Epiphora

Definition of Epiphora

Epiphora is a form of repetition in which a word or words is repeated at the end of successive clauses or sentences. The definition of epiphora is the same as that of epistrophe, and also one of the two definitions of antistrophe. Furthermore, the definition of epiphora is opposite that of anaphora, which is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. When epiphora and anaphora are used together (i.e., words are repeated at the beginning of successive phrases and different words are repeated at the end of the same phrases), the literary device is called symploce.

The word epiphora comes from the Greek word epiphorá, which means “a bringing upon,” from the words epi-, meaning “upon” and pherein, meaning “to bear or carry.”

Common Examples of Epiphora

There are many famous speeches and song lyrics which contain examples of epiphora. Here are just a few:

Our brothers and sisters in Asia, who were colonized by the Europeans, our brothers and sisters in Africa, who were colonized by the Europeans, and in Latin America, the peasants, who were colonized by the Europeans, have been involved in a struggle since 1945 to get the colonialists, or the colonizing powers, the Europeans, off their land, out of their country.

  • —Malcolm X, “The Black Revolution,” June 1963

The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war.

  • —John F. Kennedy, “The Strategy for Peace,” June 1963

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

  • —Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream,” August 1963

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
[…]
To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the parliament of Australia, I am sorry.

  • —Kevin Rudd, “Indigenous Australian Stolen Generation,” February 2008

And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be

Let it be, let it be
Let it be, yeah, let it be
Oh, there will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

  • —The Beatles, “Let it Be”

The singer Beyoncé also has a lighter example of epiphora in her hit, “Single Ladies”:

‘Cause if you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it
If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it
‘Cause if you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it

Significance of Epiphora in Literature

As is clear from the epiphora examples contained in famous speeches, the word that a speaker or writer chooses to repeat is often the theme of the speech, or related to it. This is true of Kennedy’s repetition of the word “war,” King’s repetition of the word “together,” and Rudd’s repetition of the phrase “I am sorry.” Epiphora is a particularly striking form of repetition because the repeated word or phrase starts to sound like a refrain or central image around which everything else circles.

Examples of Epiphora in Literature

Example #1

BASSANIO: 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.

PORTIA: 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 play The Merchant of Venice, the character of Portia gives her fiancé Bassanio a ring, saying that it represents all that she is and all that she has, which are now the property of Bassanio. However, Portia later dresses up as a male lawyer to save the life of Bassanio’s best friend Antonio and requests the ring as payment. Bassanio gives it to her in the guise of the lawyer, and later Portia criticizes how flippantly he parted with it. Indeed, it was all a test on her part and Bassanio failed miserably. Their exchange, excerpted above, centers around the ring, which is highlight by the epiphora of the word “ring” at the end of each line.

Example #2

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

(“Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe)

Edgar Allen Poe used many different types of repetition in his poetry, all with different effects. In his poem “Annabel Lee” we find a few examples of epiphora, such as in the stanza above. Poe highlights the connection between the youth of the narrator and his young bride both by the use of italics (relatively rare in poetry), as well as the repetition of the word “child” at the end of successive clauses. Poe also uses epiphora to describe their love in the line “But we loved with a love that was more than love.” There are other instances of epiphora in this poem in which the repeated word comes at the end of successive lines, but note that in this example the epiphora occurs in the same line.

Example #3

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” by Walt Whitman)

Walt Whitman uses many forms of repetition in his poem “Song of Myself.” In the stanzas excerpted we find two specific epiphora examples. First is the repetition of the phrase “talk of the beginning and the end,” which notably ends two successive lines. Then comes the stanza where each of four lines ends with “than there is now.” In a poem that glorifies the speaker’s body and life and world around him, this is an excellent example of the way that he sees the present moment: perfect in itself.

Test Your Knowledge of Epiphora

1. Which of the following statements is the correct epiphora definition?
A. A form of repetition in which a word or words is repeated at the beginning of successive clauses.
B. A type of repetition in which a word is repeated in the middle of successive phrases.
C. A style of repetition in which a word or words is repeated at the end of successive clauses or sentences.

Answer to Question #1 Show

2. Which of the following words is a synonym for epiphora?
A. Anaphora
B. Epistrophe
C. Symploce

Answer to Question #2 Show

3. Which of the following stanzas from Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” contains an example of epiphora?

A.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

B.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

C.

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?

Answer to Question #3 Show

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