Modern poets and teachers often emphasize the importance of changing the meaning or sense of a refrain with each repetition. I have generally tried to follow this rule. However, I was reading Elizabeth Berret Browning’s “The Sleep” again the other day, and saw that although it doesn’t change the sense of the refrain in the modern sense, by changing punctuation or splitting words, it adds a new dimension to the refrain with each repetition. I think it is as valid a use of the refrain as more “catchy” modern ones. The refrain, when its sense is not changed, charges the air with feeling on each repetition. When it is used the way Browning uses it here, it has an incantatory quality that is enhanced by the formal diction, structure, and length (3 3’s). So while I will continue to primarily attempt to change the sense of refrains in the fun wordplay that is modern formal verse, I will also keep my eye out, and my ear open, for situations, structures, and senses that lend themselves to this more emotive methodology.

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