At Lake Padden. 3 miles today. Up through the back trail to avoid people. Initially just watching the flow of my thoughts as I walked, things to do emerging below the surface, bits of song, melody, memories of friends and family, conscious of my reflection on the surface, trying to see down to the depths. Irritated by the presence of others. Knowing I will have to find more remote areas to walk in as the weather improves.
|Pier at Lake Padden|
Working on prose today. Starting at the beginning of the index: The Gettysburg Address. Focusing only on this. Already memorized, just refreshing and reminding. Nothing else for the entire walk so there is no pressure to move on to another piece. Here and now there is plenty of time and space to meditate deeply on Lincoln's words.
I can feel the sinews of my mind - images of vines or green tree limbs - being twisted into this thought. One of the effects I love most about memorizing is when you can feel your thoughts being forced into the thought-language of another - especially if that other is Shakespeare or Lincoln.
The Gettysburg Address is a wonderful prose speech to experience this with. I follow the Bancroft Copy, so there are only 273 words.
Four score 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.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here 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.
Lincoln composed it in three sections, but I have adapted it to four.
What is most striking upon the entering into the language is the manner in which Lincoln refers to "that nation." Not "this nation." Not "our nation." But "that nation." As you are learning it, there is a tendency to want to say "this nation." By using "that nation," Lincoln creates a sense of distance. We listeners, we readers, are looking from the outside in at "that nation." We are considering whether it can endure. "That nation" is at war with itself, will it survive?
In the second section, he underlines this by using the awkward "that that" construction: "those who here gave their lives that that nation might live." The double that construction emphasizes the dissonance the country is suffering.
In the final section, after a series of "that clauses," there is a beautiful rhetorical answer to the awkward "that that" in the line: "that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people." Here is what sounds right: "that this." Two of them right in a row.
Note also, the Shakespearian conceit from the sonnets in the "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." Of course, the words have built a temple for the Gettysburg dead inside our history more enduring than any physical monument.
There is also a masterful movement in how Lincoln speaks of those who died. Here is the progression:
1. "a final resting place for those who here gave their lives"
2. "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here"
3. "that from these honored dead we take increased devotion"
4. "these dead shall not have died in vain"
Note the gentleness of the first line. Then the more individual, specific definition, moving from "those who gave" to "brave men, living and dead." Then it is only the "honored dead." And finally, the blunt stern tone of "these dead shall not have died in vain." From "those who gave their lives" to "these dead."
Also the placement of the word "here" in this passage:
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live.
I keep feeling the pull of placing "here" after "We are now have come." However, by holding it back, Lincoln gives the sentence more punch by placing after "a final resting place for those who." They died HERE then the added tension of the "that that." HERE they died so THAT nation might live. The effect is more obvious when you speak it out loud.
|Note the interruptions from applause.|
Then, in what I consider the core of the address, the two similar statements that are twisted just slightly to great effect:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion.
Note how similar the language is in both. "For us, the living, rather" becomes "It is rather for us." And "to be dedicated here to" becomes "to be here dedicated to." When you are trying to memorize the Address for the first time, this is a tricky patch of prose. At first, I wondered if Lincoln has simply written the sentence, then, seeing it was awkward, rephrased it but neglected to cross out the first. Then just went with it.
But after learning the Address by heart, repeating this passage over and over, I came to see that the first statement emphasized the subject, "us, the living" and the second emphasized the verb, "to be here dedicated." By repeating it out loud. You get the first impression that we, the living, must dedicate ourselves to the Unfinished Work. Then the second impression, so close to the first, takes the Unfinished Work and equates it with the Great Task, which the heart and soul of the Address: to "take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion." Beautiful language and logic.
This sentence: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion" is a subtle phrase that seems to twist a bit in the memory. It needs the prior statement to set it up to be more easily, but more forcefully, comprehended.
Struggling to memorize this last section of the Address was were I most sensed those twisting of the sinews of my own thinking into that of Abraham Lincoln's.
I walk around Lake Padden reciting Lincoln's Address to myself over and over, contemplating each word and each phrase, the meaning of the whole piece, smiling to sense his thought guiding mine, feeling the his presence there with me, as alive as it was over 150 years ago.
|Chain on Pier at Lake Padden|
|Path at Lake Padden|
|Heron at Lake Padden|