Parallelism in Poetry: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

Parallelism is a literary device that connects ideas through similar structures of grammar. Read further to learn more how it is used in poetry, and review some examples of its use.


You are probably familiar with the terms 'parallel' and 'perpendicular' from math class. In geometry, parallel lines never touch, but instead move in similar directions. This is similar to an equals sign (=).

So what about in literature, how can you have anything be parallel? Connecting the mathematical idea to words, parallel words are like synonyms, words that are similar, but will never be the same.

As a literary device, parallelism draws on this idea of connection and similarity. Parallelism is when an author constructs parts of a sentence to be grammatically similar, often repeating a specific word, phrase, or idea. This repetition creates a connection between the ideas discussed. These parallel ideas also become emphasized and become more important for the reader.

Parallelism in Poetry

We will turn our attention from other forms of parallelism to focus specifically on examples from poetry. Parallelism lends itself as an important device here especially in light of poetry's oral tradition.

This device connects parts of lines and even separate lines into a cohesive whole. The connections fostered through parallelism in poetry also serve to create a cadence of rhythm. The lines flow together more seamlessly, unifying ideas.

Parallelism in poetry can be used to create a childish sing-song tone, build tension, or emphasize a point. The decision is up to the author in how they choose to utilize this device.

Poetry Examples - Poe

One example of parallelism in poetry comes from Edgar Allen Poe's poem ''Annabel Lee.''

''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 wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.''

The structure of the pronoun being in front of the phrase 'was a child' connects the two lovers, the narrator and his beloved, in their age. The line ''but we loved with a love that was more than love'' displays the intensity of their love. This line is made parallel two lines later in ''with a love that the wingèd…'' Through this use of parallelism, the author shows that though they are young, they love deeply, even divinely.

Poetry Examples - Browning

In Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem ''How Do I Love Thee'', the author repeats the title line often throughout the piece. She makes a list of 'I love thee' followed by an explanatory clause. She maintains this loosely throughout, but specifically in the lines ''I love thee freely, as men strive for right. / I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.''

In these lines, the author parallels the structure and meter of the lines closely. Browning's use of parallelism serves to deepen the force of her love building to her climactic ending connecting her love to life itself.

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