An Introduction to Epistrophe

Epistrophe (also known as antistrophe; derives from the Greek word “ἐπιστροφή”, meaning “return”), is a rhetorical device in which the same word or phraseOpens in new window is repeated at the end of successive clausesOpens in new window, lines or verses for rhetorical elegance.

In another variety, a figure through which the concluding words of one sentence are repeated severally at the end of each following sentences.

The Epistrophe is only concerned with ending of a passage as contrary to AnaphoraOpens in new window, which takes repetition in the beginning of a passage.

Examples of Epistrophe

Epistrophe also termed as Epiphora is quite prominent in musical lyrics as well as in literature. One of the notable examples of epistrophe in music is focused on the work of the famous lyricist “Howard DietzOpens in new window” where he employed the device in his classic theater song “triplests”; in which he hammered home a striking rhythm:

  • “they looked alike, and dressed alike, and walked alike, and talked alike.”

Irving BerlinOpens in new window’s classic “All Alone” thus also employed the device:

  • “Wonderng where you are, and how you are, and If you are all alone too.”

Below are other examples of epistrophe, particularly in literature and politics:

  • “Senatior, I served with Jack Kennedy; I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine.
    Senator you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
  • Lloyd Bentsen

    Notice the repeated element, Jack kennedy, is put at the front rather than the end of the third clause, then moved back to the end for the finish. The variety adds to the force of the device when it resumes.
  • “For no government is better than the men who compose it, and I want the best, and we need the best, and we deserve the best.”
  • John F. Kennedy
  • “I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.”
  • The Merchant of Venice, 1.3
  • “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divides us has come.”
  • Nelson Mandela
  • “You see me, young man; I never learned Greek,
    and I don’t find that I have ever missed it. I have had a Doctor’s cap and gown without Greek;
    I have ten thousand florins a year without Greek;
    I eat heartily without Greek;
    and, in short,” continued he, “as I don’t know Greek,
    I do not believe there is any good in it.”
  • — Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield
  • “Death is Nature’s remedy for all things, and why not Legislation’s? Accordingly, the forger was put to Death; the utterer of a bad note was put to Death; the unlawful opener of a letter was put to Death; the purloiner of forty shillings and sixpence was put to Death; the holder of a horse at Tellson’s door, who made off with it, was put to Death; the coiner of a bad shilling was put to Death; the sounders of three-fourths of the notes in the whole gamut of Crime, were put to Death.”
  • — Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  • “I confided all to my aunt when I got home; and in spite of all she could say to me, went to bed despairing. I got up despairing, and went out despairing.”
  • — Dickens, David Copperfield
  • “What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
Important Hint! 

The general purposes of Epistrophe tend to be similar to those of Anaphora Opens in new window, but the sound is different, and often a bit subtler, because the repetition does not become evident until each time a sentence or clause ends.

Sometimes Epistrophe can be easier to use, and it tends to be convenient on different occasions; because the parts of speech that most naturally go at the end of an English sentence or clause aren’t the same as the ones that come most naturally at the start.

Further Readings:
American Rhetoric EpistropheOpens in new window
Sheila Davis | The Craft of Lyric Writing;
Ward Farnsworth | Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric; Epistrophe.
Mark Forsyth | The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase; Epistrophe.