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Echoes, Again

We can create a pattern in poetry by repetitions of sound. We can create a pattern in poetry by repetitions of beat. We can create a pattern in poetry by repetitions of words, phrases, or whole lines.

Like that.

In this topic we will explore several different kinds of repetition, practice each of them, and examine the effects.

Words, Again

"The Bells", by Edgar Allen Poe, is a famous - or infamous - example of the repetition of words for effect.

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 tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells --
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells

Like most other aspects of poetry, repetition is most effective when it is deliberate. Accidental repetition can be an excess of duplicated and overdone redundancy, that distracts from your poem rather than adds to it.

Exercise : Repeated Words

Write an eight-line poem in which at least one word is used repeatedly.

Guidelines for critique

What is the effect of the repetition?

In Other Words

A variation of repeating the same word is to use several different forms of the same word. Technical term for your collection: polyptoton.

The Greeks are strong and skillful in their strength,
Fierce to their skill, and in their fierceness valiant;
-- William Shakespeare

Exercise : Polyptoton

I just love that word.

Write an eight-line poem building a pattern by using one or more words in varied forms.

Guidelines for critique

What is the effect of the repetition?


Do you know what I was using in the opening paragraph? That technique of repeated words at the beginnings of successive clauses or sentences is called "anaphora". Well, if you do like knowing technical terms, you now have another one.

When the repetition is at the end of successive clauses, or sentences, it is called "epistrophe". A famous example is from St. Paul, in I Corinthians:

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Exercise : Repeated Phrases

Write an eight-line poem in which at least one phrase is used at least three times.

Guidelines for critique

What is the effect of the repetition?


Another type of repetition is the "refrain", a line or group of lines re-occurring throughout a piece. The refrain, "And Brutus is an honorable man," is all it takes to identify Antony's funeral oration for Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare.

Exercise : Refrain

Write a poem of not less than 8, or more than 24 lines, that uses a refrain.

Guidelines for critique

How memorable is the refrain?

What is the effect of its use?

Forms of repetition

There are certain poetic forms, like the pantoum, that use the repetition of lines in set patterns. These will be covered in separate exercises.

Repetitions of Idea

A common Biblical pattern (mainly in the Old Testament) is "parallelism" - the repetition of the same thought in two different phrasings. This takes three forms:
Synonymous: One sense is repeated almost exactly.
My voice you will hear in the morning, Oh Lord;
in the morning I will direct it to you, and I will look up.
Synthetic: The second line progresses from the first.
They give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
Antithetical: The second is opposite to the first.
The wicked borrows and does not repay,
But the righteous shows mercy and gives.

The Bible isn't the only source of parallelism. Here is an example from Walt Whitman:

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Exercise : Parallelism

Write a poem of at least ten lines, and not more than twenty, in which one idea is built upon in many repetitions to an ending that is either a synthesis or an antithesis.

Guidelines for critique

Can you identify the idea?

Can you follow the idea?

Is the parallelism effective?

What is the effect?

How strong is the ending?

And now --

Write On!