Examples of Refrain in Poetry

Definition of Refrain

Refrain is a poetic device. In refrain, a line or group of lines are repeated at intervals within a poem or song. It serves as the chorus. The refrain enhances the overall musicality, emotion and meaning of the piece. The refrain of a poem tends to be its most memorable and evocative line, which encapsulates the central theme or mood of the work. It gives structure, emphasis and cohesion to poems and lyrics.

The origin of refrain traces back to old ballads and musical traditions. The familiar echo of the refrain helps listeners to recall poems and strengthened their emotional resonance. Modern song lyrics still employ the catchiness of refrains to amplify sentiments and allow audiences to deeply feel and contemplate the thematic core. Though styles evolve, the refrain will always be a central poetic method for crafting imaginative worlds layered with meaning.

Function of Refrain in Poetry

The refrain’s repetition serves several functions in poetry:

  1. Emphasis: It emphasizes the significant ideas and themes, which make them more striking and memorable to the reader.
  2. Structure: It provides a predictable element that organizes the layout and rhythm of the poem.
  3. Emotional Impact: The refrain helps to evoke strong emotions, which reinforces the mood or tone of the poem.
  4. Musicality: It adds a lyrical quality and enhances the auditory appeal of the poem.

Examples of Refrain in Poetry

Example#1

“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

“And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!”

Here, the refrain ‘nevermore’ deeply impacts the mood and meaning. The raven, perched unmoving on a statue, casts a shadow that feels almost demonic under the lamplight. This imagery combined with the raven’s eerie repetition of ‘nevermore’, amplifies the sense of despair. The speaker feels as if his soul is trapped by the shadow on the floor symbolizing his engulfing grief and the inescapability of his sorrow. The use of ‘nevermore’ as a refrain emphasizes the permanence of his loss, which suggests that his soul will never rise from the despair just as the raven remains perched and unyielding. This powerful refrain binds the poem’s themes of loss, mourning and the search for meaning in suffering.

Example#2

“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

In the stanza, the refrain “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” strongly captures the central theme of the poem i.e. fighting against death. This specific verse urges people, particularly the elderly to resist the inevitability of death with fervor and passion. The phrase ‘do not go gentle’ suggests that one should not accept death passively. Instead, the writer advocates for a fiery and spirited battle against the end of life. The repetition of the word ‘rage’ in the refrain emphasizes this call to action, which symbolizes a defiant and almost rebellious attitude towards mortality. It is a plea for life to be cherished and fought for, right until the very last moment, which makes the stanza a powerful and emotive part of the poem.

Example#3

“Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe

“But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.”

The love between the speaker and Annabel Lee has been described as “more than love”, which highlights its extraordinary depth and intensity. The refrain “I and my Annabel Lee” emphasizes the deep personal connection and the unique bond they shared. The mention of the “wingèd seraphs of Heaven” coveting their love adds a supernatural element suggesting their love was so profound that even celestial beings envied it. This not only elevates the love they shared to a divine level but also introduces a sense of tragedy. It hints that their love was so powerful as they invited intervention of the fate. The refrain serves to emphasize the theme of a love that transcends the ordinary and enduring beyond the physical separation of death.

Example#4

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”

The poet introduces the idea that losing is a part of life and not difficult to get used to. The refrain ‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master’ deplores that dealing with loss is something that can be learned like an art form. The writer by stating that “so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost” implies that loss is natural and inevitable, woven into the fabric of existence. The idea that “their loss is no disaster” minimizes the impact of these losses, which suggests that they are not catastrophic but part of the ordinary flow of life. This stanza sets the tone for the poem preparing the reader for a deeper exploration of loss and its complexities.

Example#5

“Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.”

The lines describe an almost mystical experience, feeding on “honey-dew” and drinking the “milk of Paradise.” These phrases evoke a sense of sublime nourishment not just physical but spiritual, which suggests an encounter with the divine or an unearthly realm. The “milk of Paradise” implies a purity and celestial quality of the experience elevating it beyond the mundane. This refrain is key in conveying the poem’s dreamlike and fantastical nature inviting readers into a world where the ordinary rules of reality don’t apply and where one can partake in the ethereal and the divine. It encapsulates the poem’s exploration of creation, imagination and the transcendent power of nature and art.

Example#6

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

In the concluding stanza of Frost’s poem, the refrain “And miles to go before I sleep” is repeated. It emphasizes the speaker’s obligations and the journey he must continue before he can rest. This repetition not only reinforces the sense of duty and the weight of responsibilities that the speaker feels but also suggests a deeper and metaphorical journey through life itself. The serene setting of the snowy woods contrasts with the idea of unfulfilled commitments highlighting the allure of rest and peace against the backdrop of enduring responsibilities. The refrain serves as a poignant reminder of the ongoing demands of life even in the face of tranquil and tempting diversions.

Related Terms

Anaphora

Anaphora is similar to a refrain. It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or lines, which adds rhythm and emphasis. On the other hand, the refrain is repeated at intervals. Anaphora is more immediate and localized within the text. The repetition draws attention to the word or phrase being reused, which underscores its significance. Anaphora lends a sense of coherence and poeticism through parallel structure. It powerfully hammers home an idea, emotion or message. Famous examples appear in literature and rhetoric, such as Julius Caesar’s “Veni, vidi, vici” and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. The tactical repetition builds to a crescendo, which makes anaphora an impactful technique.

Chorus

Chorus is often used interchangeably with refrain in the context of songs and ballads. The chorus is a repeating section that contains the central message or theme. It is typically more pronounced and separate from the verses. The chorus tends to be the most recognizable and resonant part of a song where the main idea is distilled into a short and catchy segment. It provides a touchpoint for listeners amidst the developing narrative of the verses. Singers often infuse the chorus with dynamic vocalization and harmonies to distinguish this climactic section. From pop songs to hymns, the chorus sublimely summarizes the emotional and intellectual high points. Its recurrence implants it in memory, encapsulating the heart of the lyrical meaning.

Examples of Refrain in Poetry
Examples of Refrain in Poetry

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