Incremental repetition

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Incremental repetition

Incremental repetition: A poetic device involving the repetition of lines or phrases, whether in successive stanzas or within a stanza, with subtle modifications or additions to advance the story line. Incremental repetition is commonly used in ballads, sometimes employs a question-and-answer format, and often occurs in the last line of each stanza.

EXAMPLES: The refrain of each stanza of Emily Brontë’s poem “November, 1837” exhibits incremental repetition:

The night is darkening round me,

The wild winds coldly blow;

But a tyrant spell has bound me

And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending

Their bare boughs weighed with snow,

And the storm is fast descending

And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,

Wastes beyond wastes below;

But nothing drear can move me;

I will not, cannot go.

Pop music examples include “Day of the Locust” (1970), in which Bob Dylan recounted his acceptance of an honorary degree from Princeton and used incremental repetition in the chorus, which describes locusts singing, and Sting’s “The Hounds of Winter” (1998), in which hounds of winter howl, follow the singer, and ultimately harry him down.