On January 21, our nation will celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while it will also host President Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration. Dr. King’s real birthday. Every year on Dr. King’s real birthday, January 15, as a gift to myself because that is also my birthday, I re-read Dr. King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, which he delivered in Washington, DC, in August 1963. I offer here four A’s, or reasons, why I think that speech is excellent: allusion, analogy, antithesis, and anaphora, figures of thought and figures of speech that you may want to look for and listen to in President Obama’s inaugural address.
Dr. King employs: (1) allusion-a reference to persons, places, and events of note in history. (For example, Dr. King alludes to Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln authored one hundred years earlier as well as to the arbiters of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence who guaranteed all Americans the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness); (2) analogy-an extended comparison of two dissimilar things so as to make a point more effectively. (In the beginning of the speech, for example, Dr. King makes a comparison between African Americans who have marched to Washington in search of civil rights they have not been able to claim and those same African Americans trying to cash a check with insufficient funds.
I hope that the above has some meaning for all of you and that you see some of what I have pointed out on Monday when President Obama addresses us. Finally, as the 19th is the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, I’d like to remember Poe, too, and try to link him to the great leaders mentioned above. In "The Poetic Principle," Poe says the poet "recognizes the ambrosia which nourishes [the] soul in the bright orbs that shine in Heaven."
I think that great leaders--Lincoln and King and Obama--are like Poe’s poet.
The writer is the provost at Southern Vermont College