What is Repetition

Repetition is the use of a word, sound or phrase that is repeated throughout a line or work for emphasis and thematic unity. Repetition is found in poetry, prose and speeches across all genres. It is a literary or rhetorical technique that calls attention to an important idea, or helps the audience remember a key point. Repetition in poetry can be used to create rhythm and tone, and it is a key element of style in prose.

Types of Repetition

Repetition can be used in many ways in rhetoric. The 6 most common are listed below:

Anaphora

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence or clause.  “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…” – Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865).

Epanalepsis

Epanalepsis is the repetition of words or a phrase at the beginning of a sentence or a clause used again at the end of the sentence or clause.  “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more / Or close up the wall with our English dead!” – William Shakespeare’s Henry V (1599).

Epiphora or Epistrophe

Epiphora, also known as epistrophe, is the repetition of words or phrases at the end of a sentence or clause.  “The big sycamore tree by the creek was gone. The willow tangle was gone. The little enclave of untrodden bluegrass was gone.” – John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

Epizeuxis or Palilogia

Epizeuxis, also known as palilogia, is the repetition of one word without any or phrases in between. “Break, break ,break, / On thy cold grey stones, O Sea!” – Alfred Lord Tennyson’ “Break, Break, Break” (1842).

Mesodiplosis

Mesodiplosis is the repetition of a word or phrase in the middle of a sentence or clause. “Men in great place are thrice servants: servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame; and servants of business.” – Francis Bacon’s “Of Great Place” (1627).

Polysyndeton

Polysyndeton is the repetition of conjunctions in succession in a sentence, clause or phrase. “They lived and laughed and loved and left.” – James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake (1939).

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Examples of Repetition

Repetition in a Sentence

The following are common uses of repetition in everyday phrases:

  • “There’s no way he can make that shot; no way!” – The repetition of the phrase “no way” gives emphasis to the idea that the athlete is about to complete a seemingly impossible task.
  • “We ran and jumped and played and” The repetition of the conjunction “and” gives a sense of urgency in the style of writing that leads the reader along with the characters’ actions. It also presents several actions quickly, giving the sense of what children do when given the chance to run and play freely.
  • We did not waver; we did not We carried on; we fought until the end.” The repetition of “we did not” in the first sentence emphasizes the idea that the characters persevered through a conflict. The emphasis of “we” throughout both sentences emphasizes the unity of the characters in a team effort.
  • Wait, wait, wait! Wait for me!” The repetition of the word “wait” in the first exclamative sentence and then in the beginning of the second sentence emphasizes the main idea: that whomever is speaking is in a hurry to catch up to someone else, and needs that person to slow down or stop.
  • I hope that we can come to a consensus. I hope that we can find common ground. I hope that as a community, we can grow and learn from one another.” The repetition of the phrase “I hope” emphasizes the speaker’s empathetic and optimistic idealization that the community can come together in the aftermath of a conflict.

(Further Reading: Top 10 Examples of Repetition in a Sentence)

Repetition in Poetry

Repetition in poetry is usually used to emphasize a sound, create rhythm and/or highlight an important theme or message. The following are examples of repetition found in famous poems:

“Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

“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…

 

…And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

This excerpt from Dylan Thomas’ villanelle “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” highlights the plea that the speaker is giving to all people, including his father. The speaker emphasizes the idea that those who reach old age should put up a fight against death, and not give into it so easily. The speaker ends the poem, after several examples of different kinds of people and how they react at the end of their lives, asking his own father not to give into death, but to fight it. The first and third lines of the first stanza repeat throughout the poem, unifying the theme that death is not something we should accept; rather, we should fight to continue living our life, because it is the only one we have.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

“There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

The lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of toast and tea.”

This excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s directed stream-of-consciousness poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” shows one of many examples from the poem of repetition. The repetition of the phrase “there will be time” emphasizes that there supposedly will be plenty of moments to complete all of the following tasks, including time for the speaker and “you.” However, later on in the poem, the reader soon realizes that the speaker ran out of time and grew old rather quickly. The entirety of the poem is a retrospective about missed opportunities and having regrets precisely because there wasn’t enough time after all.

“The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe

“Hear the sledges with the bells–

Silver bells!

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,

In the icy air of night!

While the stars that oversprinkle

All the heavens, seem to twinkle

With a crystalline delight;

Keeping time, time, time,

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the tintabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells–

From the jingling and tinkling of the bells.”

The use of repetition in this poem “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe emphasizes the onomatopoeia found in the words” tinkling” and “jingling”, which creates a rhythm that mimics the movement of a traditional bell as it is being rung. The bells actually become a metaphor for time marching on: from the silver bells of a birth and youth, to golden wedding bells, to brazen bells of terror in the bad times of life, to the iron bells of death.

(Further Reading: Top 10 Examples of Repetition in Poetry)

Repetition in Literature

Repetition in literature serves to emphasize a key point, create a mood, create unity throughout the work or highlight a theme or message the author wants the reader to know. The following are examples of repetition found in famous works of literature:

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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way– in short,  the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

The opening lines of Charles Dickens’ famous novel A Tale of Two Cities sets a series of opposites beside each other, setting a scene of chaos which is the setting of the novel during the French Revolution. The novel continues with the motif of opposites throughout, with the juxtaposition of characters such as Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. While both characters are similar in appearance, Darnay is an honorable man and Carton takes a long time to become honorable because he doubts himself. The novel also follows the nature of revenge, which mirrors the rise of the common people against the ruling class during the Revolution, another juxtaposition of opposites in a world where both have to exist.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The apartment was on the top floor– a small living-room, a small dining-room, a small bedroom, and a bath.”

This excerpt from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby describes the apartment that Tom and Myrtle share for their affair. The furniture is too large for the apartment, and the apartment is very tiny for such an affair to be carried on in. However, it mirrors the triviality of Tom and Myrtle’s affair: neither are happy in their marriages, but neither will take the steps to divorce. Their affairs are well-known secrets, and the apartment itself is little more than a facade.

The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

“The horror! The horror!”

The repetition found in this short line from Joseph Conrad’s novel The Heart of Darkness highlights the simplicity of the terror Kurtz experiences as he dies. The words are both purposely ambiguous and powerful, leaving the reader to wonder whether Kurtz is coming face-to-face with the reality of the misdeeds he’s committed throughout his life, or if it is the idea of leaving life that terrifies him. The simplicity of the phrases are a source of discussion and debate to this day. Marlon Brando famously repeated this line in the movie Apocalypse Now:

(Further Reading: Top 10 Examples of Repetition in Literature)

Repetition in Songs

Repetition in songs can be used to create rhythm, emphasize an idea, create a unification of ideas, or point to a theme, such as in a chorus or refrain. The following are examples of repetition found in famous songs:

“Happy” by Pharrell Williams

“Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you know what happiness is to you

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do.”

This chorus from the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams emphasizes the upbeat nature and main idea of the song, which is that he is happy and can’t be brought down by anything. He is so happy that he wants others to understand the nature of happiness, such as “truth”. The song became an anthem of empowerment and optimism, with many people from all over the world recording themselves dancing to the song.

“Let It Be” by The Beatles

“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be,

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”

This refrain from the song “Let It Be” by The Beatles highlights the “words of wisdom” of letting things go that one has no control over. The song goes on to highlight moments where people sometimes have to let go: during heartbreak, times of trouble and cloudy nights. The repetition of the phrase “let it be” has made this song one of The Beatles’ most well-known and easy to learn.

Lamb Chop’s Play-Along Theme Song by Shari Lewis

“This is the song that doesn’t end,

Yes, it goes on and on my friend!

Some people started singing it not knowing what it was,

And they’ll continue singing it forever just because…”

The theme song to Lamb Chop’s Play-Along by Shari Lewis became the bane of many parents’ lives during the early 1990s with the repetition of the song’s only 4 lines over and over, making it easy to remember and fun for children to sing.

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