Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is implemented intentionally and done so to create emphasis. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, literary devices. There are examples throughout the history of the written word from the Biblical Psalms up through Elizabethan, Romantic, Modern and contemporary writing. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation.
Anaphora is also one of several literary techniques that appears in everyday speech. We might, while speaking to friends, colleagues, or even giving a professional address, use the technique. For instance, consider the personal collection of sentences: “You are my life. You are my purpose. You are my heart” or “I will work hard. I will work quickly. I will work passionately”.
Examples of Anaphora in Literature
This piece, one of Wordsworth’s best known, is titled in full: ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798’. It provides close readers with a great example of anaphora. Consider the first lines of the poem:
Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
In the first lines, the speaker, Wordsworth himself, makes clear that he has returned a place he has not been for “Five years,” or “five summers”. That is, the bank of the River Wye in Derbyshire, England. The years that he has been separated from the landscape felt excruciatingly long. So long, it was as if they were made up entirely of “five long winters!” The emphasis that he placed on “Five years” speaks to the nostalgia he’s experiencing and his focus on the progression of time and the influence of change.
Example #2 Nessa by Paul Durcan
‘Nessa’ is a lyrical love poem that compares the speaker’s lover to a powerful whirlpool. In the first and second stanzas of this poem, seven of the twelve lines start with the word “And”. Later on in the poem, there is a second example as well, with “Will you” starting two lines in the final stanza. Take a look at the second stanza of the poem:
Take off your pants, she said to me,
And I very nearly didn’t;
Would you care to swim? she said to me,
And I hopped into the Irish Sea.
And that was a whirlpool, that was a whirlpool,
And I very nearly drowned.
In these lines, he is describing a series of events that are deeply metaphorical in nature. He is diving into the relationship that he cares so much for. This woman, Nessa, is a whirlpool-like and by reusing the word “And” he lists out his actions, describing step by step what he did.
Example #3 Sekhmet, the Lion-headed Goddess of War by Margaret Atwood
Within this poem, Atwood’s speaker discusses history, confinement and perception over centuries and through cultures. The single speaker of this piece is the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. She is a warrior, known for her hunting and healing skills. She is usually depicted as a woman with a lion’s head. Take a look at the final stanza of the poem:
I just sit where I’m put, composed
of stone and wishful thinking:
that the deity who kills for pleasure
will also heal,
that in the midst of your nightmare,
the final one, a kind lion
will come with bandages in her mouth
and the soft body of a woman,
and lick you clean of fever,
and pick your soul up gently by the nape of the neck
and caress you into darkness and paradise.
The use of anaphora is very clear in this portion of the text. Like with “Nessa,’ the poet has chosen to repeat the word “And” at the beginning of multiple lines. She presents an idealized image of her herself, one that the visitors to the museum in which she is trapped and her intended listener would prefer. This is not who she is, so by piling up these features (another technique known as accumulation), she is emphasizing how different this way of being would be for her.