ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Anaphora: the Poetry of Litany

Updated on August 11, 2016
Amber MV profile image

Amber MV holds a BA in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. She writes at her blog, The Leafy Paw.

photo by Idearriba. CC0 Public Domain.
photo by Idearriba. CC0 Public Domain. | Source

The anaphora is one of the best overlooked styles of poems. It seems like almost all poems I write are influenced by this rhythm of litany in some way. The anaphora is of foundational importance to the essence of poetry itself, as it has long been employed in religious and meditative poems, which were some of the first recorded poetry in the world. Repetitious sounds, including the playful alliteration and the subtle assonance, are at once soothing and enlivening to us from a young age. It feels inexplicably natural. Sound has the power to recall physical sensation: it may remind us of being rocked to sleep in loving arms. The use of repetition is an incantation, of centering and grounding, and somehow of rousing to a deeper awareness through verse.

Walt Whitman: The Bard of Anaphora in America

Walt Whitman’s grand and soulful Leaves of Grass, and its famous segment, Song of Myself, is rich in these repetitions. Whitman, however, gives us the literary device of the epistrophe, the opposite of the anaphora, where the anaphora is the repetition of a line’s opening words and the epistrophe is the repetition of a line’s closing words. He writes,

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the
beginning and the end
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now. (“Song of Myself III” 1-6)

Whitman’s words are here overtly prophetic, a spiritual witness to experiential truth. His rhythmic epistrophe is characteristically insistent – the quality of insistence being a chief feature of anaphora and epistrophe– to the sacred point which he strives to communicate: that there is no time more alive, more riven with joy and torment than the eternal now which we bodily inhabit. The present is where all of the past and the future pregnantly resides. In his poetic genius he makes his poetry do that most astronomically difficult work of metamorphosing abstract words into immanent feelings. His words are true because they are spoken in honor and reference to primordial feeling, which is good and true and existed in the days before our species had words of vocal speech.

photo by ignatsevichserg. CC0 Public Domain
photo by ignatsevichserg. CC0 Public Domain | Source

T.S. Eliot and Lyrical Time

T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is similar to Whitman’s work in its visionary tone. Time is also a theme for Eliot, who stares into the eternity-of-the-now in the spirit of the old Irish saying, “When God made time, he made enough of it”. He writes,

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea. (“Prufrock” 23-34)

In Eliot’s world there is time to be and not to worry, to break down and build up “a hundred visions and revisions,”. Perhaps this view of generous time, so unlike the monster of time in the modern world, makes us uncomfortable with its almost-sad tranquility of sameness, of sitting still with the grief and the raw beauty of time and mortality in the face of our everyday lives.

Anaphoric poetry brings a reminder of meaning to these otherwise nonsensical beats and pulses of life, offering moments of solace through doubt and change. It calls us back to Eliot’s slow sit and Whitman’s large sight.

Works Cited

Eliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Robert DiYanni. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 1102-1105. Print.

Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself (1892 Version).” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2015.

© 2016 Amber MV


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      22 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Amber,

      I am few words, but your poetry is amazing. Spell binding.

      Loved it.

      I prefer abstract/prose and if you want a sample, try

      "Woman, Oh Mist" and this one should take you a while.

      Good luck and keep in touch!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for the explanation of this style of poetry. The two illustrative pieces are great examples. Lovely!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      2 years ago from sunny Florida

      You are is a different approach and one that I can grow quite fond of...thanks for enlightening me.

      Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      What an interesting topic for an article! I especially enjoyed the quotes you gave, they were such great examples. Lovely!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      2 years ago from San Diego California

      Reading poetry makes the potential poet copy these devices without even realizing it, but it is helpful to have somebody quantify it and give it a name. Great hub!

    • vespawoolf profile image


      2 years ago from Peru, South America

      I didn't realize the definiation of anaphoric poetry until reading this article. These are clear examples. I agree that the rhythm sounds natural and comfortable.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)