Repetition is an important literary technique that sees a writer reuse words or phrases multiple times. This might also include a certain kind of word, image, or any other kind of pattern. For example, the use of a specific ending, rhyme scheme, action, and so on.

Depending on the writer, what they’re writing about, and the format the way in which repetition is used can differ greatly. 

One writer might use the technique in order to reuse a word, sporadically throughout the text. This will be less obvious than another writer who uses repetition to repeat an entire stanza, line, or a long phrase.


Types of Repetition 

Many literary devices that are commonly used in poetry and prose fall into the category of repetition. They include some of the following. 

  • Anaphora: A common literary technique that poets use in order to create rhythm in the progression of their lines. It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines of verse. It might also be used to create emphasis.
  • Epimone: This is the general repetition of a phrase, often a question. The writer employee this technique in order to make a point. There is a reason for the repetition if the reader digs deep enough.
  • Epistrophe: This is a technique in which the same words or phrases are used at the ends of multiple lines of a poem. An example would include if multiple lines ended with “and so it goes” or “so they said”.
  • Gradatio: This is a type of poetic form in which the last word of one clause is used again at the beginning of the next. This is repeated over and over until the repetition is itself an example of repetition.
  • Polyptoton: A slightly harder type of repetition to spot, this occurs when a writer repeats words that have the same root but different endings.
  • Symploce: This is a technique that uses both anaphora and epistrophe. This means that the same word or phrase begins multiple lines and the same word or phrase ends multiple lines.


Examples of Repetition in Poetry

Example #1 Dog by Lawrence Ferlinghetti 

A complex and philosophically poignant poem, ‘Dog’ uses a dog’s perspective to speak on a very human one. The reader initially sees the world through the dog’s eyes until his sights and ideas suddenly become much more poignant and applicable to our inner dialogues as well. There is a great example of repetition in the first sections of ‘Dog’. Ferlinghetti chose to reuse a short refrain. Here are the first lines of the poem and the first time the refrain is used: 

The dog trots freely in the street

and sees reality

and the things he sees

The poem progresses, and the refrain changes slightly, but it appears again five lines later.

The dog trots freely thru the street

and the things he sees

are smaller than himself

A close reader on the lookout for examples of repetition will notice the other similarities between these two experts from the poem. The acting of “seeing” is emphasized as is knowing. Another example occurs later on in the poem The lines read: 

The dog trots freely in the street

and has his own dog’s life to live

It is at this point that the poem starts to become more complicated. The dog has a “tale to tell” and a “real tail to tell it with” shortly after this excerpt. 


Example #2 Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

By far Frost’s most popular and taught poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is known by schoolchildren around the world. The last lines are some of the most poignant of the poem. They allude to the speaker’s current and future trials:

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep

 He has miles to walk before he can go to sleep but also days and years to live before he dies. There is a great deal to do before his life is over. Depending on how the reader takes these lines that can be both negative and positive. 


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