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Good evening/afternoon/morning poets. My name is Tony Maude and it’s my pleasure and privilege to once again act as your host here at dVerse … smiles

The last few times I have been behind the bar I have invited you to return to the roots of our craft and think about poetry as an aural experience – as a spoken-word art form. So far we have looked at the effects of rhythm/meter and rhyme. Today I would like us to consider the use of repetition in our verse.

Poetry and Music

One way to think about the art of prosody – that is writing poems – is to compare and contrast it with writing music. In music, the basic unit of a piece is the bar. Each bar contains a set number of beats and each beat is of a set length. So in a piece of music written in 4/4 time, each bar contains four beats; in 6/8 time each bar contains six beats etc.

As the bar is to music, so the line is to poetry. In traditional form poetry each line of verse contains a set number of poetic feet; trimeter has three feet, tetrameter has four, pentameter has five etc.

In music, the second factor in determining the rhythm of a piece is the length of the notes in each bar. So a minim lasts 2 beats, a crotchet lasts 1 beat, a quaver is a half-beat note etc. A typical bar in 4/4 time contains four crotchets; in 6/8 time there are 6 quavers in a bar etc.

It’s similar in poetry, except that where composers work with notes, we work with poetic feet; iambs, dactyls, amphibrachs etc. When we analyse a line of poetry, we are looking both for the number and type of feet that it contains. So, for example, a line of iambic pentameter contains five iambic feet like this;

ti tum/ ti tum/ ti tum/ ti tum/ ti tum
The sound/ of pass/ing traff/ic fills/ my ears.

Another device in musical composition is the use of repeated phrases – the repetition of the ‘da da da dah’ phrase at the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is a fine example of this – or, in songwriting, the use of a chorus – a part of the song that is sung more than once.

As it is for composers, so it is for poets; we are also able to make use of repetition. And while we rarely if ever write complete choruses, we can (and many poets do) make use of repeated words, phrases and even one or more complete lines.

Repetition of a Single Word

By repetition of a single word as a poetic device I don’t mean the repeated use of line-ending words called for in the sestina, so everyone can relax, me included … smiles. What I mean is the deliberate use of the same word two or more times in direct succession. Here’s an example:

The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf?
It is not mine. Do not accept it.

Acetic acid in a sealed tin?
Do not accept it. It is not genuine.

A ring of gold with the sun in it?
Lies. Lies and a grief.

(from The Couriers by Sylvia Plath)

Can you see/hear the way that the impact of the word ‘lies’ is emphasised by repetition?

Here’s another example:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(from Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas)

Again, did you sense the intensity of feeling created by the repetition of the word ‘rage’?

I’m not aware of a poetry form that requires this type of repetition (I stand to be corrected on that … smiles). Perhaps you could invent one?

Repetition of a Phrase

Repetition of a phrase within a poem can be used in a number of ways; to tie a poem together, to emphasise the theme of a poem etc. Many of the traditional poetry forms make use of the device of a repeated phrase (also known as a rentrement or refrain). These include the rondeau, the rondolet, the ghazal (see also here), the rondel and the roundel (be warned, these forms are likely to appear in future MTB articles from me … smiles). But the use of a repeated phrase is not limited to traditional forms. For example:

Jenny kissd me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list
, put that in!
Say Im weary, say Im sad,
Say that health and wealth have missd me,
Say Im growing old, but add,
Jenny kissd me.

(Jenny Kissd Me by Leigh Hunt)

It seems to me that the key to this type of repetition is to find a phrase that actually merits repeated use in your work. It’s not as easy as you might think … smiles.

Perhaps you might like to explore the use of a repeated phrase in a traditional form? Or you might like to invent your own form that includes the use of a refrain?

Repetition of One or More Lines

We can, of course, choose to repeat one or more entire lines in our poems – and this is done in several traditional forms. But if finding a phrase that bears repeated use in a poem is hard, then finding one or more lines that are truly worthy of repetition is fiendishly difficult. (Perhaps this difficulty goes a long way to explaining why truly great villanelles are few and far between?) However, it can be done, as this villanelle by W H Auden demonstrates:

Time can say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you, I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time can say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although
Because I love you more than I can say
If I could tell you, I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time can say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you, I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away?
Time can say nothing but I told you so.
If I could tell you, I would let you know.

(If I Could Tell You by W H Auden)

Traditional poetry forms that require the repetition of one or more lines include the villanelle, the kyrielle, the quatern, the triolet, the pantoum (see also here) and the rondeau redouble (which looks really difficult, has four refrain lines and might also appear in a future MTB article!)

The prompt.

Today’s prompt is to explore the use of repetition in poetry. You might want to try one of the traditional forms linked above, you might want to invent your own form that uses repetition, or you might want to write in free verse using repetition to emphasise emotion, highlight your theme etc. The choice is yours … smiles.

Here’s what to do now:

• Write your poem and post it to your blog.
• Add a link to your poem via the ‘Mr Linky’ below.
• This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog URL and entered your name, click Submit. Don’t worry if you don’t see your name right away.
• Read and comment on other people’s work to let them know it’s being read.
• Share your work and that of your fellow poets via your favourite social media platforms.
• Above all – have fun!

Image: Bird Fish by M C Escher (from wikiart.org)