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What is Anaphora | Examples and Definition

Have you ever come across poems that repeat certain words when you read them? I’m sure you would have wondered why these poems have the same words repeating over and over again. You might have gotten the impression that the poet may not have known many words and may have had to repeat them.

But that is not the case. It is a deliberate move by the poet. These repeating words are a poetic device. The poet uses them to make sure their message is being conveyed loud and clear. To be more specific, these repeating words are Anaphora. 

Anaphora is not only used for poems, but also prose, speeches, and writings. It is a rhetoric device used at the beginning of the lines. They add a more dramatic effect and hold the attention to what the person wants to say. Rhetoric devices, in general, use a lot of emotion to affect the feelings of the public and persuade them. 

What is Anaphora

Anaphora is a repetition of a word or a sequence of words at the beginning of clauses and poetic lines. The repetitiveness of the words makes them easier to remember. The purpose of using repetitive words is to emphasize the meaning behind the writing. This allows the reader to invoke strong emotions by the lines. 

Anaphora examples

Anaphora is more often used in speeches and occasionally used in poems and prose. It is a powerful device that brings a sense of rhythm to the lines. It makes the message more appealing and persuasive to the readers

Anaphora from the Bible

Anaphora is one of the oldest literary devices to exist. It is in the Biblical Psalms used to emphasize particular phrases and words. In the King James Version of the Biblical Psalms, it says

Oh Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot pleasure.

Have mercy upon me, Oh Lord; for I am weak: Oh Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.

My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, Oh Lord, how long?

Here, the anaphora is Oh Lord and is repeatedly used. 

Anaphora from Literature

Literature has many examples of the usage of Anaphora. Charles Dickens extensively used anaphora in his books. His book ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ gives a good example of anaphora,

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.

Aside from books and prose, anaphora is also used in political speeches. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave an iconic speech during WWII that used anaphora to deliver hope and unity among the soldiers against an invasion, 

We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.

Anaphora in poetry

Poetry also uses anaphora. Allen Ginsberg’ poem ‘Howl’ sees the use of anaphora of a name as a metaphor to compare a city to a monster,

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!

Anaphora in popular culture

The use of anaphora is not limited to only poems and prose. It has extended to being used in music and movies as dialogues for entertainment. Rock band Linkin Park makes very good use of anaphora in their lyrics, 

Why I never walked away

Why I played myself this way

Now I see you’re testing me pushes me away

Why I never walked away

Why I played myself this way

Now I see you’re testing me pushes me away 

Good Will Hunting is a movie that has dialogues that make use of anaphora. The character Sean Mcguire says this, 

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book written….If I asked you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites….And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right….I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet.”

Anaphora Definition

Anaphora is defined as ‘repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect.’

Why do writers use anaphora?

Writers use anaphora to make their writing more heartfelt. They want the message to be more compelling through the use of anaphoras.

The repeated words strike familiarity and focus on the importance of the message. This allows for a powerful deliverance of the words. It also makes it more memorable since the words are said many times.

The reader’s attention becomes fixed on the words making them catchy and notable. 

Anaphoras add a rhythm and make it more pleasant to read. It also generates various emotions among the audience and readers.

Writers use anaphora to link ideas more clearly. They also use it to compare and contrast two different things. 

Anaphora vs Epistrophe

Epistrophe is the counter of Anaphora. Anaphora depicts repetitive words at the beginning but epistrophe depicts repetitive words at the end

Epistrophe is also called Epiphora. The nature of these two rhetorical devices is the same except for their positions in the sentence. 

To give more clarity, a speech said by Abraham Lincoln used epistrophe,

And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.

Anaphora+Epistrophe= Symploce

You must be wondering if a sentence can have both Anaphora and Epistrophe. When there is a combination of these devices found in the same sentence, it is called Symploce. Symploce is a repetitive word at the beginning of the line and another one at the ending of the line.

A clearer example would help set this straight. Bill Clinton, a former US President used symploce in his speech,

“When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it.”

Anaphora History and Etymology

Anaphora has its roots originating in ancient times. The word was first found to be used in the late fourteenth century by English speakers.

It originated from Ancient Greek. It came from the combination of two Greek words, ‘ana’ meaning repeat or back and ‘pherein’ meaning to carry. The word anaphora translates to carry back, which implies the reader to carry the words with them. 

Summary

  • Anaphora is the use of repetitive words or phrases at the beginning of a sentence or line.
  • The use of anaphora has been in practice for a very long time, from the Bible to poems, lyrics and, dialogues.
  • Anaphora stresses particular themes that the writer wants the reader to focus on.
  • Epistrophe is the use of repetitive words at the end of a sentence or line.
  • When Anaphora and Epistrophe are used together, it is called Symploce. 

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