E.B. White once wrote upon the “the mystique of language”, the beauty of well-crafted sentences, the “ah-ha” that cannot be reformed. Sentences such as “These are the times that try men’s souls,” that cannot find the same meaning and the same force and the same beauty in any other form but that which was discovered by Thomas Paine.
I have tried to explain this in so many ways and on so many occasions, but, alas, it is like explaining to someone the joy of eating hot apple pie and vanilla ice cream. It is found on the corner of a couch listening to a friend play a popular piano piece and realizing that music is language. It has all the features of being hobbled together or being refined to a point, it can express and it can confuse. And so I have tried to do what I believe is simplest: to ask for you to try a bit of apple pie and vanilla ice cream for yourself.
I’ve tried to color what I can, but, as with any endeavor, much is left out and left inexpressible. The uniformity of metaphor, the continuity of key words, the rhythm of expression. The best I can do to illustrate the problem is to suggest you imagine a point, any point. And imagine a line transposed across that point, and allow us to call that line Philosophy. Now imagine another line, just as vast but also just as limited, intersecting the same point – allow us to call that Physics. Imagine another line, Theology. Another, Chemistry. Mathematics. Music. And imagine a line for each and every subject, and the number of intersections for each and every point. You can never begin to capture it all at once, but it all can be understood individually and in layers. My endeavor is to attempt to answer the question, “Why do we enjoy language?” It is not merely enough to say that we use it, as we use a wrench to break open a vault, but use it as flourishes and flowers, to woo and to worship, to create and to consume. It transgresses the practical towards the poetical. And I hope this coloring is a small candle-light into a vast subject we have all come to call Rhetoric.
An Excerpt from W.E.B. DuBois The Souls of Black Folks
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked(1) question: unasked(1) by some(2) through feelings of delicacy; by others(2) through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All(2), nevertheless, flutter around it. They approach me in a h(3)alf-h(3)esitant sort of way, eye me c(4)uriously(5) or c(4)ompassionately(5), and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your b(6)lood b(6)oil? At these I smile, or(7) am interested, or(7) reduced the boil to a simmer(8), as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.
(1) Emphasis through repetition
(2) Progression from some, others, all
(3) Emphasis on ‘h’
(4) Emphasis on ‘c’
(5) Emphasis on ‘ly’
(6) Emphasis on ‘b’
(7) Three segments connected by two ‘or’
(8) Unified metaphor
And yet, being a problem(1) is a strange experience, – peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the s(2)hadow s(2)wept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a w(3)ee w(3)ooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous vising-cards – ten cents a package- and exchange(4). The exchange(4) was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused(5) my card,- refused(5) it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a c(6)ertain s(6)uddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and(7) life and(7) longing(8), but shut out from their world by a v(9)ast v(9)eil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in c(10)ommon c(10)ontempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky(11) and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest(11) when I could beat(12) my mates at examination-time(13), or beat(14) them at a foot-race(13), or even beat(14) their stringy heads(13). Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest fromm them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by(15) reading(16) law(17), by(15) healing(16) the sick(17), by(15) telling(16) the wonderful tales that swam in my head(17),-some way. With other b(18)lack b(18)oys the strife was not so fiercely sunny(19): their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy(19), or into silent hatred(19) of the pale world(19) about them and mocking distrust(19) of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry(19), Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls s(20)trait and s(20)tubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable(21) to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation(21), or(22) beat unavailing palms against the stone(21), or(22) steadily(23), h(24)alf h(24)opelessly(23)(21), watch the streak of blue above.
(1) Emphasis from prior paragraph
(2) Emphasis on ‘s’
(3) Emphasis on ‘w’
(4) Emphasis through repetition
(5) Emphasis through repetition
(6) Emphasis on ‘s’ sound
(7) Triplet connected by two ‘and’
(8) Emphasis through repetition
(9) Emphasis on ‘v’
(10) Emphasis on ‘c’
(11) Emphasis through repetition
(12) Each one of the triplet is short than the previous
(13) Emphasis through [loose] repetition
(14) Emphasis through repetition
(15) Each one of the triplet is longer than the previous
(16) Emphasis on ‘b’
(17) Triple Couplets of adjective/noun
(18) Emphasis on ‘s’
(19) Emphasis on ‘ing’
(20) Single word Triplet
(21) Phrase Triplet
(22) Emphasis through repetition
(23)Emphasis on ‘-ly’
(24) Emphasis on ‘h’
After the(1) Egyptian and(2) Indian(3), the(1) Greek and(1) Roman(3), the(1) Teuton and(1) Mongolian(3), the Negro(4) is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with s(5)econd-s(5)ight in this American world(6),- a world(6) which yields him(7) no true self-consciousness, but only lets him(7) see him(7)self through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one‘s(8)(9) s(8)elf through the eyes of others, of measuring one‘s(8)(9) s(8)oul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two(10)-ness,- an American, a Negro; two(10) souls(11, two(10) thoughts(11), two(10) unreconciled striving(11); two(10) warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder(11).
(1) Emphasis through repetition
(2) Emphasis through repetition
(3) Triple couplets
(4) Pulls repetition as emphasis of ‘the x’
(5) Emphasis on ‘s’
(6) Emphasis through repetition
(7) Emphasis through repetition
(8) Emphasis on ‘s’ (a rolling ‘s’)
(9) Emphasis on repetition
(10) Emphasis on repetition
(11) Emphasis by extending each segment from souls to warring
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strive,- this longing to attain self(1)-conscious manhood, to merge his double self(1) into a better(2) and truer(2) self(1). In this merging he wishes(3) neither of the older selves(1) to be lost. He would not(4) Africanize America(5), for America(5) has too much to teach the world and Africa(5). He would not(4) bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes(3) to make it possible for a man to be both a Nero and an American, without(6) being cursed and spit upon by his fells, without(6) having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.
(1) Emphasis through repetition
(2) Emphasis on ‘er’
(3) Emphasis through extended repetition (first thought and last thought)
(4) Emphasis through repetition
(5) Predicate/Noun becomes inverse Noun/Noun
(6) Emphasis through repetition
This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture(1)(2), to escape both death and(2) isolation(1), to husband and(2) use his best powers and(2) his latent genius(1). These powers of body and mind have in the past been strangely wasted(3), dispersed(3), or forgotten(3). The shadow of a mighty Negro past flits through the tale of E(4)thiopia the(5) S(6)hadowy(7) and of E(4)gypt the(5) S(6)phinx(7). Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here(8) and there(8) like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness(9). Here in America, in the few days since Emancipation, the black man’s turning hither(10) and thither(10) in hesitant and doubtful striving has often made his very strength to lose effectiveness, to seem like(11) absence of power(12), like(11) weakness(12)(13). And yet it is not weakness(13),—it is the contradiction of double aims(14). The double-aimed struggle(14) of the black artisan—on the one hand to escape white contempt for a nation of mere hewers(15) of(16) w(17)ood(18) and drawers(15) of(16) w(17)ater(18), and on the other hand to plough and(19) nail and(19) dig(20) for a poverty-stricken horde—could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but h(21)alf a h(21)eart in either cause. By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was t(22)empted(23) t(22)oward(23) quackery(24) and demagogy(24); and by the criticism of the other world, toward ideals that made him ashamed of his lowly tasks. The would-be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge(25) his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge(25) which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony(26) and beaut(27)y(26) that set the ruder souls of his people a(28)-dancing(29) and a(28)-singing(29) raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty(27) revealed to him was the soul-beauty(27) of a race which his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the message of another people. This(30) waste of double aims(31), this(30) s(32)eeking to s(32)atisfy two unreconciled ideals(31), has wrought sad havoc with the courage and(33) faith and(33) deeds(34) of ten thousand thousand people,—has sent them often wooing(35) false(36) gods(37) and(38) invoking(35) false(36) means of salvation(37), and(38) at times has even seemed(39) about to make them(40) ashamed(39) of them(40)selves.
(2) Emphasis through repetition and emphasis through elongation (0 and, 1 and, 2 and)(3) Emphasis through past tense
(4) Emphasis on ‘E’
(5) Emphasis through repetition
(6) Emphasis on ‘S’
(8) Emphasis on ‘ere’
(9) Extended metaphor
(10) Emphasis on ‘hither’
(11) Emphasis through repitition
(12) Explanation through equivalent inversion
(13) Emphasis through repetition, drawing the thought on
(14) Emphasis through repetition
(15) Emphasis on ‘ers’
(16) Emphasis by repetition
(17) Emphasis on ‘w’
(19) Emphasis on ‘and’
(21) Emphasis on ‘h’
(22) Emphasis on ‘t’
(23) Emphasis on ‘y’
(25) Emphasis through repetition
(26) Emphasis on ‘y’
(27) Extended Emphasis
(28) Emphasis on ‘a’
(29) Emphasis on ‘ing’
(30) Emphasis through repetition
(31) Emphasis through inversion
(32) Emphasis on ‘s’
(33) Emphasis through repetition
(35) Emphasis on ‘ing’
(36) Emphasis through repetition
(37) Emphasis through repetition of same information
(38) Emphasis through repetition
(39) Emphasis on ‘ed’
(40) Emphasis through repetition
If you have managed to read this far, you may notice that the ink runs out… And that is how it is going to be for the time being. I have too much work and if I don’t publish this as it is, I’ll pour too much precious time to finish it at the sake of other assignments that are beginning to stack about my desk. Read. Think. And try to identify the rhetorical pieces for yourself.
Away back in the days of bondage they thought to see in one divine event the end of all doubt and disappointment; few men ever worshipped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries. To him, so far as he thought and dreamed, slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice; Emancipation was the key to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched before the eyes of wearied Israelites. In song and exhortation swelled one refrain—Liberty; in his tears and curses the God he implored had Freedom in his right hand. At last it came,—suddenly, fearfully, like a dream. With one wild carnival of blood and passion came the message in his own plaintive cadences:—
“Shout, O children!
Shout, you’re free!
For God has bought your liberty!”
Years have passed away since then,—ten, twenty, forty; forty years of national life, forty years of renewal and development, and yet the swarthy spectre sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation’s feast. In vain do we cry to this our vastest social problem:—
“Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble!”
The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people,—a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.
The first decade was merely a prolongation of the vain search for freedom, the boon that seemed ever barely to elude their grasp,—like a tantalizing will-o’-the-wisp, maddening and misleading the headless host. The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku-Klux Klan, the lies of carpet-baggers, the disorganization of industry, and the contradictory advice of friends and foes, left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom. As the time flew, however, he began to grasp a new idea. The ideal of liberty demanded for its attainment powerful means, and these the Fifteenth Amendment gave him. The ballot, which before he had looked upon as a visible sign of freedom, he now regarded as the chief means of gaining and perfecting the liberty with which war had partially endowed him. And why not? Had not votes made war and emancipated millions? Had not votes enfranchised the freedmen? Was anything impossible to a power that had done all this? A million black men started with renewed zeal to vote themselves into the kingdom. So the decade flew away, the revolution of 1876 came, and left the half-free serf weary, wondering, but still inspired. Slowly but steadily, in the following years, a new vision began gradually to replace the dream of political power,—a powerful movement, the rise of another ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after a clouded day. It was the ideal of “book-learning”; the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know. Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of Emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life.
Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings, of the dark pupils of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work. The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or some one had fallen. To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away. If, however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting-place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination; it changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,—darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. For the first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back, that dead-weight of social degradation partially masked behind a half-named Negro problem. He felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance,—not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of corruption from white adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.
A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems. But alas! while sociologists gleefully count his bastards and his prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as the natural defence of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the “higher” against the “lower” races. To which the Negro cries Amen! and swears that to so much of this strange prejudice as is founded on just homage to civilization, culture, righteousness, and progress, he humbly bows and meekly does obeisance. But before that nameless prejudice that leaps beyond all this he stands helpless, dismayed, and well-nigh speechless; before that personal disrespect and mockery, the ridicule and systematic humiliation, the distortion of fact and wanton license of fancy, the cynical ignoring of the better and the boisterous welcoming of the worse, the all-pervading desire to inculcate disdain for everything black, from Toussaint to the devil,—before this there rises a sickening despair that would disarm and discourage any nation save that black host to whom “discouragement” is an unwritten word.
But the facing of so vast a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self-questioning, self-disparagement, and lowering of ideals which ever accompany repression and breed in an atmosphere of contempt and hate. Whisperings and portents came borne upon the four winds: Lo! we are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the Nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men? Away with the black man’s ballot, by force or fraud,—and behold the suicide of a race! Nevertheless, out of the evil came something of good,—the more careful adjustment of education to real life, the clearer perception of the Negroes’ social responsibilities, and the sobering realization of the meaning of progress.
So dawned the time of Sturm und Drang: storm and stress to-day rocks our little boat on the mad waters of the world-sea; there is within and without the sound of conflict, the burning of body and rending of soul; inspiration strives with doubt, and faith with vain questionings. The bright ideals of the past,—physical freedom, political power, the training of brains and the training of hands,—all these in turn have waxed and waned, until even the last grows dim and overcast. Are they all wrong,—all false? No, not that, but each alone was over-simple and incomplete,—the dreams of a credulous race-childhood, or the fond imaginings of the other world which does not know and does not want to know our power. To be really true, all these ideals must be melted and welded into one. The training of the schools we need to-day more than ever,—the training of deft hands, quick eyes and ears, and above all the broader, deeper, higher culture of gifted minds and pure hearts. The power of the ballot we need in sheer self-defence,—else what shall save us from a second slavery? Freedom, too, the long-sought, we still seek,—the freedom of life and limb, the freedom to work and think, the freedom to love and aspire. Work, culture, liberty,—all these we need, not singly but together, not successively but together, each growing and aiding each, and all striving toward that vaster ideal that swims before the Negro people, the ideal of human brotherhood, gained through the unifying ideal of Race; the ideal of fostering and developing the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt for other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic, in order that some day on American soil two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack. We the darker ones come even now not altogether empty-handed: there are to-day no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes; there is no true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave; the American fairy tales and folk-lore are Indian and African; and, all in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness. Will America be poorer if she replace her brutal dyspeptic blundering with light-hearted but determined Negro humility? or her coarse and cruel wit with loving jovial good-humor? or her vulgar music with the soul of the Sorrow Songs?
Merely a concrete test of the underlying principles of the great republic is the Negro Problem, and the spiritual striving of the freedmen’s sons is the travail of souls whose burden is almost beyond the measure of their strength, but who bear it in the name of an historic race, in the name of this the land of their fathers’ fathers, and in the name of human opportunity.
* * *
And now what I have briefly sketched in large outline let me on coming pages tell again in many ways, with loving emphasis and deeper detail, that men may listen to the striving in the souls of black folk.