Repetition Repetition Repetition

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"Intentional--as opposed to careless or inadvertent--repetition of sounds, words, phrasing, or concepts is used in literary works to create unity and emphasis.  The effects of repetition on the work's tone and meaning vary with the context and with the form of the repeated element" (Hamilton 98). 

When you write an essay, it is generally frowned upon if you repeat words.  Not so with literature.  Repetition can have profound meaning in fiction and poetry.  For example, in one of my very old poems "Waiting For The Song To End", I repeated this line after every stanza:


It was to emphasize the sound of the clock that was slowly driving me mad (as it does to the audience when they read the poem).  The audience becomes impatient and agitated, which was the emotion that I felt during my experience that inspired the poem.

So the next time you see an author repeat words over an over again, don't just write (haha) them off as poor writers; take a look at the words they are repeating and try to find some meaning in them.

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.


Greta Carroll said:

You’re right Lauren, the repetition author’s use is very deliberate and for a specific reason—your explanation behind the reasons for repetition in your own poem showed that. (I only wish I could read this poem of yours! Ha ha). But I think repetition of some word, phrase, or idea, is one of the strongest ways authors can stress the importance of some point. The author thinks the idea is important enough to repeat it over and over again. They obviously want us to remember this idea, or they wouldn’t repeat it. It’s almost like the author is putting sticky notes all over your room with little reminders, saying “Don’t forget this! This is important!”

Maddie Gillespie said:

Now, I want you to understand this: I totally and completely agree with your point. Now understand this: I really like Greta's analogy of a writer putting up post-its all over your proverbial mind, telling you not to forget things. Now understand this: repetition has its uses, even it in the process they tend to sent us to sleep (like math for me). Now understand this: I really want to drive home all of the above points in your brain so that you won't forget them and hopefully have a laugh in the reading of them! Y'all have a nice day now, y'hear!

Stephanie Wytovich said:

Lauren, I agree completely. I too, like to use repetition in my poetry. Not only does it emphasize the point that you’re trying to make, but I think it also gives your audience insight to the emotion(s) that you were going through while you were writing.
I like the example that you gave as well. I think it really does show the audience a state of confusion and insanity. Time is slowly moving by, while you are continually losing your mind. It’s a interesting use of repetition, and I’d be curious to read the entire poem

Jessie Farine said:

Nice quote. I chose the same exact one.

Nice use of repetition. I actually felt the agitation, imagining how slowly someone could read that line.

Nice pun. I caught it.

(Aren't I witty? I'm being repetitive on a blog about repetition. Oh man.)

A really good example of repetition is in a reading for Seminar in Thinking & Writing: "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid. In this little... thing, for lack of a better name for it, her mother constantly repeats warnings for the girl to not become a slut. It's pretty strong to say the least.

Erica Gearhart said:

Great point Lauren. This is sort of what Dr. Jerz wanted us to do with our close readings. We have to take a deeper look at seemingly irrelevant words, phrases, and ideas that the writers present for us as the reader in order to better understand the meaning of the work

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