Term: Refrain

A refrain is a repeated part of a poem, particularly when it comes either at the end of a stanza or between two stanzas. Sebastian Barker's 'The Uncut Stone' has a traditional refrain, consisting of two rhymed sentences that never change at the end of each stanza; James Fenton uses a slightly looser type of refrain in 'In Paris With You', where the title returns at the end of almost every stanza, but with slight additions so that it continues the sentence of which it is a part.

Some forms, such as villanelles, demand a refrain as part of their definitions. With every line repeated, a pantoum might be said to be made entirely of refrains, but this would be an unusual usage, as refrains tend to be thought of as a moment of repetition within an otherwise flowing poem.

How to use this term

In 'Lord Neptune', Judith Nicholls has a four-line refrain that adds a mythological dimension to the seaside visit of the poem.

Pick a Letter...

Daljit Nagra

From time to time a poet is in residence at the Poetry Archive, talking about poetry with anyone who wants to join in the conversation.

Comic Verse

I'm troubled, as you can tell by my introduction, about comic verse. Comic verse gets bad press because rigid notions of comedy foreground throwaway poems. Surely the best comedy is when the poem surprises us into laughter rather than setting up t... >