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Refrain

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English Literature

The refrain is a poetic device that uses the repetition of lines or phrases in a poem to emphasise a theme or idea. In the following text, we'll explore its usage in literature, examples, and importance.

What does refrain mean?

The refrain is a poetic device used in literature, and is defined as a word, line, or phrase repeated in a poem. The part of a refrain that is repeated is called the ‘repetend’ and refers to a single word that is repeated. The refrain is typically found at the end of a line in a stanza of a poem.

The effect of the refrain is the emphasis that the repetition of a word, line, or phrase places on a chosen idea. The use of this literary device can also contribute to the rhythm of a poem, which helps keep the rhythmic structure of the poem. This emphasis on an idea highlights its importance, which the reader must remember.

Types of the refrain

The repetend

In poetry, the repetend is a single word repeated at regular intervals throughout the poem.

We can identify the refrain in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ (1845). In the last line of each stanza (except stanza two), the author uses the repetend ‘nevermore’.

The burden

The burden refers to a phrase that is repeated throughout the poem.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Annabel Lee’ (1849), in the second line of most of the stanzas, the author uses the burden ‘In a kingdom by the sea’.

Another example is Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' (1845), which features the burden 'nothing more' in the last line of each stanza (except stanza two).

The chorus

The chorus is the repetition of a phrase or multiple phrases in a poem or a song, usually sung by more than one person.

A common example of this type of refrain, and an easy way to remember its effect is the chorus of a song. The phrases that make up a chorus typically reflect the song's central theme, and it is the chorus that you most often remember when thinking about a song.

Examples of the refrain in literature

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

One of the most well-known examples of the refrain is Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ (1951).

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.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Analysis of the refrain in 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'

This poem explores the theme of mortality. It is widely believed to be about Thomas' thoughts on his father's impending death, as his father died in 1952, one year after the poem was published. Thomas' father is the subject of the poem, and Thomas is the narrator.

The first thing to consider is the word, line or phrase that reoccure through the poem. The first and third lines from the first stanza are alternatively repeated at the end of each stanza. The overall subject matter of the poem features the tug of war between life and death. The repeated lines ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ (line one) and ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ (line three) emphasise the narrator’s intense feelings for the subject of the poem to keep fighting to stay alive.

Think about the feelings that are evoked by the repetition and rhyming of 'rage, rage against the dying of the light', and 'do not go gentle into that good night'. It sounds like a desperate plea for the subject of the poem to stay alive.

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

Here is an extract of the poem, which consists of 19 stanzas. This extract is from stanzas six to nine:

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—

’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such name as “Nevermore.”

Analysis of the refrain in 'The Raven'

The last lines of stanzas one to eight, excluding stanza two, end in the words ‘nothing more’. The last lines of stanzas nine to 19 end in ‘Quoth the Raven "nevermore"’. Having these words in mind, think about the overall meaning or idea of the poem. In ‘The Raven’ (1845), the speaker tells a story of a raven visiting them while they are in despair after the loss of their love interest. Does the repetend that expresses the negatives of ‘nevermore’ and ‘nothing more’ show the lover’s reflections on his situation? The speaker feels grief and loss, and the repetition of 'nevermore' and 'nothing more' has a tone of finality that the speaker feels while grieving.

The repetend of 'nevermore' and 'nothing more' creates a repetitive rhythm throughout the poem. This puts the focus on the speaker's feelings of finality and despair at the death of his lover. The poem focuses on themes of death and the afterlife, and the chosen repetends emphasise the feeling of nothingness. The speaker is only left with the memory of his dead love, Lenore.

Refrain the raven StudySmarterEdgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven', pixabay.com

The refrain in Edgar Allan Poe's ‘Annabel Lee’ (1849)

It was many and many a year ago,

In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

By the name of Annabel Lee

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,

In this kingdom by the sea,

But we loved with a love that was more than love—

I and my Annabel Lee—

With a love that the winged seraphs of Heaven

Analysis of the refrain in 'Annabel Lee'

Identify the line or phrase that is repeated through this extract. In ‘Annabel Lee’, line two of the stanzas is repeated: ‘In a kingdom by the sea’. This repeated phrase is called the burden.

What do you think the poem presents? This poem explores the death of a young, beautiful woman called Annabel Lee, who the narrator has fallen in love with. What effect does the burden have on the poem's rhythm? The burden of 'in a kingdom by the sea' has seven syllables. In the example stanza beginning with 'it was many and many a year ago', there are 11 syllables in the first line, followed by the burden 'in a kingdom by the sea' with seven syllables. After that, 'That a maiden there lived whom you may know' has ten, and finally, 'By the name of Annabel Lee' has eight syllables. The burden plays a part in this alternating format of lines with a longer and then a shorter syllabic count. It is found in all but the final two stanzas of the poem. It mimics the ebb and flow of the sea, adding the imagery of 'in the kingdom by the sea'.

The image of 'in a kingdom by the sea' cements the idea of Annabel Lee being part of something mystical and magical, as the narrator imagines her in a dream-like, fairytale atmosphere. It is similar to a phrase we're familiar with at the beginning of a fairytale - 'once upon a time'.

In poetry, a refrain is typically found in the last line of the stanza. We saw this with Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' (1845) and the use of 'nevermore' and 'nothing more' in the last line of stanzas one to eight, and stanzas nine to 19. 'Annabel Lee' (1849) does not have the repetend 'in a kingdom by the sea' in the last line of the poem's stanzas.

Refrain kingdom by the sea StudySmarterKingdom by the sea, pixabay.com

How to write your own refrain

To write your own refrain, think of the ideas you want to express in your poem. Then:

  • Focus on choosing one word or a phrase or a collection of phrases that you feel would best emphasise these ideas or themes.

  • You only need to pick one repetend, burden, or chorus, as refrain is most effective when it is distinct from the rest of the poem. This makes it easy to spot the use of refrain with even just a glance!

  • Think about how your chosen repetend, burden or chorus will contribute to the rhyme scheme or the rhythm of your poem or parts of your poem.

Refrain - Key takeaways

  • Refrain is a repeated word, line, or phrase in a poem.
  • The part of a refrain that is repeated and that is a single word is called the ‘repetend’.
  • Refrain is typically found at the end of a line in a stanza of a poem.
  • The effect of refrain is that the repetition of a word, line or phrase emphasises a chosen idea.
  • Refrain contributes to the rhythm of a poem and this helps keep the rhythmic structure of the poem.
  • Types of refrain that be used are repetends, burdens and choruses.
  • The repeated phrase is called a ‘burden’.

Refrain

You use refrain in a number of ways, mostly repeating a word, line, or phrase multiple times throughout the poem. 

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

Refrain is a poetic device used in literature. Refrain is a repeated word, line or phrase you can find in a poem.  

The effect of refrain is that the repetition of a word, line or phrase places emphasis on a chosen idea. The use of refrain can also contribute to the rhythm of a poem and this helps keep the rhythmic structure of the poem. This emphasis on an idea highlights its importance and that it is a key point for the reader to remember. 

Refrain in poetry refers to the use of a repeated word, line or phrase in a poem. Refrain is a technique used in many well-known poems.

Final Refrain Quiz

Question

How do you use refrain?  

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Answer

You use refrain to place emphasis on a chosen idea.  

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Question

What is an example of refrain? 

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Answer

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

Show question

Question

What is refrain? 

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Answer

Refrain is a poetic device used in literature. Refrain is a repeated word, line or phrase you can find in a poem.   

Show question

Question

What is the function of refrain? 

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Answer

The effect of refrain is that the repetition of a word, line or phrase places emphasis on a chosen idea. The use of refrain can also contribute to the rhythm of a poem and this helps keep the rhythmic structure of the poem. This emphasis on an idea highlights its importance and that it is a key point for the reader to remember. 

Show question

Question

How do you write your own refrain?

Show answer

Answer

  • Consider what ideas you want to express in your poem.

  • Focus on choosing one word or a phrase or a collection of phrases that you feel would best emphasise these ideas or themes. 

  • You only need to pick one repetend, burden, or chorus, as refrain is most effective when it is distinct from the rest of the poem. This makes it easy to spot the use of refrain from even just a glance! 

  • Think about how your chosen repetend, burden or chorus will contribute to the rhyme scheme or the rhythm of your poem or parts of your poem. 

Show question

Question

What is a repeated word in the use of refrain called?

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Answer

The repeated in the use of refrain is called the 'repetend'.

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Question

What is a repeated phrase in the use of refrain called?

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Answer

The repeated phrase in the use of refrain is called the 'burden'.

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Question

What is a repeated phrase in the use of refrain called?

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Answer

The repeated phrase in the use of refrain is called the 'burden'.

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Question

In which three ways can refrain be used?

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Answer

  • The repetition of a single word. This is known as the repetend.
  • The repetition of a phrase. This is known as the burden. 
  • The repetition of a phrase or multiple phrases in a poem or a song, usually sung by more than one person. This is known as the chorus.

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Question

Where in a poem is a refrain most commonly found?

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Answer

A refrain is typically found at the end of a line in a stanza of a poem.

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Question

What is the repetition of a phrase of multiple phrases in a poem or a song called?

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Answer

This is called the chorus. It is usually sung or said by more than one person.

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