I. What is Anaphora?
Anaphora (pronounced uh–naf-er-uh) is the literary device in which a phrase is repeated at the beginning of the following clauses or sentences. This repetition serves to emphasize the phrase while adding rhythm to the passage, making it more memorable and enjoyable to read.
II. Examples of Anaphora
For example, imagine you are frustrated and tired with your friend, who is making the same mistakes over and over again.
I’m sick and tired of you letting me down. I’m sick and tired of you making me mad. And I’m sick and tired of you doing such silly things!
Through the repetition of “I’m sick and tired,” the phrase has become more emotionally-charged than before.
For another example of anaphora, consider emphasizing that your frustration is caused by how often your friend causes you to feel this way:
Every single day you let me down. Every single day you make me mad. Every single day you do such silly things!
Here, the repetition of “every single day” serves to emphasize just how often your friend frustrates you.
III. The Importance of Using Anaphora
As is shown in the above examples, anaphora is important in both everyday speech and in more serious rhetoric. Anaphora serves to emphasize certain ideas, which can stir up associated emotions and appeal to the audience in order to inspire, convince, or challenge. By adding rhythm to a passage, anaphora also allows for pleasurable reading which is easier to remember.
IV. Examples of Anaphora in Literature
One of the most common examples of anaphora, and a clear sign of its ability to emphasize and remain in our memories, is Charles Dickens’ opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities:
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 repetition of “it was” emphasizes the age as one with a universal nature, including all positive and negative aspects of an era.
A second example of anaphora in literature may be found in popular underground poet Charles Bukowski’s “Bluebird” in which “there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out” is repeated:
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him
Later in the poem, it repeats again, with the speaker ignoring the bluebird. Still later, he ignores it again after the repeated phrase. The last time the anaphora appears, the speaker admits to taking care of the bluebird, but in secret:
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be sad.
The repetition of “there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out” serves to emphasize just how constantly the speaker is aware of this presence, and of how often he pushes it away, refusing to let the world see it. The bluebird serves to symbolize a softer, more beautiful part of a gruff man who knows it is there but refuses to show the world, afraid of judgment or rejection.
V. Examples of Anaphora in Pop Culture
Anaphora is a common element of movies, television, advertising, and music. One of the most prominent areas for usage of anaphora is in song.
For another example, listen to the hook of Nico and Vinz’s “Am I Wrong”:
So am I wrong for thinking that we could be something for real?
Now am I wrong for trying to reach the things that I can’t see?
The repetition of “am I wrong” serves to note that the singer has had opposition and also adds a strong rhythm to the song, as the phrase is repeated throughout. Later, similar repetition is used for the artist to make the claim that he is satisfied with the way he is, regardless of what others believe.
Ultimately, the song uses anaphora for a sense of rhythm and playfulness which serves to re-emphasize the meaning of the lyrics: there is nothing wrong with dreaming.
For a last example, watch Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from The Great Dictator:
This speech is full of anaphora, which gives the words the same emotional charge and powerful rhythm that Chaplin speaks with. Here are a few examples from the speech:
We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another.
With repetition of “We want,” Chaplin unifies the goals and needs of all human beings.
Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.
Here, Chaplin uses repetition of “our” to highlight that we as humans have a shared responsibility. With repetition of “more than,” he emphasizes that humanity, kindness, and gentleness are much more important than machinery and cleverness.
The inspiration in his speech swells through the use of anaphora:
You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
By repeating “You the people, have the power” and “the power,” Chaplin emphasizes that it each and every human being has power to create a better world. His rally cry reaches all listeners with anaphora which creates repetition, a powerful rhythm, and emphasis of what is most important to the speech.
VI. Related Terms
Like anaphora, epistrophe involves the repetition of a certain phrase or sentence. Unlike anaphora, though, epistrophe involves repetition of a phrase at the end of successive sentences rather than the beginning. Both anaphora and epistrophe serve to draw attention to the repeated phrase.
Here are a few examples of anaphora versus epistrophe:
Imagine a bully is being mean to your friends. You want to stand up to him.
- Normal sentence:
Be nice to my friends! Leave them alone! And go away!
In order to emphasize that you are threatening the bully, repeat “You better” at the beginning of the sentence:
- Sentence with Anaphora:
You better be nice to my friends! You better leave them alone! And you better go away!
In order to instead emphasize who must be stood up for, repeat “my friends” at the end of each phrase:
- Sentence with Epistrophe:
Be nice to my friends! Leave them alone—they’re my friends! And get away from my friends!
VII. In Closing
Anaphora is a powerful literary device which can be used in many forms, from the poem to advertisements. The repetition of a certain phrase at the beginning of successive sentences serves to emphasize, provide rhythm, and put memorability into an otherwise plain phrase.