Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of parallelism?

The definition of parallelism is the repetition of words or phrases for rhetorical or poetic effect.

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Last Updated May 25, 2023.

In literature, parallelism is a rhetorical device that repeats certain words, phrasing, or grammatical construction within or between sentences. Writers use parallelism to make their writing more rhythmic and to draw the reader or listener’s attention to particular passages.

Parallelism derives from the Greek word parallēlos, meaning “beside one another,” from para (“beyond, besides”) and allos (“one another”). 

An example of parallelism can be found in William Blake’s poem “The Tyger”:

And what shoulder, & what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?

Blake uses parallelism to develop the poem’s rhythm and urgency, repeating the structure of the first two lines in the last two lines.

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