Parallelism in Poetry

This article discusses the use of Parallelism in poetry.

Parallelism refers to the repetition of sentence structure or word order to achieve a rhythmical effect. The overall effect is that sentence parts seem to rhyme. More importantly, the thoughts that these parts express are either repeated or contrasted.

The word parallelism is derived from the word parallel, which refers to comparison of two elements that resemble each other, or things that have equal characteristics.

Therefore, parallelism in poetry involves the arrangement of coordinate thoughts to the effect that the relationship between them is emphasized and and their meaning highlighted.


This is probably sounding too complicated already. Let us simplify things a bit, shall we?

Let us start with a few examples:

Say we have the following words:




Try to find other words that are equal in meaning to the words above.

Check out my selection:




Now let us try to use these words to express parallel thoughts:

The lazy and sluggish snake

Bit the merry and cheery little girl,

Making her all sad and mournful


In the above lines, we have just used parallelism. It is as simple as that.

As you may have noted above, it is relatively easy to achieve parallelism for single words, because it is easy to find synonyms. But how about for whole phrases or sentence parts?

Let us give it a go, shall we?

Take note of the following sentence parts:

The children love their teacher…..

Each morning we sing….

The birds are in their nests….

Now let us find expressions of equal force:

….and the teachers love their children.

….each morning we dance, and each morning we pray.

….and in their nests they sing.

Ah, good! Now let us join these sentence parts together:

The children love their teacher, and the teachers love their children.

Each morning we sing, each morning we dance, and each morning we pray.

The birds are in their nests and in their nests they sing.

Note two things about the above examples:

  1. The ideas expressed are nearly synonymous in meaning and are of equal force.
  2. The expressions in parallel have the same tone, i.e., they either both negative or positive.
  3. The order of the words, or structure of the sentence parts is similar

This in essence is how parallelism in poetry occurs. Not only do the sentence parts ‘rhyme’, but the thoughts expressed therein also ‘rhyme’.

It is claimed that parallelism is a common feature of much Hebrew poetry, such as that which occurs in the Biblical Psalms; so I set out to investigate this.

Sure enough, I did find some parallelism. Here is a sample of what I found:

For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.—Psalm 37: 2

But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nighslipped.—Psalm 73:2

Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violencecovereth them [as] a garment.—Psalm 73:6

Sometimes, for stronger effect, or for emphasis, the ideas expressed are inverted or contrasted:

I am lost in a sea of trouble;yet, in this sea a treasure I've found.

Truly, parallelism is an important and effective component of poetry. Try it today!

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