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Symploce

Symploce occurs when a writer repeats a phrase at the beginning of successive lines and a different phrase at the end of those same successive lines.

It is most common in poetry, but authors do use it in prose as well. Symploce is commonly broken down into two parts—anaphora and epistrophe. These two types of repetition can be explored in more detail below. 

Symploce Definition and Examples


Symploce Definition

Symploce is the repetition of a phrase at the beginning of more than one line. It is mirrored by the repetition of a different phrase at the end of those same lines.

For example: 

I walked to the store and thought about the future

I walked to the park and thought about the future. 

The two lines aren’t identical, but they both use both anaphora and epistrophe. It is also considered symploce if the phrases are closely related. Consider this variation of the example: 

When I walked to the store I considered the future. 

As I walked to the store I was thinking about the future. 

Explore the rules associated with anaphora and epistrophe below within several useful, real examples. 

Anaphora and Epistrophe 

To make sense of examples symploce and even create new ones, it helps to have a solid understanding of what both anaphora and epistrophe are. Both of these literary devices are used to emphasize a series of statements. 

Anaphora: occurs when the writer repeats a word or a series of words at the beginning of multiple lines.

It is seen most commonly in poetry but can also be used in prose. For example, these lines from ‘Song of Myself’ by Walt Whitman: 

Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?

Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?

Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Whitman uses “Have you” at the beginning of each line, a clear example of anaphora. It would still be an example if only “Have” was repeated or if Whitman had linked more words together, for instance, if every line started with “Have, you reckon’d.” 

Epistrophe: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the end of a line. Like anaphora, it is seen most commonly in poetry, but that doesn’t mean it is never used in prose. 

Whitman also provides readers with a good example of epistrophe a few lines after the anaphora example (above) in ‘Song of Myself.’ Consider these lines: 

There was never any more inception than there is now,

Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

This clear example of epistrophe involves the repetition of the fairly long-phrase, “than there is now.” If the lines only ended with “now,” and no other words were repeated, it would still be an example of epistrophe. 

Examples of Symploce in Poetry 

As noted above, symploce is a combination of anaphora and epistrophe. Here are a few examples: 

I Sing the Body Electric by Walt Whitman 

I Sing the Body Electric’ is one of Whitman’s best-known free verse poems. Within this piece, he uses repetition in a number of different ways. This includes utilizing it at the beginning and end of successive lines. For example, this stanza

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?

And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?

And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?

And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?

The last two lines of this stanza contain a great example of symploce. The phrase “And if the body” is repeated at the beginning of each line, and “the soul” appears at the end of both. This is an ideal example in that the same exact words are used in both lines. But, to be an example of symploce, the lines do not have to conform so perfectly to the rules. The next example shows how the literary device can be used differently.

Explore more Walt Whitman poems

First They Came by Pastor Martin Neimöller

First They Came’ is a prose poem that alludes to the themes of guilt, persecution, and responsibility. It was part of a post-war confession made in German by the German Lutheran paster Martin Neimöller. Here are a few of the best-known lines:

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

[…]

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

Within this excerpt, the writer repeats variations of the phrase “They came for” and “I was not a___.” He is emphasizing how the Nazi regime “came for” one group after another. At the end of the poem, they “came for me,” and there was “no one left / To speak out for me.” 

Throughout this memorable example, he uses the first-person pronoun “I.” He includes himself and all those like him who felt that it was not their business to interfere with the Nazis.

Discover more writing by Pastor Martin Neimöller.

FAQs 

What is a symploce example?

An example is the famous prose poem from World War II, ‘First They Came’ by Pastor Martin Neimöller. It uses similar phrases at the beginning and end of almost every line. 

What is the difference between anaphora and anadiplosis?

Anaphora and anadiplosis are both kinds of repetition. But, anaphora is only concerned with repeating words or phrases at the beginning of lines. Anadiplosis revolves around repeating a word at the end of one line and the beginning of the next. 

What is the purpose of symploce?

Often, it is used to emphasize two sides of an issue, present different ideas, or generally draw the reader’s attention to a particularly important series of statements or images. 

How is anaphora used?

Anaphora is used to emphasize a series of lines within a poem (or other literary work). It can be used to create a list-like structure within a poem and help readers hone in on the most important elements of a piece of writing. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Antimetabole: the repetition of words, in reverse order, in successive clauses.
  • Antistrophe: a rhetorical device that’s concerned with the repetition of the same word or words at the end of consecutive phrases.
  • Consonance: the repetition of a consonant sound in words, phrases, sentences, or passages in prose and verse writing.
  • Diacope: a literary term that refers to the repetition of a word or phrase.


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