Flowers of Rhetoric: Epizeuxis

“And the highwayman came riding – riding – riding – The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door .”  Alfred Noyes

This is the first of a series of posts in which I unpick one of the flowers of rhetoric (you can find my handy infographic here) and provide a lesson plan with resources and teacher notes that you can download and use as you see fit.

Each lesson will follow a similar format – a series of focused tasks designed to both analyse the technique in question and to use  it within single sentences, followed by a short writing task, a paragraph or two in length. If you are unfamiliar with these rhetorical devices, you can follow the lesson plan as written. The notes will guide you through it, even providing answers to each task. For those of you more confident with the content, please feel free to tweak the plan to your heart’s content. Miss out steps, extend steps so children can practice more, rewrite the examples that children will explore.

I considered basing in each lesson on a poem, a picture book or some other text, but in the end decided against it; I didn’t want buying a book to be a prerequisite of using the lesson plan. That’s not to say you can’t adapt the lesson plan and the writing task to fit in with a text you are using in class.

And when I call this a lesson, I don’t mean this literally.

The sequences should typically take two 1 hour lessons: one lesson on the explanation, analysis and sentence composition and another on the short writing task. You might divide the time in any other way that you see fit.

I’ve aimed the lesson plans at Upper Key Stage 2, but it could easily be pitched up or down, depending upon the particular rhetorical device (some are more challenging for younger writers than others). And because I’m pitching it Upper Key Stage 2, I don’t aim to cover every nuance of every technique, but rather to make it accessible for the majority of children in that age group. So, I do simplify in places. So, the first flower to unpick…

Epizeuxis

Epizeuxis is a good place to start when teaching the flowers of rhetoric as it is simple. Like many of the techniques we shall examine in this series, it is a form of repetition. In this case it is the repetition of a word or phrase (with Upper Key Stage 2 children, I stick with words) in quick succession. Take this example, from Nicola Davies, The Promise:

I pushed aside the mean and hard and ugly, and I planted, planted, planted.

The epizeuxis here is formed by the repetition of the word planted. The trick to writing epizeuxis well, of course, is to select the right word in the right place. In the story so far, our protagonist, a young girl making her way in a mean and hard and ugly world through petty crime, corners an old lady with a heavy bag. The girl tries to steal the bag but the lady on relinquishes it on the receipt of a promise – to plant what was inside the bag. And in the girl’s words, “I stared at them, so green, so perfect, and so many, and I understood the promise I had made. I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed.” And that change of heart leads to the frenzy of activity. The epizeuzix of planted, planted, planted reinforces this new burst of positive action.

Epizeuxis is a powerful device that Shakespeare frequently drew upon.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time;

Upon hearing of the death of his wife, Macbeth sinks deeper into despair, his torment insufferable. And the epizeuxis of to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow conveys the mechanical, repetitive beat of time, carrying this poor player, this fool the way to dusty death.

Notice that in the first example, planted, planted, planted, the repetition is immediate – there are no other words between. Whereas in the second, to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow the conjunction and is placed between the repetitions.  When explaining epizeuxis to children, I use the one small word rule, meaning that we can place a single small word such  the (the horror, the horror) or after (time after time).

Also notice that in our two examples the repetitions come in threes. Whether you are arranging cushions on a couch, ornaments on a mantle or words in a sentence, like De La Soul said, three is the magic number. (Repetition that comes in threes is called tricolon, but we shall save this for a future post.) But two works well too (we call this bicolon) as it does here in Jean Pendziwol’s Once Upon a Northern Night:

Once upon a northern night, deep, deep in the darkest hours, the snowy clouds crept away…

The repeitions in epizeuxis can in theory be limitless. This classic Monty Python sketch stretches epizeuxis to extremes:

Mr Bun: “What have you got, then?”
Waitress:”Well, there’s egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg, bacon and spam; egg, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam; spam, spam, spam, egg and spam; spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam and spam; or Lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle pâté, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam.”
But, for the most part, let’s stick to two or three repetitions.
 
Most of the time, young writers will be separating the repetitions within epizeuxis with either commas – It crept closer, closer, closer – or the conjunction andIt crept closer and closer and closer (we’ll talk about these choices when exploring syndeton in a later post), but there a few tricks that I teach children that can make your epizeuxis stand out from the crowd.
 
Two are techniques that work when forming epizeuxis from adjectives.
 
The first of these is joining the same adjective with as. David Almond uses this technique in Heaven Eyes. The mysterious Heaven Eyes uses it frequently in her speech.
“Lovely lovely. My treasures is waiting in the Middens says Grampa. He will dig them out afore he is still as still.”

and

“Is dark as dark in there. Is hard to eye proper.”

and

“The mum of Erin Law was dark as dark. The mum of Heaven Eyes was black as black.”
The technique works on a smaller scale as in The widest of wide skies stretched across the horizon. There is nothing more wide than wide, so the widest of wides must be the widest wide there can be! It emphasises the adjective to extremes.
 
The second technique is very similar in its function. It is formed by joining a superlative form of an adjective (using the suffix -est) to the standard form with the preposition of, here in Markus Suzak’s Fighting Ruben Wolfe:

Smile with instinct, then lick your wounds in the darkest of dark corners. Trace the scars back to your own fingers and remember them.

A third technique doubles down on the repetition by intertwining two examples of epizeuxis. This can be achieved through an ABAB pattern.
All Jim did was work and sleep, work and sleep.
Here it emphasises the repetitive cycle of Jim’s days.
We ran – amber, black, amber, black – beneath the midnight street lamps .
And here it emphasises the alternating shifts in colour as we ran in and out of the amber glow cast by the street lamps at night. Another pattern that merits exploration is ABBA.
The warriors hacked and slashed, slashed and hacked at Grendel’s thick leathery hide.
Here the ABBA pattern (a form of chiasmus which may well be a later post) serves both to emphasise the repetitive nature of as the blows rain down upon Grendel, but also to suggest a chaotic, frenetic nature to the attack (as opposed to a more structured ABAB pattern).

 

Resource Key

In the downloadable PDF lesson handout and teacher notes that accompany this post, I’ve used symbols to denote different kinds of activities.

The above key shows the following categories of activity:

key ideas relating to the learning focus  that will need to be explained to the children

analysis of the technique which might involve finding and underlining examples or discussing the effect of the technique within sentences

writing, at first trying out the technique within individual sentences and later a short writing task that incorporates the use of the technique

magic tricks – unusual and interesting ways that the technique can be deployed in writing. Like the key ideas these will need to be explained to children

teacher notes which provide lesson guidance such as the finer detail of explanations, possible answers to the above activities and scripts for co-constructing writing

The boxes in the lesson plan below indicate elements of the lesson. Beneath each element are the teacher notes (which are replicated in full on the PDF at the bottom of the post).

The Epizeuxis Lesson

Explain that epizeuxis is the repetition of a word in quick succession.

Read the example from Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, drawing attention to the epizeuxis of the words alone and wide.

Read the extract from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Explain that the children should underline the examples of epizeuxis. The epizeuxis is marked in red below.

She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word. Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow Creeps in this petty place from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Discuss children’s responses Unpick potential misconceptions:

  • the repetition of and within tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow is usually not considered as epizeuxis as it is a word that is used very commonly (other such words might include of, a, an, to)
  • the and within tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, and the to within day to day are not part of the epizeuxis so should not be underlined

 

Ensure that children understand that:

  • the repeated words immediately follow one another with no gaps: out, out
  • there might be small words between the repeated words: tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow; day to day
  • gaps of more than a single word are not considered to be epizeuxis

 

At this this stage focus on children’s ability to identify epizeuxis correctly rather than explain why writers might choose to use epizeuxis.

Explain that, although we could repeat a word indefinitely, epizeuxis typically involves a word being repeated once or twice. Explain that although any word can be repeated to create epizeuxis, it is most easily created by repeating adverbs, verbs and adjectives. (This will, of course, depend upon children’s understanding of these word classes.)

Read the examples for each word class, for each identifying

  • the number of repetitions
  • whether there are no gaps between the repetitions as in up, up, up or single word gaps as in nearer and nearer

 

Draw attention the choice of word being repeated. Epizeuxis typically serves to emphasise the word that is being repeated. In the example The balloon rose up, up, up and away. the word up is repeated to emphasise the height to which the balloon rises. In the example Alice fell and fell and fell for hours. the repetition of fell emphasises the depth and length of time of Alice’s fall.

Read the sentence in on the handout.

Model the thinking process behind selecting words to be repeated using epizeuxis.

“I think I might try repeating the word wide to create epizeuxis. I wonder if it will sound better with two or three repetitions – the wide, wide sky or the wide, wide, wide sky. I like it better with two – the wide, wide sky. I wonder if I should join the epizeuxis with andthe wide and wide sky. No, I think it sounds better without. The wide, wide sky – I like how repeating the word wide it really emphasises just how wide the sky is.”

In pairs the children to identify other words within the sentence that might be repeated to create epizeuxis, deciding upon the number of repetitions and whether they will place a small word (usually and) between the repetitions. Ask them to consider the effect of choosing that word (reminding them that it has the effect of emphasising the repeated word to the reader).

As a whole class, share examples of epizeuxis, discussing the the reasons that words were selected for repetition.

Share the magic tricks with the children, explaining that these are clever ways of using that are different from the ways it is typically used.

doubling up     Swords rose and fell, rose and fell, while axes cut and slashed, slashed and cut.

 This involves intertwining two examples of epizeuxis, either in an A B A B pattern as in rose and fell, rose and fe or in an A B B A pattern as in cut and slashed, slashed and cut.

___ as ___        The breeze was a soft as soft whisper over the still as still earth.

This involves joining two adjectives with the word as: soft as soft; still as still

___est of ___    The palest of pale moons sailed across the blackest of black skies.

This involves joining superlative form of an adjective to an adjective (sometimes functioning as a noun) using the word of: the palest of pale moons; the blackest of black skies.

Reread the sentence that children previously discussed:

Beneath the wide sky, water flowed gently between green fields, splashing over mossy rocks, dancing and sparkling in the bright sunlight.

In their pairs, ask the children to apply one of the magic tricks to the sentence. Possible answers might include:

  • the wide as wide sky or the widest of wide skies (note changing the noun sky into the plural skies)
  • water flowed gently and gently flowed
  • green as green fields or the greenest of green fields
  • dancing and sparkling, dancing and sparkling or dancing and sparkling, sparkling and dancing
  • the bright as bright sunlight or the brightest of bright sunlight

 

Ask the children to rewrite the sentences on their handouts to include at least one example of epizeuxis for each sentence. They might include the magic tricks. They need not change the sentence in any other way other than to repeat words to include epizeuxis.

Solutions for each sentence include:

original            The children cried as the huge beast – with its sharp fangs and its cruel eyes  – shuffled closer.

rewritten          The children cried and cried as the huge beast – with its sharp as sharp fangs and its cruel as cruel eyes  – shuffled closer, closer, closer.

original            Skye trudged endlessly on through the deep drifts of white snow up to the mountain summit.

rewritten          Skye trudged endlessly on and on through the deep, deep drifts of white snow up, up, up to the mountain summit.

original            The fairies sang and danced for hours to the drip-drop of rain upon the silvery leaves of the tall oaks.

rewritten          The fairies sang and danced, danced and sang for hour after hour to the drip-drop, drop-drip of rain upon the silvery leaves of the tallest of tall oaks.

Share and discuss children’s sentences, unpicking the reasoning behind the epizeuxis, celebrating successful examples and reworking less successful examples.

 

This royalty free image for the short writing task can be downloaded from Unsplash.

 

Display the image of the snowy nighttime scene, and explain that the children will write a short paragraph (or two) about this scene (although they might use their imaginations to go beyond it).

Explain that the purpose is to make the writing feel soft, calm and peaceful, so they should use content and vocabulary that meets that goal.

Discuss the content they might include in their writing. A brief list on the handouts includes:

  • the sky, clouds, moon and stars
  • the snow falling from the sky
  • the snow settling – on the ground, on trees, fences, etc.
  • an animal wandering through the scene – a robin, deer, squirrel, fox, owl, etc.

 

Share and discuss the snow word bank (n = nouns, a = adjectives, v = verbs), clarifying any unknown vocabulary, and how the vocabulary might apply to snow (the white snow laying on the ground might look like a canvas, for example)

Walk children through four challenge levels, each of which are related to epizeuxis:

  1. the writing must include at least two examples of epizeuxis
  2. the writing will include at least one example of epizeuxis where a an adverb is repeated, one where a verb is repeated and one where an adjective is repeated
  3. the writing will include at least one sentence with more than one example of epizeuxis
  4. the writing will include one of the magic tricks

 

Every child should aim to at least complete challenge 1. Challenges 2 to 4 are optional, not in any particular order, and are not cumulative.

Co-construct an example of the writing as a whole class. An example of a completed co-constructed piece is included below, which you may choose to use or draw upon. Words within the model drawn from the word bank are underlined. Examples of epizeuxis are marked in red.

A single feathery flake, pristine and pure, drifted and danced, danced and drifted through the still as still air. Soon a flurry of flakes crowded the night sky, painting the canvas of sky in the whitest of whites. They floated down, down down to the welcoming ground, brushing the silvery pines and settling softly, softly upon the powdery blanket of the earth.

The children compose their own short pieces, considering the purpose, drawing upon the content ideas and word bank, and including the epizeuxis through the challenges.

Share and celebrate.

The Epizeuxis Downloads

Please download the two PDFs below.

Lesson Handout

Teacher Lesson Notes

If you would like me to train your teachers in The Flowers of Rhetoric, whether that be through INSET, staff meetings or team teaching, do please get in touch via the contact form.


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  1. Pauline Gibbs Reply

    Thank for this; this will be so useful for my children when we finally get back to normal,. Thanks for sharing.

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