Epizeuxis is the emphatic repetition of a word or phrase without interruption. It’s pronounced /ɛpɪˈzjuːksɪs/ and comes from Greek, meaning fastening together.
It’s in the first line in William Blake’s Tyger:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,In the forests of the night;
Three is the most common number or repetitions, and we’ll see an instance thereof in the Quote.
More than three sounds weird in most places, unless it’s poetry. Here’s Edgar Allan Poe in The Bells with two instances of epizeuxis:
Keeping time, time, time,In a sort of Runic rhyme,To the tintinnabulation that so musically wellsFrom the bells, bells, bells, bells,Bells, bells, bells—From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
That’s seven bells!
Actually, it is possible to get away with extreme epizeuxis in prose, and in a short story at that. Here’s Hemingway in Hills Like White Elephants.
‘I’d do anything for you.’
‘Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?’
If you ever encounter a sensible take on a more numerous epizeuxis, do let me know! (I note that Wikipedia cites Monty Python’s Flying Circus: I’ll have your Spam. I love it. I’m having Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam. But I reckon the baked beans spoils the deal, and it’s still only a seven-fold repetition.)
Quote:O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;But O heart! heart! heart!O the bleeding drops of red,Where on the deck my Captain lies,Fallen cold and dead.
What makes the Quote quiver?
Funky formatting with heart repeated at the heart of the stanza. Rhymed storytelling.
Some poems are pretty pompous profligate poetic pabulum, some are elegant, some are knotted nettles of meaning, some make you cry, and some tell stories. O Captain! tells a story. And it’s short, only three stanzas, so you can read it and enjoy it, without worrying that you’ll be interrupted after four or five hours because it’s time for dinner (e.g. Ovid’s Metamorphosis for which you may need a motivational push to get started.)
What is at the core of the Quote?
Epizeuxis, syncope, anastrophe (or another name for hyperbaton).
You might be tempted to label the opening four words O Captain! my Captain! an epizeuxis as well, and maybe you’d be right in an extended sense.
Syncope is a type of orthographic scheme, or metaplasm, which is the general name for figures of speech that manipulate words, by adding, subtracting, or transposing syllables and letters within words. In particular, weather’d is made to lose a syllable for the metre to work. Syncope occurs in the other two stanzas as well, in the third line of both: in ribbon’d and in anchor’d. (Although in today’s “standard” pronunciation the omitted syllables would not be pronounced anyway.)
Anastrophe, or more generally, hyperbaton is an inversion of the natural order of words or clauses. For example, in English you expect the usual word order Subject-Verb-Object. So you would expect While eyes follow the steady keel, but instead you get While follow eyes the steady keel.
Listen to a fellow blogger, Jordan Harling, read the whole poem.
- T. S. Eliot and the Extended Chiasmus, a post in which I discuss Eliot’s poem Eyes That Last I Saw in Tears.
- Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman.