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Repetition, Repetition, Repetition!
Repetition is all around us; in music, in advertising, in our everyday conversation. We use it for emphasis, to drive home our meaning, to get the reader/listener’s attention; we use it to make our songs catchy and singable; we use repetition to make our words more memorable.
“Repetition can be one of the most intoxicating features of poetry”
Poets, like composers and lyricists, make use of repetition; we use repeated words, phrases and even repetition of complete lines.
Repetition of a Single Word
Consider the strength of emotion conveyed by Whitman with the words, “But O heart! heart! heart!” in O Captain! My Captain!
O Captain! My Captain!
by Walt Whitman
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
Anaphora is a particular type of repetition; that of a single word or short phrase used at the beginning of succeeding lines that often gives a poem a liturgical feel. Martin Luther King, Jr. employed it in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, giving us a sense of a poetic and rhythmic quality. William Blake (one of my favorite poets) used anaphora effectively in The Tyger and here, in the second stanza of London:
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
Repetition of a Phrase
“Quoth the raven…” Of course we all know what comes next; Nevermore! Poe repeats this famous phrase but with differing intent and meaning as the tale progresses, lending the reader a growing sense of unease. Repetition of a phrase can point your reader to a motif or theme to which you want them to pay attention. From the same poem, the twisting repetition of the phrase, “…and nothing more” leads us to that dreadful knowledge that our narrator is left with nothing due to his loss and to the eternal implications for both he and Lenore.
Repetition of Lines
There are forms that require repetition of lines, like the Villanelle, Pantoum or Triolet.
Maya Angelou employed line repetition in Phenomenal Woman with the following:
I’m a woman
Your challenge, my fellow poets, is to make use of repetition; perhaps select one of the types that I’ve mentioned, or blend several; you might try your hand at a repetitive form like a Villanelle.
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