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The best authors know how to make use of literary devices to help their writing pack more punch. One of these tactics includes using strategic repetition of words and phrases. 

Most teachers would discourage you from repeating words, as it can easily get redundant and boring. But when you know how to use repetition in a strategic way, you can make your writing really pop. One of the most common ways of repeating words is called anaphora. 

What Is Anaphora? 

Anaphora is one of the oldest known literary devices. It refers to the deliberate repetition of the first part of a sentence to add emphasis and an artistic appeal. 

The word “anaphora” has its roots in the Greek, meaning “to carry up or back.” 

One of the oldest literary works to use anaphora is the Bible, with the songs and poems in the Book of Psalms using plenty of it. In fact, this book is said to be the main influence for future writers who used anaphora.

Take a look at the following excerpt from the Psalms: 

Psalm 20

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah
May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!

In this Psalm, the continued repetition of the word “may” at the start of each line makes the whole song clearly a plea to some Greater Being. 

Are Anaphora and Repetition the Same Thing? 

Anaphora is one of the repetition strategies that writers use, but repetition is not limited to anaphora. Many other types of repetition exist, such as epistrophe, which repeats the word or words at the end of a line instead of the beginning.

What Is an Anaphora in Poetry? 

Anaphora in Poetry Image
Photo by jules a. on Unsplash

Anaphora is a favorite tool for poetry. The repetition creates a driving rhythm because of the same sound at the start of every line. 

For example, check out this excerpt from the poem Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking by Walt Whitman:

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands and the fields beyond, where the child leaving his bed wander’d alone, bareheaded, barefoot,
Down from the shower’d halo,
Up from the mystic play of shadows twining and twisting as if they were alive,
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,

The repetition of the word “Out” at the start of every line creates a steady rhythm for this poem. 

Examples of Anaphora in Literature 

In prose, you can also see plenty of anaphora, such as in the following examples in literature: 

Example #1. From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Although “it was” may seem like the most boring way to start a sentence, the constant repetition shows us that it was a deliberate choice of words, creating a contrast between the two successive ideas. 

Example #2. Sonnet No. 66 by William Shakespeare

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.

In this sonnet, Shakespeare starts ten lines with the word “and,” creating a sense of continuity and rhythm. 

Example #3. From Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania…

In this speech, the constant repetition of the phrase “let freedom ring” stirs up strong emotion for the listeners. 

Example #4. Psalm 29 from The Bible

anaphora Bible psalms image
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, 
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. 

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

In this excerpt of Psalm 29, you can see the first stanza or verse having the word “Ascribe” constantly repeated. The next few passages repeat the phrase “The voice of the Lord,” partly to focus the reader’s attention on that aspect of God’s power, but also to give the whole psalm an artistic feel. 

Using Anaphora in Writing 

Now that you’ve seen how writers use anaphora, you can try to apply it in your own writing. Whether you’re writing a poem, a song, or any piece of prose, choose a part you want to repeat. It will help you emphasize that passage, especially in contrast to all the other parts. 

Keep practicing until you feel comfortable with it, and then try to mix it up with other literary devices as well! 

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