6 Examples of Isocolon in Literature

Definition of Isocolon

Isocolon is a rhetorical device wherein parallel structures of the same length repeat in a sentence. It involves phrases, clauses and longer syntactic units that balance each other in meter, length and syntax. Isocolon creates a powerful sense of rhythm, emphasis and lyricism through repetition and parallelism.

The term “isocolon” comes from the Greek words “iso” which means equal and “kolon” means portion. It embodies parallel “equal portions” of text that imitate each other grammatically. This repetition of syntactically balanced units makes the text very sculptured, rhythmic and memorable. The repetition builds emphasis and amplifies the meaning.

Importance of Isocolon in Writing

The use of isocolon serves several key purposes:

  • Adds cadence, musicality and memorability to language
  • Allows creative rearrangement of text in stylistic ways
  • Highlights important themes or contrasts through repetition
  • Crafts grand, soaring rhetoric when used eloquently
  • Conveys authority, wisdom, confidence, and decisiveness

Common Examples of Isocolon

Following are the common examples of Isocolon: –

  • “I came, I saw, I conquered.” – Julius Caesar
  • “Government of the people, by the people, for the people…” – Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
  • “The few, the proud, the Marines.” – US Marine Corps slogan
  • “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” – Environmental slogan

Examples of Isocolon in literature


“Julius Caesar” by Shakespeare

“As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.”

The excerpt contains the repetitive phrase structure to create a series of isocolons. It emphasizes the contrasting aspects of Caesar and the relationship of the speaker to him.

This builds rhetorical force through the parallelism juxtaposing Caesar’s positive traits i.e. being loved, fortunate and valiant with his fatal flaw of ambition, which leads to the speaker slaying him.

The repetition also connects the speaker intimately to Caesar in different ways, which makes the contrast between love, joy, honor and murder more striking. The isocolon creates a tense and dramatic effect that highlights the speaker’s conflicted relationship with Caesar through parallel contrasting phrases.


“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

The repetitive phrase structure i.e. “boats against the current” and “borne back ceaselessly” creates an isocolon that emphasizes the futility. The initial phrase establishes the image of boats endeavoring forward against the current.

The repetition of the structure highlights how despite all effort moving ahead, there is a larger unrelenting force carrying the boats back inescapably. The isocolon sets up a poetic juxtaposition between forward movement and backward force to convey a sense of being trapped by the past.

The parallel phrases work together to vividly express the despair and loss of agency felt by the writer through the evocative central image of the boats.


“Richard II” by Shakespeare

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.”

The two isocolons, i.e. the parallel structures of “winter of our discontent” and “glorious summer” have been used. The repetition of these phrases emphasizes the contrast drawn between them.

The use of words “Winter of our discontent” present metaphorical image of the difficult and dark times, which the speaker is currently enduring. This is directly paralleled in structure to “glorious summer”, which offers an alternative vision of prosperity and triumph brought by the “sun of York.”

The repeated parallel phrasing draws special attention to the stark shift expressed from one condition to its opposite. The similar syntax also connects the two ideas, which suggests that one directly leads to the other.

The isocolons intensify the dramatic turnaround conveyed from discontent to glory through emphatic contrasting imagery. The parallelism emphasizes the distinction between winter and summer and makes their relationship more vivid.


“Paradise Lost” by Milton

…Recovered Paradise to all mankind,
By one man’s disobedience lost…”

The repetition of the structure creates an isocolon, which emphasizes the contrast between what was regained and how it was originally lost. The first phrase conveys the idea of Paradise retrieved for all people. This is then directly paired in sound and syntax with how humanity’s Eden was forfeited by one person while disobeying.

The similar phrasing connects these two opposing ideas about Paradise, which emphasizes their relationship. At the same time, the repetition calls attention to the ironic disparity between the scale of what was recovered and what led to its initial loss in the first place.

The parallelism of isocolon enables the distinction through contrast and meaningful connection between the paired ideas.


Maya Angelou’s Inaugural Poem

“When it may be said your children’s children will be judged by their character’s content.”

The excerpt utilizes isocolon through its parallel repetition of “your children’s children.” Here, the repeated long phrase creates two parts of the sentence that match in length, rhythm and structure. This draws focus to the core subjects who will “be judged” – the descendants of the listener’s lineage.

The subsequent phrase “by their character’s content” completes the isocolon by introducing what these descendants will be evaluated on. The parallelism in the first part of the line amplifies attention on those future generations and what they represent over time.

The phrase specifies exactly what aspect of those generations – their character content – will face judgment. This explains concisely what is at stake for the family line according to principles of moral assessment.


“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

The excerpt uses two sets of isocolons to emphasize key points. The first is “Two roads diverged” and “and I, I took the one.” This counterparts the image of the two roads with the act of taking one of them.

It takes out attention to the choice made between different options. The second is “the one less traveled by” and “that has made all the difference.” Again, the syntax mirrors the two paths – one popular, one not. The repetition also associates the road taken directly to the dramatic difference in outcomes that results.

The multiple isocolons reinforce the two alternatives available i.e. the act of deciding between them and the significance of that single choice by putting all those ideas in closely matched structures.

The parallelism both accomplishes emphasis through repetition and links related concepts clause by clause through the similar sound and phrasing.

Examples of Isocolon in Literature
Examples of Isocolon in Literature

Related Terms

1- Anaphora

The repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. Isocolon focuses on parallel grammatical construction more broadly, while anaphora narrows it to repetition at the start of clauses.

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…” – Winston Churchill demonstrates anaphora.

2- Parallelism

The general technique of constructing sentences or passages where the elements correspond in grammatical structure, sound, meaning, meter, etc. Isocolon refers specifically to parallelism achieved through repeating equal syntactic units, while parallelism has a broader scope.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” – Charles Dickens uses parallelism more freely.

Anaphora and parallelism describe types of repetition similar to isocolon, but isocolon concentrates on reflecting complete clauses or longer phrasings in a precisely symmetrical, equal way to produce a very measured effect. The strict equality of the parallel units is the defining feature of isocolon.

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