English Literature


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The Significance of Refrain: Understanding its Importance in Poetry

In the world of poetry, refrain holds immense power as a poetic device. The strategic repetition of lines or phrases helps to convey a specific theme or idea, making it a crucial element in literature. In this article, we will dive into the significance of refrain and provide examples to better understand its usage and impact.

What is Refrain and Its Purpose?

Refrain is a literary tool commonly used in poetry, defined as the repetition of a word, line, or phrase within a poem. This repeated element is known as the "repetend" and is usually found at the end of a line within a stanza. It serves two main purposes: to place emphasis on a particular concept and to contribute to the overall rhythm of the poem, adding a musical quality to the piece. By highlighting a specific theme through repetition, refrain ensures that the reader remembers it long after reading the poem.

Exploring the Different Types of Refrain

The Repetend: A Single Word

In poetry, the repetend is a single word that is repeated at regular intervals throughout the poem. For example, in Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' (1845), the word "nevermore" is used at the end of every stanza, except for stanza two.

The Burden: A Repeated Phrase

The burden refers to a phrase that is repeatedly used within the poem. In Poe's 'Annabel Lee' (1849), the phrase "In a kingdom by the sea" is repeated in the second line of most stanzas. Another example is 'The Raven' (1845), where the phrase "nothing more" serves as the burden at the end of each stanza, except for stanza two.

The Chorus: Multiple Repetitions

The chorus is another type of refrain that involves the repetition of multiple phrases within a poem or song. This is typically sung by multiple people and serves to reinforce the central theme of the piece. The chorus of a song is a common example of this type of refrain.

Notable Examples of Refrain in Literature

Dylan Thomas' 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' (1951)

A famous illustration of refrain is found in Dylan Thomas' poem 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' (1951). The poem explores the theme of mortality and is believed to be a reflection of Thomas' thoughts on his father's impending death. Interestingly, Thomas' father passed away in 1952, a year after the poem's publication. In the poem, Thomas repeats the phrases "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" to emphasize his intense emotions towards his father's struggle to stay alive.

The alternating repetition of these lines in the first stanza creates a sense of urgency and serves as a desperate plea for the subject to keep fighting. The repetition and rhyme of "rage, rage against the dying of the light" and "do not go gentle into that good night" evoke strong emotions and add to the impactful nature of the poem.

Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' (1845)

'The Raven' (1845) is another notable poem that effectively incorporates refrain. In this extract from stanzas six to nine, the narrator is tormented by the tapping of the raven:

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

The use of the repetend "nevermore" conveys the narrator's growing agitation and the constant presence of the raven. This repetition adds to the eerie atmosphere and enhances the overall effectiveness of the poem.

Examining Repetition in the Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe's works are known for their eerie and enigmatic themes, and one element that adds to their haunting atmosphere is the use of repetition. In particular, the poems "The Raven" (1845) and "Annabel Lee" (1849) utilize a repeated phrase or word as a refrain, emphasizing the speaker's emotions and creating a distinct rhythm.

In "The Raven," the speaker is visited by a raven while in a state of despair and grief over the loss of their love interest. The repetend of "nevermore" and "nothing more" appears at the end of stanzas one to eight, while the phrase "Quoth the Raven 'Nevermore'" is repeated in stanzas nine to nineteen. This repetition reflects the speaker's contemplation about their situation and adds to the melancholic tone of the poem.

Similarly, in "Annabel Lee," the repetend is the phrase "in a kingdom by the sea," which is repeated in most stanzas. This repetition emphasizes the speaker's longing for their deceased lover and adds to the mournful mood of the poem.

Refrains in Poe's Poetry: Their Significance and Impact

The use of refrains in poetry adds depth and meaning to the overall message of the poem. In Edgar Allan Poe's works, refrains play a significant role, particularly in his renowned poems "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee." Let's explore the significance of refrains in Poe's poetry and how they contribute to the haunting and somber mood of his writing.

In "Annabel Lee," the phrase "in a kingdom by the sea" is repeated in every stanza except the final two, giving it the name "burden." This refrain solidifies the idea of the titular character, Annabel Lee, as part of something mystical and enchanting. Its placement also creates a unique rhythm within each stanza, with alternating lines of varying syllable counts, resembling the ebb and flow of the sea.

Interestingly, the burden is absent in the final lines of the stanzas in "Annabel Lee," deviating from the traditional use of a refrain in poetry. However, this deviation adds to the overall atmosphere of the poem, emphasizing the absence of Annabel Lee in the narrator's life and leaving them with only the memory of her.

In "The Raven," the word "nevermore" serves as the repeated phrase within the stanza, while "nothing more" is the refrain at the end of each stanza. Similarly to "Annabel Lee," the repetition of these phrases adds to the themes of death and the afterlife in the poem, evoking a sense of finality and nothingness. This use of repetends also emphasizes the speaker's feelings of despair and grief, making the poem even more haunting and memorable.

Overall, the repeated phrases of "nevermore" and "nothing more" in "The Raven" and "in a kingdom by the sea" in "Annabel Lee" play a significant role in the structure and impact of the poems. They showcase Poe's mastery of repetition and its ability to create a somber and haunting mood that captivates the reader's attention.

Image: "The Kingdom by the Sea" by Edgar Allan Poe, pixabay.com

How to Effectively Use Refrains in Your Poems

To create a powerful refrain in your poem, first consider the main ideas or themes you want to convey. Then, follow these steps:

  • Choose a single word, phrase, or collection of phrases that best highlights these ideas. This will be your "repetend," "burden," or "chorus".
  • Ensure that your chosen refrain stands out from the rest of the poem. This will make it easily recognizable upon a quick glance, maximizing its impact.
  • Consider how your refrain will contribute to the overall rhyme scheme and rhythm of your poem.

Key Takeaways About Refrains in Poetry

A refrain is a repeated word, line, or phrase in a poem. The specific part of a refrain that is repeated is known as the "repetend." Refrains are typically found at the end of a line in a stanza of a poem. Their use effectively highlights a chosen idea and contributes to the poem's rhythm.

Examples of Effective Refrains in Famous Poems

Some well-known poems that utilize refrains include:

  • "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" from Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" (1951)
  • "nevermore" and "nothing more" from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" (1845)
  • "In a kingdom by the sea" from Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee" (1849)

The Definition and Purpose of a Refrain in Literature

A refrain is a literary device commonly used in works of literature. It refers to a repeated word, line, or phrase within a poem and is used to emphasize a particular idea or concept.

Using Refrains to Enhance Your Poetry

Refrains can be used in various ways, such as repeating a word, line, or phrase multiple times throughout the poem. They can contribute to the overall rhythm and structure of the poem, while also highlighting a key theme or idea.

In Conclusion

Edgar Allan Poe's mastery of repetition, particularly through the use of refrains, adds a haunting and somber tone to his poetry. By following his example and considering the key elements of a powerful refrain, you can effectively enhance the impact and meaning of your own poems.

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