“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.” - Charles Dickens
Have you heard this quote from A Tale of Two Cities before? Even if you can't recite the entire thing, you likely know at least the first clause or two. The reason why this quote is so memorable is because Charles Dickens uses a literary device called "anaphora" to achieve an artistic effect. In this article, I'll cover what anaphora is and how you can use it in your work to be as unforgettable as Dickens.
Anaphora is the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a clause to achieve an artist effect. Anaphora has a long history, dating all the way back to Biblical Psalms, where phrases like "O Lord" were repeated at the beginning of each line of a prayer.
Anaphora is a popular rhetorical device because it adds emphasis. The repetition gives your writing a powerful cadence and rhyme so it's easier to read (no getting tripped up on changes at the beginning) and remember.
Using anaphora in your work helps you appeal to the emotions of your readers. The repetition sharpens your words and creates more urgency. Consider how the examples in the next section use anaphora to increase the power of the message.
Writers, poets, and speakers have used anaphora for centuries to add emphasis to their work. Here are some of the most famous examples of anaphora from history.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: "I Have a Dream" Speech
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state, sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today."
Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities
"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.”
Winston Churchill: "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" Speech
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
The Police: Every Breath You Take
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you
Anaphora: Final Thoughts
Anaphora is a powerful way to make your work resonate with readers. If you want them to remember your words, consider using repetition to add consequence to your work.
Did we capture your favorite examples of anaphora? Let us know in the comments.