The term “anaphora” derives from Greek meaning “carrying over or back.” In poetry, it relates to a continuation created when successive lines or phrases begin with the same words, almost as in a litany. The repeat may be a single word or it can be as complex as an entire phrase. It is one of the world’s oldest poetic processes; anaphora is often seen in the world’s devotional poetry, (look to Biblical Psalms for this.)

Anaphora can set the rhythm of a poem due to the repetition, and it can add a dynamic of intensity to the poem. In a variation of anaphora called epistrophe, the echo comes at the end instead of the beginning. In Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “Tears, Idle Tears”, the repeat of “the days that are no more” closes each stanza.

Other examples of poets using anaphora can be seen in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (selected to be featured in a future Poetic Bloomings Reading Room), Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” and Section V of “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot, to name a few. These poets had found inventive ways to use anaphora. 

William Shakespeare frequently used anaphora. In Sonnet No. 66, he begins with the word “and” for ten straight lines:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac’d,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac’d,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

In his lengthy (almost book-length) poem “I Remember,” Joe Brainard used anaphora to recall his Oklahoma youth. He started each phrase with “I remember.”

For example:

I remember a piece of old wood with termites …

I remember when one year in Tulsa …

I remember a shoe store with a big brown x-ray machine …

To read an excerpt from Joe Brainard’s “I Remember” CLICK HERE


Try your hand at Anaphora Poetry.

WALT’S ATTEMPT (An epistrophe):

IN THE MEMORIES OF YOUTH, by Walter J Wojtanik

Childhood dreams live deeply within me.
And love abides in the memories of youth.

Imaginations unbridled; the desires of hearts and minds
find a dwelling in the memories of youth.

Amidst the number of a family, large and vibrant,
a loving mother and father tyrant in the memories of youth.

All in perspective of a young child, point of view lower
and slower to process the responsibilities in the memories of youth.

But love did abide in the memories of days long gone,
of parents long gone, yet alive in the memories of youth.

Lessons were a way of life; the learning curve was in force
in the course of the memories of youth.

Success came in learning of life, rife with knowledge
and the fuel to power these memories of youth.

I learned at my father’s knee; me and a pouch full of nails,
the trials of an apprentice in the memories of youth.

Surrounded by brothers and sisters; a rambunctious bunch
of misses and misters in the memories of youth.

Surrounded still in the decline of numbers,
victims all in the memories of youth.

Hearts full and overflowing with the thoughts so inspired
never to be retired in the memories of youth.

The tragic part of me going back to the place where I was raised,
is finding myself as one of my own memories of youth.

But, they keep me grounded; they strengthen my resolve
with more of life’s mysteries to solve through the memories of youth.