When Anaphora comes to the rescue over and over again

Anaphora is a literary device wherein a word or group of words is repeated at the beginning of two or more successive sentences – Roopa Banerjee

“I’ll not do my homework.”
“I’ll not listen to you.”
“I’ll not switch off the television.”

Yes, these statements are examples of a child throwing a tantrum. But they are also examples of a powerful literary device — anaphora. 

Anaphora is a rhetorical and literary style wherein a word or group of words is repeated at the beginning of two or more successive sentences. This adds emphasis and harmony to phrases. For example, the use of ‘if only’. ‘If only I had listened, if only I had stayed back, if only I had believed her.’

Anaphora is a greek word (ἀναφορά) meaning “carrying back”. Because of its rhetorical effect, anaphora is very popular among orators and politicians. American civil rights leader Martin Luther King peppered his career-defining speech with the phrase ‘I have a dream’, which was repeated several times in his address.

Another evocative example of anaphora is Us President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address wherein he said, ‘With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right…’ A more recent example is former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s speech delivered in 1996, ‘To raise a happy, healthy, and hopeful child, it takes a family; it takes teachers; it takes clergy; it takes business people; it takes community leaders; it takes those who protect our health and safety. It takes all of us.’

Popular media including television and movies also use anaphoras liberally. Homer Simpson, the main protagonist of the globally popular American animated sitcom The Simpsons, is remembered for these lines: ‘I want to shake off the dust of this one-horse town. I want to explore the world. I want to watch TV in a different time zone. I want to visit strange, exotic malls. I want a grinder, a sub, a footlong hero! I want to live, Marge!’

Turning the pages of history, anaphora was abundantly used in ancient literature and religious texts such as psalms of the Bible. Popular literature also abounds with anaphora nuggets. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens writes: ‘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…’

Another powerful example is American poet Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.

‘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?…’

However, because of its repeated use of phrases, anaphora is rarely found in academic, journalistic and other non-fiction writing which shuns redundant use of words. Thus, fans of this literary device will do better to go searching for examples in the realms of creative writing.

Exercise Identify the literary works and their authors from where these anaphora examples have been taken:

1. “It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden, too like the lightning.”

2. “What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?”

3. “Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

1. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 2. The Tyger by William Blake 3. The Rock by T.S. Eliot

Also read: Say it again with Anadiplos

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