Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Secrets of the Gettysburg Address

One master studies the other.
Abraham Lincoln was the master of metaphor. We can see this at work in his Gettysburg Address, which is an extended metaphor.

Joe Romm writes:
Extended metaphor is, for me, the most important rhetorical device. This figure is at the heart of some of Lincoln’s greatest speeches and Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Persistent metaphors pump life blood into the Bible, into Jesus’ parables and Psalms.
Romm details its use in Lincoln's famous address.
The speech is only 270 words long -- almost precisely the same length as the “To be or not to be speech.” Lincoln makes it unforgettable using an extended metaphor of birth, death, and resurrection to increase the coherence and impact of his brief remarks.
Lincoln delivers a variety of references to birth from the very beginning, “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He says the civil war is testing whether “any nation so conceived … can long endure.”
Lincoln then moves on to images and words of death, as befits the horrific battlefield in front of him, with phrases such as “a final resting place for those who here gave their lives” and “the brave men, living and dead” and “these honored dead” and “these dead.”
He finally returns to the original metaphor of birth, but with a twist: We must resolve that “this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Birth, death, rebirth and immortality (“shall not perish”) -- in a place that we will make sacred (“hallow” and “consecrate” and the key repeated word, “dedicate”) -- is a stunning extended metaphor that turns into an biblical allusion of hope for transcendence even during the worst suffering, with the Battle of Gettysburg becoming a symbolic national crucifixion.
No wonder Winston Churchill termed Lincoln’s speech “the ultimate expression of the majesty of Shakespeare’s language.”
Churchill should know -- he, too, was a master of the language. A study of the art of persuasion might very well begin with these two leaders.

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