Definition of Epistrophe

Epistrophe is a figure of speech that involves the of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or sentences. Epistrophe is also known as or . The word epistrophe comes from the Greek for “return.”

The definition of epistrophe is opposite to that of , which is the repetition of words at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. When an author combines epistrophe with anaphora, i.e., repeats words or phrases at both the beginning and end of successive clauses, this is called symploce.

Common Examples of Epistrophe

Epistrophe is a very emphatic literary device, and thus it is found often in the climatic parts of political speeches. Here are some examples of epistrophe from famous speeches:

Significance of Epistrophe in Literature

Authors use epistrophe examples to draw attention to a particular word or clause. The repetition makes that word or phrase more emphatic. Epistrophe can also have a similar effect to at the end of lines in that it unites successive lines.

Examples of Epistrophe in Literature

Example #1

Sweet Portia,
If you did know to whom I gave the ring,
If you did know for whom I gave the ring,
And would conceive for what I gave the ring,
And how unwillingly I left the ring
When naught would be accepted but the ring,
You would abate the strength of your displeasure.

If you had known the virtue of the ring,
Or half her worthiness that gave the ring,
Or your own honor to contain the ring,
You would not then have parted with the ring.

(The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare)

In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Portia has disguised herself as a man and tricked her husband-to-be, Bassanio, into giving up a ring that he promised never to part with. In this example of epistrophe, Portia is fully aware of why Bassanio gave up the ring, even as he argues that she can’t possibly know. The repetition of the word “the ring” emphasizes just how important it was to Portia and how serious a breach of confidence Bassanio has committed by giving it up.

Example #2

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…we had everything before us, we had nothing before us….

(A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)

The opening line to Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities contains many examples of different types of repetition, both at the beginning and end of successive clauses. In these two portions of the sentence, we see repetition of the phrases “of times” and “before us.” Dickens uses these many different repetition examples to provide the stark of the times in which he sets his novel.

Example #3

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

(“The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe)

In his poem “The Raven,” Edgar Allen Poem uses many different epistrophe examples. There is a strict rhyme scheme throughout the entire poem, including the repetition of the last word of lines 5 and 6 of each . Here we see the repetition of the narrator’s lost love, Lenore. There is a bit of that in this stanza Poe repeats her name twice, then asserts “Nameless here for evermore.” Yet, he repeats her name many more times throughout the rest of the poem. The narrator’s inability to move past Lenore’s name, as demonstrated via epistrophe, shows his deep grief and obsession with her memory.

Example #4

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

(“From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee)

The final stanza in Li-Young Lee’s poem “From Blossoms” repeats many words, including “joy,” “wing,” “blossom” and then the phrase “impossible blossom.” These epistrophe examples become more and more ecstatic in their usage connecting the concepts and images of joy to birds to blossoms. The final repetition of “from blossom to blossom to / impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom” expands on the simple concept of a blossom to make it more profound with the assertion that it is “impossible.” Of course, the blossom is not only possible but common, yet Lee’s repetition and expansion on this image makes the reader question just what is “impossible” about it.