Guide to Literary Terms

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What is a refrain?

A refrain is a passage that is repeated at intervals over the course of a poem or song.

Refrain

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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 127

Refrain - a phrase or verse recurring at intervals in a poem or song, usually at the end of a stanza, which may help to establish the meter of a poem, indicate its tone, or reestablish its atmosphere. It may also be a nonsense line such as that in Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,” or a word or phrase that takes on added significance each time it appears.

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The term is from the Old French refraindre, meaning “to restrain,” “check,” or to “repeat.” This word was derived from the Low Latin refringere, meaning “to break back”.

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The refrain is very old, appearing in The Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Bible.

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Latest answer posted March 4, 2013, 4:28 am (UTC)

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