Saturday, July 21, 2018

Prompt #318 – Feeling Anaphoric

Summer always seems a good time for “re-runs” when I like to revisit some of the older posts from years past. I sometimes add ideas or guidelines for your enjoyment.

This prompt goes back to October 1, 2011 and deals with anaphora, a literary device based on repetition. Like a good bassline in a song, anaphora can drive the rhythm of a poem.

Anaphora, also called epanaphora, derives from the Greek for “a carrying up or back” and is characterized by repetition of single words or phrases. In poetry, anaphora occurs when several lines or successive clauses begin with the same word or phrase. 

Anaphora, arguably the oldest literary device, has its roots in Biblical Psalms used to emphasize certain words or phrases. Gradually, Elizabethan and Romantic writers brought this device into popular practice. Take a look at the following psalm:
 “O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
    Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
    My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?”

The repetition of the phrase “O Lord,” creates a spiritual sentiment. This is anaphora.

In poetry, there are times when using a word or phrase more than once weakens its impact; however, anaphora can raise the bar for repetition to create parallelism, enhance rhythm, intensify emotion, and strengthen sonic impression.

A good example of this is Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 66” in which ten lines begin with the word “and.”

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly – doctor-like – controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone. 


1. This week, try to write a poem in which you use anaphora. 

2. For starters, you may want to limit the poem to fifteen lines or less. 

3. With good anaphora the poet creates a kind of tension that is released into “wisdom” with a “punch” at the dismount.


1. Clearly, anaphora effects a poem’s sound and how it is read, sometimes creating a kind of chant or litany effect. There is, however, a fine line between heightened effect and boring reiteration—the trick is not to overdo. Very often less is more.


1. Emily Brontë’s "Remembrance" in which the opening phrase, “Cold in the earth” is repeated.

2. “The Tyger” by William Blake (repetition of “what”)
“What the hammer? what the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?”

3. “Birds of Passage” by Walt Whitman (repetition of “O”)
“O you daughters of the West!

O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives!

Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united,

Pioneers! O pioneers!”

4. Whitman used anaphora extensively in his poems. Here’s an example:


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