It’s Poetry Friday and I have been thinking about repetition.
It’s Poetry Friday and I have been thinking about repetition. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!).
I’m working on a new verse novel, which I’m not ready to share with the world, but yesterday, I realised that I had used the same two words a dozen times in one poem. Was it a mistake? No. It was very deliberate. See my character has just had some bad news, but instead of thinking about it, she is getting lost in distractions. So instead of focussing on what’s really upsetting, she is focussed on finding her water bottle, which she needs for a game of hockey. Thus the repeated words – ‘water bottle’.
So, in this instance, the repetition is an attempt to capture my character’s agitation (and no, I’m not telling what she’s agitated about. You’ll have to wait for the book).
This started me thinking of why other poets might use repetition. It didn’t take me long to find a couple of favourite poems. First, there’s Walter de la Mare’s gorgeous poem about the moon:
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in silver-feathered sleep
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream
The repetition of the word ‘silver’ here is just one of the things I love about this poem. The repetition though really highlights that silvery luminescent magic of a moonlit night, and the way the moon lends that special magic. The use of personification here is also special and I love that the moon seems unaware that it is she that is creating the silvery magic.
Then there’s Walter R. Brooks’ joyful poem:
Ode to Spring
O spring, O spring,
You wondering thing!
O spring, O spring, O spring!
O spring, O spring,
When the birdies sing
I feel like a king,
This one is silly, but it makes me smile, and while it may seem really simple to repeat the phrase ‘o spring’ so many times, it gives the feel of a happy song. As someone currently shivering through a cold wet Autumn, I would love to be singing in spring. This poem was also ostensibly written by a talking pig named Freddy, so the simplicity seems to work. (By the by, in checking my information about Brooks. I realised that his work was the inspiration of the Mr Ed television series.)
These examples have used only a word or two, but sometimes repetition can be in the form of a line or phrase, as in Merrill Glass’s But You Didn’t, which you can read in full here. Here, the repeated ‘but you didn’t’ draw us in to what seems a simple love poem – until the final ‘but you didn’t’ leaves us gasping with realisation about what this poem is really about. What a clever poem – though very sad, as well.
Repetition is a deceptively simple poetic technique, but when used well, it can really pack a poetic punch.
Have a wonderful Friday. The Poetry Friday roundup can be found at Michelle Barnes’ blog, Today’s Little Ditty.
After I’d written this post, I was working on a new poem for my Poetry Tag blog (which I share with my friend Rebecca), and managed to work a repeated word in there. You can see my poem Really Estate here.