Repetition in poetry is used for many different reasons. Poets use repetition to emphasize an idea, emption or message they want the reader to clearly remember or understand. They can also use it to create rhythm, sound effects, tone, and mood.
10 Examples of Repetition in Poetry
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep.
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
The repetition found in the final lines of one of Robert Frost’s most memorable poems closes out a peaceful moment where the speaker stops with his horse to admire the beauty of the falling snow in the woods. While the speaker would like to stay there longer, he still has “miles to go before I sleep.” This reflects both the length of the speaker’s journey and the length of the winter evening, the “darkest evening of the year.” It will be a long time before spring, and a long time before the speaker is done with his journey.
The Odyssey by Homer
“When the young Dawn, with fingertips of rose, lit up the world…”
This epic metaphor, repeated throughout the epic poem The Odyssey during Odysseus’ recounting of his adventures to the Phaecian king Alcinous, draws a common thread throughout each adventure. The purpose of the repetition of this metaphor draws the listener’s (or reader’s) attention to a new, important adventure in the story, usually begun with a new morning, and a new hardship Odysseus must again overcome in order to get back home to Ithaca and his family. The metaphor also highlights the Greek belief that the elements and phenomena of nature, including Dawn and Dusk, were physical embodiments of the gods.
“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
“Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly, I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow— sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here forevermore.”
The repetition of “sorrow” and “Lenore” in this famous poem by Edgar Allan Poe highlights the speaker’s lament for his lost love: a woman named Lenore. The raven brings the speaker the devastating news that he will never see Lenore again, enhancing the speaker’s sorrow and preoccupation with her loss.
“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare
“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
The final couplet from Shakespeare’s famous sonnet has a double meaning. After describing the beauty of the speaker’s lover, depicting her as more beautiful than a summer’s day and insisting that her beauty will never fade like the summer, the speaker turns his eyes to the future when beauty does usually fade. However, the speaker insists that “so long” as people are alive and have eyes to read and see, this poem will also live forever, giving life and beauty back to the speaker’s subject of adoration. Since the sonnet has now existed for at least 400 years, it is indeed a “long” time to continue to remember this woman’s beauty and her impact on the speaker.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
“The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.”
Maya Angelou’s famous poem explores the oppression and discrimination of African Americans throughout America’s history. She compares the oppression to that of a “caged bird”, and analyzes why a bird who could not be free still sings, even when it seems fruitless. She uses repetition of the phrase “the caged bird sings” to contrast the suppression of freedom with the hope of freedom, found in the voice of the bird and in the African American people who still hope for an equal society one day.
“Something Missing” by Shel Silverstein
“I remember I put on my socks,
I remember I put on my shoes,
I remember I put on my tie
That was painted in beautiful purples and blues.”
This fun poem by Shel Silverstein uses repetition of the phrase “I remember” to draw attention to all of the items of clothing the speaker remembers to put on. However, the end of the poem, along with the accompanying illustration, reveals that remembering to put on all of these items of clothing does not help if something important like the speaker’s pants are missing—the speaker is not prepared to go out at all. Indeed, there is “something missing.”
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
“I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I will not eat them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there,
I do not like them ANYWHERE!”
The narrator of this long narrative poem, Sam-I-am, is trying to convince a character named Herman to try green eggs and ham, but Herman stoutly refuses. Herman tells Sam-I-am all of the places and situations in which he would not like to try green eggs and ham. He uses repetition of the phrase “I do not like them” to express that he will not try a dish such as green eggs and ham anywhere.
“O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman
“O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done.”
Walt Whitman, moved to great emotion by the assassination of President Lincoln, wrote this poem in 1865, comparing the great leadership of Lincoln for the American people to that of a captain of a ship. The calling to the Captain by the narrator in the first few stanzas shows the optimistic attitude of a nation that has finally overcome a brutal civil war, and one that is in denial that their beloved Captain is dead. The speaker finally comes to terms with the Captain’s death in the final stanzas when the Captain does not answer the repetitive calls of “O Captain! my Captain!” throughout the poem, reflecting the resignation of the nation to Lincoln’s death.
“The Tyger” by William Blake
“Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night…”
“The Tyger” by William Blake is meant to be a contradiction to the poem “The Lamb” from his previous collection of poems known as Songs of Innocence. Whereas the lamb represents innocence, the “tyger” represents the more dangerous, dark side of human nature. The repetition of the narrator’s address to “Tyger, Tyger” brings the “tyger” out of the “forests of the night” into the realm of human consciousness so that the sinful nature of mankind can be discussed and addressed.
“Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
“There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.”
This playful poem of a boy stepping up to the plate in a baseball game shows Casey’s ease and confidence as he prepares to swing at the ball. The repetition of “there was” creates rhythm in the lines, and a sense of preparation and belief that Casey will succeed.