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January 19, 2009

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Language Refracting in History's Gravitational Well

Listen to this speech.

Listen to it!

I heard King’s “I Have a Dream” on the radio this afternoon. Despite the grandeur of the visuals of the March on Washington, and the power of the text, I think that radio is the best way to experience it. I am amazed, as a writer, teacher, poet, and speaker, at the range of King’s elocutionary instrument.

He doesn’t just use every sonorous rhetorical tool in the book. He makes words rhyme which shouldn’t. He finds transitory consonants and bends them to fit his alliterative schemes. He has the most versatile spondaic foot I’ve ever heard, so much so it could pass for iambic. (Try to find a genuinely unstressed syllable — or unstressed thought — in the way King says “We Will Not Be Satisfied.”)

And he matches and varies his pitch to highlight his parallelisms of matter and mind, in his voice and in the air; a small, thickly built man, speaking from the roots of the trees, from the center of the earth, knowing that the extension of his own gravity stretches like a column from the molten core to the orbit of the moon. He is a single still point with the granted power to bend straight the crooked lines of history.

Posted January 19, 2009 at 5:21 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Beauty, Books, Writing & Such


Yes! What's really amazing is that King's delivery is absolute artistry. For proof of this, NPR broadcast the other day a recently discovered tape of a speech King delivered in India. The affect is nearly flat, the pace deliberative, as one would expect in a context where the stylistic oratorical choices could interfere with the reception of King's message. (There's also a slightly different overtone at work as well--it's clear that king knows that he is in Gandhi's homeland, and there's an amazing but subtle feeling of great humility and respect.)

Regardless, King's voice was an instrument, and he was in complete control of it. Glorious.

Here's the NPR piece on King's rediscovered speech:

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