Chant Poetry Form: Harness Your Inner Strength

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Here’s what the Chant poetry form is:

Chants utilize repetition, either as whole lines or parts of lines, as the primary technique with which to communicate a feeling or intent.

They can be considered a type of poetry, with some poems being explicitly written as chants to experiment with using repetition as a technique by itself.

So if you want to learn all about the Chant poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s get into it!

Chant Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: Chants

dream catcher against the beautiful orange sunset.

Chants incorporate the simplest of poetic techniques: Repetition.

By juxtaposing repetition with sections that aren’t repeated, a chant becomes rhythmic even without extensive use of rhyme or meter, just by virtue of the repeated words and phrases.

Whereas many types of poems pride themselves on concrete structures or some specific theme or focus, chant poems call upon the oldest and most primitive way to imbue words with some sense of emphasis and rhythm.

While many poems do incorporate repetition in the guise of refrains, a chant poem is unique in that repetition is the focus of the poem and is often the only technique utilized.

Basic Properties of a Chant

Woman in casual clothing sitting in lotus position, writing on her notebook outdoors.
Rhyme StructureOptional
OriginAncient, true origin unknown but likely close to the beginnings of poetry
PopularityUtilized worldwide; especially in large organizations.
ThemeTends to be motivational, inspirational, persuasive, etc.

Key Features of a Chant

Woman eyes closed, hands clasped together in prayer position outdoors.

As stated before, chant poems heavily favor repetition even to the exclusion of other techniques.

Chants are about as old as poetry itself, and it’s impossible to determine the exact moment that the first chant was uttered.

It’s common knowledge that chants have been popular for religious purposes across multiple cultures.

This is partly because of one of the unique properties of repetition.

Vocal repetition is one of the oldest and most effective techniques for going into a trance.

This makes chants a perfect fit for those attempting to meditate or relax on a deeper level.

Many chant poems utilize some variant of anaphora in their execution, especially.

Anaphora refers specifically to the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of lines.

Take the following poem for example:

the stunning milky way over the mountains and the lake.

We look to the stars.
We look to the seas.
We look to the earth.
We long to be free.

We walk past shores.
We walk past trees.
We walk past mountains.
We long to be free.

In the above example, the phrase “We look to” is used at the beginning of three lines, then mirrored by “We walk past” in the next verse.

“We” in particular is repeated at the beginning of every line, giving it the most emphasis throughout the poem.

Another common technique for chants is the refrain (or chorus) a repeated line or section that appears in the poem.

In the case of chants, a refrain might be used far more often than in a typical poem, but this isn’t always the case.

In our example, the refrain “We long to be free” is only used twice, at the end of each verse.

It’s worth noting that there is no set structure for a chant poem.

The only core defining feature is excessive repetition.

We’ll go over two more examples, each showcasing a different way to utilize repetition.

melancholic woman sitting on the ground on the mountains.

She looks
She looks away
She looks away from tragedy
She looks away from tragedy selfishly
She looks away from tragedy selfishly with tears in her eyes

The above short poem does have enough repetition to qualify as a chant poem, specifically in the form of anaphora once again, but features no repeated lines and notably expands on the line and the repeated section as the poem gets longer.

One key feature of this poem is that the poem’s narrative gets far more complex with each successive line.

The initial line might only bring to mind the image of a girl looking out a window, but by the end of the poem, we know that the character is suffering from complicated feelings that make us curious about the rest of the narrative.

Next, we’ll look at an example that uses refrains but does not use anaphora.

Red wooden house in orange autumn forest.

Out in the old woods
two gunshots are heard

Jim’s not home
two gunshots are heard

Tucker’s not home
two gunshots are heard

Bob’s not home
two gunshots are heard

Three brothers went to hunt
two gunshots are heard

The safe at home is empty
two gunshots are heard

This poem opens with the obvious mystery of two gunshots in the woods, then gradually introduces us to the characters.

At first, it seems mundane, and we might assume two people shot each other, but then the poem reveals the names of three characters instead of two.

After this minor plot twist, we find out they were brothers, raising the stakes. The last couplet finally reveals the likely cause of these events.

young woman with a book in the autumn forest.

An empty safe, presumably robbed by one of the brothers, though we never find out for sure.

While anaphora and refrains are the most common elements of chant poems, epiphora (repetitions at the end of a line or section) can also be used to a similar effect.

It should be noted that repetitions of sounds, such as in the case of rhymes or alliterative verse, do not constitute a chant.

A poem is only considered a chant when entire words and phrases are repeated, and when that repetition is the primary technique of the poem.

Tips for Writing a Chant

Purple notebook and purple pen with white jasmine flowers.

How you write a chant depends somewhat on the purpose of the chant.

Some of the most common reasons to write a chant are to incite morale in a workplace setting, to invoke faith in a religious setting, or to evoke patriotism in a political setting.

While the mechanisms that make the human brain so sensitive to repetition haven’t been fully explained, there are some simple rules for what makes a good chant.

First, make sure the repeated sections emphasize the most important elements of the chant. If you’re trying to invoke loyalty, then a repetition of “We walk together because” is much more appropriate than “Look at that seashell.”

Second, try to contrast the repetitions with novel and varied sections to decorate the chant.

If you look over the examples again, you’ll realize that there are always some elements that are not repeated.

While simply repeating the same line over and over certainly is a chant, it’s likely to invite boredom.

A good chant gives the listener just enough stimulation to keep them listening, while still entrancing them gradually.

Young lady looking relaxed in her bedroom, writing in her notebook.

Third, stay dedicated to the purpose of the chant. Cut out anything that isn’t necessary.

It’s imperative that a chant be concise and easy to understand in its wording.

You can’t zone out to the tune of “The necessity of the proletariat must be emphasized” as easily as you can to “We need the working class.”

Be direct and simple.

As for one final tip, if you’re writing a chant as a poem, rather than for persuasive purposes, then try to make it so that the poem unfolds in some way as it progresses.

In the second and third examples, there were clear narratives that became more fleshed out as the poem went on, despite the focus on repetition.

That’s one way to break up a chant and make it interesting as a poem.

Poet’s Note

Pen lays on paper.

I’d like to assure those of you reading that I did not set out to make chants sound like they’re meant to brainwash people.

It’s just that…they do also happen to be pretty good at that, so there’s no avoiding it.

Please use your chants for good and not evil.

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