Anaphora Definition

In writing or speech, the deliberate repetition of the first part of the sentence in order to achieve an artistic effect is known as Anaphora.

Anaphora, possibly the oldest literary device, has its roots in Biblical Psalms used to emphasize certain words or phrases. Gradually, Elizabethan and Romantic writers brought this device into practice. Examine the following psalm:

“O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?”

The repetition of the phrase “O Lord,” attempts to create a spiritual sentiment. This is anaphora.

Common Anaphora Examples

It is common for us to use anaphora in our everyday speech to lay emphasis on the idea we want to convey or for self affirmation. Read the following anaphora examples:

  • “Every day, every night, in every way, I am getting better and better”
  • “My life is my purpose. My life is my goal. My life is my inspiration.”
  • “Buying nappies for the baby, feeding the baby, playing with the baby: This is what your life is when you have a baby.
  • “I want my money right now, right here, all right?”

Example of Anaphora in Literature:

Read the following examples:

Example #1

Shakespeare does not disappoint us in the use of anaphora too. Read the following example taken from his play “Richard II” Act 2 Scene 1:

“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings [. . .]
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,”

The repetition of the word “this” creates an emotional effect on the readers particularly those who are English. Further, it highlights the significance of England. The repetition of the word “dear” shows emotional attachment of the writer to the land and expects a similar response from the readers as well.

Example #2

A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens starts with following lines:

“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.”

The repetitive structure used in the above lines make it the most memorable and remarkable start of a narrative ever achieved by a writer. “It” repeated all the way through the passage makes the readers focus more on the traits of the “age” they are reading about.

Example #3

This technique is employed by William Wordsworth in “Tintern Abbey”:

“Five years have passed;
Five summers, with the length of
Five long winters! and again I hear these waters…”

The repetition of the word “five” at the beginning of each line gives melody to the lines that matches well with its nostalgic tone.

Example #4

William Blake in his poem “The Tyger” goes:

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

The repetition of a series of questions which start with “what” creates a rhythm that creates the effect of awe in readers.

Example #5

Politicians frequently use anaphora as a rhetorical device in their addresses and political speeches to evoke passion among the audience. Read an excerpt from Winston Churchill’s speech during the Second World War:

“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.”

The repetitive structures in the above passage suggest the importance of the war for England. Moreover, it inspires patriotic sentiments among the masses.

Functions of Anaphora

Apart from the function of giving prominence to ideas, the use of anaphora in literature adds rhythm to it and thus, making it more pleasurable to read and easier to remember. As a literary device, anaphora serves the purpose of furnishing artistic effect to the passages of prose and poetry.

As a rhetorical device, it is used to appeal to the emotions of the audience in order to persuade, inspire, motivate and encourage them.