Lincoln’s address intrigues me. As most people know, it is comprised of only ten sentences, whereas most of the speeches during those times went on for hours. Lincoln’s brevity makes an impact. As I worked to memorize his lines, I had to focus on adjectives, prepositions, and conjunctions to make the meaning flow. Lincoln’s talk came from his heart, and his words contain a depth of compassion, humility, patriotism, appeal, and historical awareness. His address reveals a tired soul but a demanding sincerity for forgiveness, compromise, and a forward looking national spirit.
I practiced the speech as I walked around the track at our local YMCA. I practiced it as I swam laps in the pool. I practiced it while sitting in the car waiting on someone. Every time I thought I had it down, word for word, something would pop up and I would wonder if I should have said “for which” or “in which” or “from these” or “and from these Honored dead….”
It doesn’t really matter if I get every conjunction in the right place, but I am trying to do so. What gets me is when I mention I am trying to memorize the “Gettysburg Address,” many people will say, “Oh yeah, I memorized that when I was in high school,” or “I learned that when I was twelve.” I am truly impressed and hope young people are still required to memorize the 272 words Lincoln spoke that November 19, 1863 day.
When I read a novel and note the author has a command of the language, I find myself intrigued. Recently I read COLD SASSY TREE (Olive Burns). Will Tweedy, the young main character, says or blurts out, “Boy Howdy” instead of “Gosh” or “Darn,” when he’s amazed or astounded. It has a certain ring to it that is delightfully innocent. My brother sent me the book and when I talked with him, he said, “How did you like that ‘Boy Howdy’?”
I am drawn to the cadence or words. Perhaps that’s why I like to hear the King James Version of the Bible read aloud. I can credit my minister father for that. A few years ago, I attended a Christmas service when an author friend read the narrative parts for a cantata. Her voice carried the meaning and the cadence of the Gospel’s account. Much like lines from a song from the Beetles, Elvis, or Patsy Cline stick, -- think Dolly Parton’s “Jolene, Jolene”--- words resonate and linger in our minds. That from these Honored Dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain --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. “Boy Howdy!”