Martin Luther King wanted to see his nation rise up and “live out the true meaning of its creed.” He wanted the descendants of slaves and slave owners to sit down as equals ending “the heat of oppression”, transforming it into an “oasis of freedom and justice.” He wanted little black boys and black girls to hold hands with little white boys and white girls. He didn’t want to force them or anything, he just wanted to let them do it, if they wanted to. He also wanted some Biblish thing.
People listened to his speech and were inspired by it. The “I have a dream speech” remains inspiring to this day. Martin Luther King had a dream, and he wasn’t afraid to say it. In fact, he said it eight times, always at the beginning of his sentences. Returning to the same sentence, he empowered it, lending it a hammering effect, an involving rhythm, making it more likely to be remembered. It worked.
This is called an anaphora, Farnsworth says: “it occurs when the speaker repeats the same words at the start of successive sentences or clauses.” They can be used differently for several purposes. I’ll enunciate and give the best examples:
1. Repetition of the subject with changes in the verb: the auxiliary verb is repeated while the main verb changes (produces a sense of inexorability).
“But the ordeal sharp or long, or both, we shall seek no terms, we shall tolerate no parley: we may show mercy – we shall ask for none.” Churchill, London Radio broadcast (1940)
“He’s too delightful. If he’ll only not spoil it! But they always will; they always do; they always have.” James, The Ambassadors (1903)
2. Repetition of the subject with different complements, as applying more than one modifier to the same person or thing.
“I shall lay this siege in form, Elvira; I am angry; I am indignant; I am truculently inclined; but I thank my Maker I have still a sense of fun.” (to highlight the contrast between negation and affirmation) Stevenson, New Arabian Nights (1882)
“I was in mortal terror of the young man who wanted my heart and liver; I was in mortal terror of my interlocutor with the ironed leg; I was in mortal terror of myself from whom an awful promise had been extracted…” (the speaker points outward twice and then inward, making its last use surprising by contrast) Dickens, Great Expectations (1861)
4. Changes in modifying language: various variations of repetition of subject, verb, and complement.
“He was goosed last night, he was goosed the night before last, he was goosed to-day. He was lately got in the way of being always goosed, and he can’t stand it.” Dickens, Hard Times (1854)
“They have bought their knowledge, they have bought it dear, they have bought it at our expense, but at any rate let us be duly thankful that they now at last possess it.” Churchill, speech in the House of Commons (1936)
“And when this new principle – this new proposition that no human being ever thought of three years ago – is brought forward, I combat it was having an evil tendency, if not an evil design. I combat it as having a tendency to dehumanize the negro, to take away from him the right of ever striving to be a man. I combat it as being one of the thousand things constantly done in these days to prepare the public mind to make property, and nothing but property, of the negro in all the States of this Union.” (by repeating a two very short words, the emphasis is on what is said after, but the speech gains the strength of a refrain) Lincoln, debate with Stephen Douglas at Alton (1858)
5. To elaborate on a single word by expanding the description of the word with each repetition.
“How then have we become enslaved? Alas! England, that ought to have been a sister and a friend – England, whom we have protected, and whom we do protect – England, at a period when, out of 100,000 of the seamen in her service, 70,000 were Irish, England stole upon us like a thief in the night, and robbed us of the precious gem of our liberty; she stole from us that in which naught enriched her, but made us poor indeed.” (the description builds up to the final sentence to a contrasting climax) Sheil, argument for the defense in the trial of John O’Connell (1843)
6. Repetitive descriptive language at the start, when several things share similar importance.
“I thought it had the most dismal trees in it, and the most dismal sparrows, and the most dismal cats, and the most dismal houses (in number half a dozen or so), that I had ever seen.” Dickens, Great Expectations (1861)
“I have shown that slavery is wicked – wicked, in that it violates the great law of liberty, written on every human heart – wicked, in that it violates the first command of the Decalogue – wicked, in that it fosters the most disgusting licentiousness – wicked, in that it contravenes the laws of eternal justice, and tramples in the dust all the humane and heavenly precepts of the New Testament.” (the repetition’s sound re-focuses the reader/listener, which would have been lost in the lengthy explanation) Douglas, speech at Rochester (1850)
7. Long stems: anaphora usually means a short repetitive sound; in these cases it is elongated, with a short counter-statement.
“Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?” Richard III, 1, 2
“Perhaps it may be our turn soon; perhaps it may be our turn now.” Churchill, speech at London (1941)
8. Miniatures: energetic small phrases in a row.
“There is nothing simple, nothing many, nothing ingenious, open, decisive, or steady, in the proceeding, with regard either to the continuance or the repeal of the taxes.” (the repetition establishes a pattern that is then relaxed) Burke, speech on American Taxation (1774)
“He was almost at his wit’s end; – talked it over with her in all moods; – placed his arguments in all lights; – argued the matter with her like a Christian, – like a heathen, –like a father, – like a patriot, – like a man: – My mother answered every thing only like a woman…” Stern, Tristram Shandy (1760)
9. Anaphora upon anaphora: the use of different words in different ways that echo each other.
“It was he who set the guards on to Winston and who prevented them from killing him. It was him who decided when Winston should scream with pain, when he should have a respite, when he should be fed, when he should sleep, when the drugs should be pumped in his arm. It was him who asked the questions and suggested the answers. He was the tormentor, he was the protector, he was the inquisitor, he was the friend.” (by using different anaphoras of different lengths, the author varies the rhythm. “It was” begins the long form of anaphora and both “when” and “he was” use shorter variations) Orwell, 1984 (1949)
“In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow.” (the specific address of “in came the” turns into a general address: “In they all came.” The anaphoras vary in size and speed) Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)
10. Regularity and Speed: the use of anaphoras in a way that repetition is expected, but doesn’t happen, in the end. This is done for relief.
“[I]ts low gates and low wall and low roofs and low ditches and low sand-hills and low ramparts and flat streets, had not yielded long ago to the undermining and besieging sea, like the fortifications children make on the sea-shore.” Dickens, Little Dorrit (1857)
“The day of an intelligent small dog is passed in the manufacture and the laborious communication of falsehood; he lies with his tail, he lies with his eye, he lies with his protesting paw; and when he rattles his dish or scratches at the door his purpose is other than appears.” (Farnsworth compares this example to the slow inflation of a balloon. Each repetitions slowly inflates it and, at last, all the air blows out) Stevenson, The Character of Dogs (1884)
“We shall go to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…” (the constant variation of slightly different stems, in different order, Churchill manages to make his whole speech unpredictable) Churchill, speech in The House of Commons (1940)
I’m not the messiah, but you can follow me: