Anaphora as a Literary Device: Usage and Meaning

Updated on October 14, 2019
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Ben has held a life-long interest in language and has a particular interest in the expressions, phrases, and idioms that contribute to it.

Anaphora is proof that words can have incredible power to persuade.
Anaphora is proof that words can have incredible power to persuade.

Anaphora

It is true that many of us hear and read examples of anaphora every day without even realizing it. They are in the lyrics of the music we dance too. They are in the speeches we hear our politicians make. They are in the poetry and literature that we love to read. They are in the sermons we listen too.

We use anaphora (sometimes also referred to as epanaphora) when we repeat words or a phrase at the beginning of successive sentences.

An Anaphora is a simple rhetorical device which, when deployed at the beginning of two or more successive sentences or phrases, can be tremendously useful in making your message more compelling and emotive.

It can be a single repeated word or phrase, and its proper use can be a powerful and persuasive technique when communicating with others. It is for this reason that many public speakers and politicians use this device within their speeches. The repeated words assist them in emphasizing their ideas and message.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that songwriters also make great use of anaphora. They often embed them within their lyrics. When a lyricist gets this right, it can result in a compelling and memorable song.

Definition of Anaphora

Anaphora, (Greek: “a carrying up or back”), a literary or oratorical device involving the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several sentences or clauses.

Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica

Benefits From the use of Anaphora

  • they add rhythm to a passage
  • they can add emphasis and forcefulness to your message
  • they can often generate emotion such as solidarity, anger, hope, and fear
  • they can inspire others to your cause
  • they can make your writing more enjoyable to the reader
  • they can be thought-provoking
  • people remember them

Anaphora Do's and Don'ts

Like all literary tools, anaphora work best when following a few simple rules.
Like all literary tools, anaphora work best when following a few simple rules. | Source

Things to Avoid When Employing Anaphora

You can have too much of a good thing. It is easy to fall into the trap of overusing anaphora (something I have seen many politicians do during elections). It results in the watering down of their message, and while it may make them feel "statesmanlike," it usually just ends up being very obvious that they are trying just a little too hard.

  • avoid too much repetition of a word or phrase (it can become dull and overly theatrical)
  • avoid using this technique too many times with a single speech or piece of writing

Example of the Use of Anaphora in Music

I well remember this iconic song by the Police. Written by the groups' lead singer Sting and in 1983, it became the biggest hit single in the USA and the UK.

"Every Breath You Take" by the Police:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you

"Every Breath You Take" by the Police - video

Example of the Use of Anaphora in Poetry

Writers use this technique to draw the reader's attention to something that the writer believes essential.

This example is from the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936):

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

Source: English Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling, written 1895.

"If" by Rudyard Kipling - Inspirational Poetry. Narrated by Tom O' Bedlam.

Example of the Use of Anaphora in Literature

When used well in literature it can evoke strong emotions in the reader.

"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."

Source: The Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859

Examples of the Use of Anaphora by Politicians

Example 1.

"We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue."

Source: Ronald Reagan, The Presidents address following the Challenger space shuttle disaster, January 28, 1986

No examples of anaphora would be complete without referring to a speech that is probably one of the most recognizable and stirring speeches of the last century.

It was delivered at a time of considerable national risk and at a time when the country needed to come together to face down the threat of invasion.

Example 2.

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

Source: Winston Churchill delivered to the House of Commons in 1940.

Darkest Hour (2017) - We Shall Fight on the Beaches Scene Darkest Hour

Examples of Anaphora From Religious Text

An excellent example of anaphora (or epanaphora) within a religious text, can be seen in the Book of Psalms. Within the twenty-ninth Psalm, the phrase “Give unto the Lord” and "The voice of the Lord" is said multiple times.

Psalm 29 (King James Version)

(A Psalm of David.) Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty, give unto the LORD glory and strength.
2 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.
7 The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire.
8 The voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness; the LORD shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.
10 The LORD sitteth upon the flood; yea, the LORD sitteth King for ever.
11 The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace.

Anaphora Within Religion

Religious text also makes powerful use of Anaphora to spread its message
Religious text also makes powerful use of Anaphora to spread its message

Conclusion

Anaphora is an incredibly simple but powerful literary tool. Used for centuries in many different areas of life. Within music, it is used to create great thought-provoking lyrics. Within writing, to counter otherwise mundane prose and draw the reader into the author's world. Within religious text to spread the word of god. And within public life by politicians and public figures to stir emotions and create unity and solidarity with a point of view.

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