Definition of Anaphora

Anaphora is a literary and rhetorical device in which a word or group of words is repeated at the beginning of two or more successive clauses or sentences. This technique adds emphasis and unity to the clauses. For example, look at the function of the words “if only” in the following sentence: “If only I hadn’t gone to the market that day, if only I hadn’t dropped my bag, if only we hadn’t met.”

Also sometimes called epanaphora, the word anaphora comes from the Greek for “carrying back”.

Difference Between Anaphora and Epiphora

Anaphora and (also known as ) are related concepts in that they both are techniques involving . While the definition of anaphora is that the repetition comes at the beginning of adjacent clauses, repetition in epiphora comes at the end of clauses. If these two devices are used together, the effect is called symploce.

Common Examples of Anaphora

Many orators and politicians use anaphora in their speeches to reinforce certain ideas and to make them stand out to the audience. One of the most famous examples of anaphora in a speech is from Martin Luther King Jr.’s address at the 1963 March on Washington. In fact, the anaphora is so famous that it has retroactively become the name of the speech: I have a dream. After a gospel singer called out “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”, Martin Luther King Jr. departed from his typed-up speech and began to extemporize, repeating the phrase “I have a dream” many times over.

Other famous anaphora examples in speeches include:

Anaphora also is prevalent in other forms of media, like songs, television shows and movies:

Significance of Anaphora in Literature

Anaphora is one of the oldest , and dates back to religious texts such as the Psalms of the Bible. Anaphora is most commonly found in poetry, though it can be found in as well. Since anaphora uses redundancy to dramatic effect, editors of academic writing and journalism would not approve of it. Thus, anaphora works against these more formal styles of writing and is used to create and emphasis in a poetic fashion.

Examples of Anaphora in Literature

Example #1

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…

(A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

This opening sentence from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities is one of the most famous examples of anaphora in literature. In this case, the repetition of the phrase “it was” provides several examples of . The sentence creates wonder in the reader to find out how these are both and best and worst of times, the age of wisdom and foolishness, and so on. The anaphora propels the reader forward into the and the world that Dickens is up.

Example #2

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?



Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

(“Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman)

Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” contains many examples of anaphora all the way through poem. These two adjacent stanzas contain different repeating phrase: first “have you” and then “you shall.” With these two examples of anaphora, Whitman seems to be ascertaining the reader’s readiness for personal growth, and then making a promise to the reader that good things will come to pass.

Example #3

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

(“Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost)

Robert Frost’s use of anaphora in his poem “Acquainted with the Night” adds a sense of weariness and age. The repetition of the phrase “I have” to begin these different lines creates the image of someone with a vast amount of life experience. The poem is dark and despairing, and this example of anaphora reinforces the desolate mood.

Example #4

And the places on her body have no names.
And she is what’s immense about the night.
And their clothes on the floor are arranged
for forgetfulness.

(“Dwelling” by Li-Young Lee)

This relatively recent poem from Li-Young Lee shows that anaphora can be as simple as the repetition of the word “and”. Grammaticians teach us never to begin sentences with the word “and”, which makes the repetition here stand out even more. There is a sense of mystery in the way the poet has grouped these three lines, with their three similar yet competing images. The anaphora encourages readers to make connections between these different images.