Lincoln’s and Dickinson’s Rhetorical Discourses

People have often resorted to rhetoric when they discuss important issues. Such topics as war, revolution and the future of the nation were often a topic of a rhetorical discourse. Leaders and poets have used rhetorical tools to articulate their ideas and it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between a pure poetic work and a rhetorical piece. Abraham Lincoln’s “Second inaugural address” and Emily Dickinson’s “Success is counted sweetest” can be regarded as an illustration of close ties between poetics and rhetoric. It is possible to consider the use of such rhetorical means as argument, appeal, arrangement and artistic devices in these two works to understand that the line between the two pieces of writing is rather blurred.

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It is possible to start with analysis of the use of argument in Lincoln’s and Dickinson’s works. Admittedly, Lincoln’s speech, which is his second inaugural address, is aimed at persuading people in his ability to lead them. Herrick (2005, p. 13) notes that argument is one of the means which is “simply reasoning… with the goal of influencing an audience”. Lincoln makes use of this tool and provides a variety of arguments in his speech to support his major claim. Thus, he focuses on the topic, which is in people’s minds, and the president provides reasons for war mentioning that there were two parties that “deprecated war” but one of them made war and the other “would accept war” (Lincoln, 2014, par. 3). Clearly, a speech of a president should have particular arguments to make it credible and convincing enough.

As far as the poem by Emily Dickinson is concerned, it is necessary to note that it seems that the work also contains argument. Thus, the poet starts with her statement that “Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne’er succeed” and provides some evidence (Dickinson, 2014, para. 1). The next two lines contain details supporting the argument and the poet highlights what exactly is needed to understand success. It is necessary to point out that the poet uses only one piece of argument due to limitations of a piece of poetry (for example, its size). However, the poem contains this device and this makes the poem absolutely rhetorical.

Another rhetorical tool is appeal. Both writings equally resort to this means of persuasion. For instance, Lincoln alludes to the wrongs of the society stating that both slaves and their masters “pray to the same God” (Lincoln, 2014, par. 3). This emotional statement appeals to people’s faith and their hearts. The president also uses first person plural and stresses that he wants to be one of them and go the extra mile with them as he claims, “let us strive on to finish the work we are in” (Lincoln, 2014, par. 4). The poem is even more emotional as the poet depicts a dying soldier who welcomes the change and the better world he helped to create. Again, the reader sympathizes as no one can remain indifferent when a person is suffering and dying. Therefore, it is obvious that appeal is a potent tool which makes the listeners share the viewpoint of the speaker.

The effect created with the help of appeal is enhanced by the use of such rhetorical tool as arrangement. The two works start with the subject matter as the authors highlight their major argument, and they finish with a very potent and emotional appeal. Lincoln starts talking about the war and the future of the nation while Dickinson sets the scene and states that success is a complicating concept that can be clear to a few people.

At the end, Lincoln inspires people and encourages them to believe and to strive for a better world. Dickinson provide the most conspicuous and appealing picture of a dying soldier who is the one to understand what success really is. Admittedly, this arrangement creates a strong feeling and the listeners are impressed. It is possible to note that this arrangement is effective as emotionally strong ending helps the speaker persuade the listeners as this emotional load makes them sympathetic.

Finally, artistic devices also serve to create an effective persuasive piece. Notably, both Lincoln and Dickinson make use of these tools. Thus, the poem is more appealing due to the presence or even abundance of metaphors. For instance, the first stanza ends in a bright metaphor, “To comprehend a nectar / Requires sorest need” (Dickinson, 2014, para. 1). Nectar stands for knowledge or rather understanding in this case. This adds certain sacral power to the lines. Another metaphor is also appealing as the author notes “The distant strains of triumph / Burst agonized and clear!” (Dickinson, 2014, para. 3). Therefore, the poem is constituted by a number of metaphors. These devices help the poet to draw a lively and appealing picture.

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It is noteworthy that Lincoln also resorts to this literary device. He notes that they have to “bind up the nation’s wounds” (Lincoln, 2014, par. 4). In this sentence, ‘wounds’ stand for destruction and loss of human’s lives as well as lack of understanding between people. Another tool used is metonymy that aims at depicting the wrongs of the society where slavery is a norm. The president stresses that it is not just to wring bread “from the sweat of other men’s faces” (Lincoln, 2014, par. 3).

Here, ‘sweat’ stands for labor of slaves. Of course, the use of the device makes the speech more emotional and appealing. Interestingly, Lincoln also uses rhyme in his speech, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away” (as cited in Herrick, 2005, p. 14). This makes the speech very poetic and quite similar to Dickinson’s poem as both pieces use rhyme. Finally, the president uses allusion as he alludes to the Bible reciting some lines from the holy book. All these means make the speech very emotional and appealing to its audience.

In conclusion, it is possible to note that even though the two works are seen as pertaining to different types of writing, they are very similar. It is possible to refer to these two works as poetic rhetorical pieces. Both Lincoln and Dickinson employ four rhetorical tools. Clearly, they utilize these tools a bit differently due to the difference between forms. Nonetheless, the two works are very similar as they appeal to people and articulate a very important message. The two works have similar impact on the reader as people start thinking about war, death, life and hope. These are inspiring pieces of writing which help people obtain their moral pillars.

Reference List

Dickinson, E. (2014). Second inaugural address. Web.

Herrick, J.A. (2005). The history and theory of rhetoric: An introduction. Boston, MA: Pearson. Web.

Lincoln, A. (2014). Second inaugural address. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Lincoln’s and Dickinson’s Rhetorical Discourses'. 4 December.

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