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Listen to This: Anaphora

What do you notice in this poem of Walt Whitman? And what effect does it produce?

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

To a Locomotive in Winter
by Walt Whitman
Thee for my recitative,
Thee in the driving storm even as now, the snow, the winter-day declining,
Thee in thy panoply, thy measur’d dual throbbing and thy beat convulsive,
Thy black cylindric body, golden brass and silvery steel,
Thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting rods, gyrating,
shuttling at thy sides,
Thy metrical, now swelling pant and roar, now tapering in the distance,
Thy great protruding head-light fix’d in front,
Thy long, pale, floating vapor-pennants, tinged with delicate purple,
The dense and murky clouds out-belching from thy smoke-stack,
Thy knitted frame, thy springs and valves, the tremulous twinkle of
thy wheels,
Thy train of cars behind, obedient, merrily following,
Through gale or calm, now swift, now slack, yet steadily careering;
Type of the modern–emblem of motion and power–pulse of the continent,
For once come serve the Muse and merge in verse, even as here I see thee,
With storm and buffeting gusts of wind and falling snow,
By day thy warning ringing bell to sound its notes,
By night thy silent signal lamps to swing.
Fierce-throated beauty!
Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music, thy swinging lamps
at night,
Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like an earthquake,
rousing all,
Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding,
(No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib piano thine,)
Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return’d,
Launch’d o’er the prairies wide, across the lakes,
To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.

Public Domain

I’ve no doubt the repetitious use of thee and thy for thirteen lines upfront (with the exception of one the, which sounds the same) caught your attention. Whitman turned to a poetic device called anaphora, employing the use of a repeated sound, word or phrase at the beginning of each line, or possibly, each stanza. In this poem, Whitman is addressing, personifying, exalting the power of the locomotive. The anaphora commands our attention, draws us into the flow, sound and rhythm of the crushing. powerful creature in such a way that the overall effect is musical. Reading it aloud can leave you dizzy and out of breath.

Let’s take a look at another poem with a quite different tone in which the poet uses anaphora. This time I turn to William Shakespeare:

Sonnet 66

“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.”

Public Domain


Photo Credit: madrabbit2112

How does this poem compare with Whitman’s work? Again, the repetition of and creates a driving rhythm and intensifies emotions, but the overall feeling or tone of the poem is quite different. The locomotive’s restless pounding gives way to a bit of near-despair that’s allayed in the turn in the final couplet by his devotion to the beloved.

For today’s prompt, let’s write a poem using anaphora. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

• Choose an emotion you wish to portray and a word or sound that will help to enhance that emotion and have at it.
• Consider an object or a person you would like to revere or to whom/which you would show scorn and take it away.
• Write a narrative poem, a speech. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream comes to mind. Read it over and see how his repetition drives home the point. So, make a point.
• “Google” poems using anaphora. You’ll find a plethora of them. Take one and twist it, using the same phrase but your own thoughtS.
• What about a bit of humor? I couldn’t find any examples, but I bet some of you can come up with something.

Photo Credit: modtheism.com

Photo Credit: modtheism.com

These are just jump starts. Please don’t feel you have to confine yourself to these suggestions. I hope you enjoy working with this most effective device—many poets have.

To participate:

• Write your poem and post it on your blog or web site.
• Copy and paste the direct URL to your post into the Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post. He’ll ask you for your name, too.
• Leave a comment, and may I suggest, if you have any favorite anaphoric poems that come to mind, how about adding the title and the poet’s name?
• Head on into the pub where we’ll be serving fine wine from an amphora of anaphora, read some rhythmic poetry, enjoy the musical quality of the evening and visit the work of your fellow pubsters. They appreciate your comments and, hopefully, will return the visit.
• You may want to put the word out on your social networking media that the doors are open, Thursday, the 27th, at 3:00 EDT. We welcome new visitors and poems searching for a place to commune with other word artisans.

Happy to be hosting this evening at dVerse, this is Victoria. Red, white or rose? Or, if wine isn’t your thing, whatever…but poetry is on tap.