of verse. In Old English and Old Norse poetry, each line of alliterative verse was divided into an "a-verse" and "b-verse" hemistich with a strong caesura between. In Beowulf, there are only five basic types of hemistich, with some used only as initial hemistichs and some only as secondary hemistichs. Furthermore, Middle English poetry also employed the hemistich as a coherent unit of verse, with both the Pearl Poet and Layamon using a regularized set of principles for which metrical (as well as alliterative) forms were allowed in which hemistich position.

Usage examples of "hemistich".

Other types of poetry may use an occasional hemistich to give the effect of emotionally disturbed thought or action.

We may deeply admire and wonder, and, in another line or hemistich, grow indifferent or slightly averse.

Read it, and if you find a single hemistich in it I will confess myself in the wrong.