The Power of Words

January 22, 2008 at 8:44 pm (Eloquence, Spiritual)

In a section of Classics for Pleasure entitled The English Religious Tradition, Michael Dirda quotes a passage from the Gospel of Luke, as rendered in the King James Bible.I love what he says after the quoted passage:

“The solemn harmonies of such prose are largely ignored in these days of text-messaging and political newspeak. Nonetheless, sometimes only the full organ roll of liturgical English can match the sacredness of weddings, funerals, and religious holy days.”

the-common-book-of-prayer.jpg Dirda then goes on to quote from The Book of Common Prayer‘s Order for the Burial of the Dead:

“Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower; he flieth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we be in death…”

This seems bleak to the point of hopelessness. Where is the consolation? But wait…”These magnificently somber phrases eventually build to one of the great climaxes in English literature:

‘Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, and that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye by the last trump. For the trump shall blow, and the dead shall rise incorruptible, and we shall be changed….Death where is thy sting? Hell where is thy victory?'”

Surely in the annals of great oratory there is a straight line from this triumphant declaration of faith to Martin Luther King Jr’s equally triumphant “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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