President Obama’s second inaugural speech was, unsurprisingly, lofty and brilliant. A gloriously anaphoric section towards the end of the speech has been much shared on Facebook today:
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
Anaphora is one of the most effective rhetorical devices used in speech making. It was popular with Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr., among many other great speakers. Shakespeare was fond of it, too (“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars…”). I’ve even been known to use it myself (take a look at the third paragraph of this World AIDS Day speech).
Anaphora gives the language a poetic flavour, and deftly delivered (Obama’s great strength) it enables the speaker to modulate the energy of the speech, building to a crescendo and falling back to a gentler tone, as you can hear in the short clip above. It’s a technique some of our Australian politicians (and their speechwriters) could benefit from learning.
A great speaker and a competent president. Perhaps, four years from now, a great president. I hope so.