The Finest Example of Free Verse in the English Language

20 May


            I found this picture online and it made me think of my friend Alex immediately. He is obsessed with Teddy Roosevelt. Not only is Teddy Alex’s favorite president, but he is also one of his favorite historical figures—second to none other than Gandhi. When I met Alex, he had never been to Sagamore Hill, (Roosevelt’s summer home in Oyster Bay, Long Island) let alone heard of it—and he called himself a Roosevelt fan, whatta poser :). Since I live two towns over from and went to high school in Oyster Bay, I felt obligated to take him to Long Island and show him Sagamore Hill and Teddy’s gravesite. Alex didn’t learn anything on the tour because he already knew all Roosevelt trivia you can think of, but it was still a lot of fun. Anyway, the play on the “world’s most interesting man” meme pretty much exemplifies why Roosevelt is Alex’s favorite president—Teddy Roosevelt was a boss. The man was shot with a pistol at point-blank range during a speech, yet he went on to continue the speech before going to the hospital.


Alex and I at Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, Long Island

So it got me thinking who is my favorite president? And why? Naturally, I knew the answer immediately. Abraham Lincoln, of course. No, I don’t pick favorite historical figures based on their political policies, remarkable actions, or heroic deeds. No, that would be too normal. Abraham Lincoln has been my favorite president ever since I discovered that his Gettysburg Address is widely considered the finest example of free verse in the English language. I can’t think of a better reason to pick a favorite, but let’s see why.

Lincoln was attending an event to dedicate the plot of land that was to be used as the cemetery for those who had died in the Battle of Gettysburg—the turning point of the American Civil War. For the ceremony, Governor Edward Everett, who was known for his oratory skills, was asked to give a speech at the ceremony. He went on for over two hours before Lincoln gave his two-minute address. His Gettysburg Address was a mere and 272 words with ten sentences. He offered more meaningful, profound thoughts in those two minutes than many will in a lifetime.

When simple phrasing would have sufficed, Lincoln used such beautiful, poetic wording. When you say the immortal words

aloud, you can feel their powerful cadence and rhythm. You can only imagine what the audience thought that day when they heard the speech uttered for the first time. The speech also shows how Lincoln was a good writer.

  • Contrasts in speeches get people’s attention. In the Gettysburg Address, there is frequent juxtaposition of contrasting ideas—for example, “those who here gave their lives that this nation might live”.
  • There is an abundance of metaphors of birth, life, and death in the speech—namely through words like conceived, final resting place, and so on.
  • The use of triads in a public address is also very compelling. Lincoln offers some of the most famous triads in history: “…government of the people, by the people, for the people” and “…we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground”.

However, my favorite aspect of the speech is its irony. Take a look at the line, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here”. Lincoln says that no one will remember a simple dedication ceremony for a cemetery, but his speech is regarded one of the best in American history. I am even writing a blog about it. Lincoln said these words years ago, but people will continue to remember them for countless years to come.

I’d love to hear who your favorite president or historical figure is and why. In the meantime, here is a reading of The Gettysburg Address. Enjoy!

51 Responses to “The Finest Example of Free Verse in the English Language”

  1. What I Desired To Say 20 June 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    I had never heard the Gettysburg Address orated before. What a spine-tingling experience.

  2. John 20 June 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    Ronaldus Magnus is my favorite president.

    • hermitsdoor 20 June 2012 at 9:25 pm #

      I wonder when politicians dispensed with writing their own speeches, and began farming them out to speech writers and PR committees? Rhetoric is no longer a style of writing and talking, but a form of distracting and defeating one’s political opponent.

      • John 20 June 2012 at 9:33 pm #

        Uhg, like “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullxxxx”… And teleprompters…

  3. Jacqui Murray 20 June 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    Love the picture.

    • Your sis 20 June 2012 at 9:54 pm #

      No all you hear in political speech is the pestilential stench of decaying humanity…. Hi Bern!

      • Your sis 20 June 2012 at 9:55 pm #


      • BernBabyBern 20 June 2012 at 9:56 pm #

        I thought of that too lol 🙂

      • Your sis 21 June 2012 at 8:06 pm #

        Give willie a hug for me!

  4. lshayden 20 June 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    I really like Teddy too.

  5. maria 21 June 2012 at 1:02 am #

    Hi, thanks for following my blog! I don’t recall ever learning any grammatical rules so you will probably be horrified at what you read there. BTW, you don’t seem to have set up any widgets on your blog to allow readers to access your past posts via categories or tags or even an archive, and read them – given your aim with the blog, it would help because readers could go to a category (Eg adverbs) and look at all the posts you’ve written about it.

  6. Richard Tulloch 21 June 2012 at 1:38 am #

    Don’t forget Lincoln’s quote, ‘If I were two-faced, I wouldn’t be wearing this one.’ That gets him my vote.

    And talking of grammar…should it be ‘obligated’ or ‘obliged’ above? Or is this American usage?

    Thanks for visiting and following my blog. Yours in pedantry, Richard. Cheers!

  7. azurachan 21 June 2012 at 1:44 am #

    Great post.

  8. jrtschopp 21 June 2012 at 2:01 am #

    I’ve always said that my favorite president was Bill Pullman in “Independence Day” for this reason right here:

  9. aquacompass7 21 June 2012 at 2:27 am #

    From Japan. I was surprised to see CG ”Gettysburg Address.”

  10. sheafferhistorian 21 June 2012 at 3:01 am #

    Also geography- battlefield-nation-continent-earth
    McPherson does a good analysis on this angle..

  11. Daz 21 June 2012 at 4:00 am #

    I was struck when you said “When simple phrasing would have sufficed, Lincoln used such beautiful, poetic wording,” because I like it for an almost opposite reason. Most speeches from that time that I’ve come across are long, rambling affairs, with over-extended sentences full of nested sub-clauses and high-falutin’ Latin. Lincoln spoke in everyday English. Poetic, but simple. You can imagine Churchill reading it, and he was a man who deliberately chose bluntness over erudition.

    If I had to pick a favourite, I’ve always had a thing for Elizabeth I’s speech at Tilbury. I have no idea why—I just like it.

    • BernBabyBern 21 June 2012 at 7:18 am #

      Well I mean he started out with four score and seven years ago. I would have just said 87 years you know

      • Daz 21 June 2012 at 7:25 am #

        Ah, maybe ‘everyday English’ to me then? 🙂 Folk round my way (SW England—think kinda like pirate-speak, but not quite as exaggerated) still use words like ‘score’ and slightly old fashioned grammar. Why, ’tis like ‘e were speakin’ only last year…

  12. sarahjunebug 21 June 2012 at 8:56 am #

    I didn’t know that about Roosevelt! Neat!
    This is random and off-topic, but just yesterday I realized that… there’s always a first lady! Why is that?? There are lots of powerful, single men. Right? Aren’t there? Hmmm. So then I had to look it up, and I found that only three men have been elected while single, and of them one’s wife had died prior to his election (Chester Arthur), and another was married while in office (Grover Cleveland – what a wedding ceremony THAT must have been, huh??). The lone U.S. President to live out his life as a bachelor was James Buchanan.
    Trivia done.

  13. No Blog Intended 21 June 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Woah, I’m really impressed by the fact he continued the speech! Makes me think of this:

    The art of speeching is underestimated. Some people just got it.

  14. austinfrederick 21 June 2012 at 9:57 am #

    Nice post. Theodore R. is an interesting character. Milwaukee is where he shot during his 1912 presidential campaign.

  15. twistnpout 21 June 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Wow, great post.

  16. kcarstensen 21 June 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Teddy Roosevelt is one of my favorites too! Mostly because he was a man of true action not just fancy talk, but also because of the extensive work he did for conservation that preserved many of the National Parks remaining today.
    But truly anyone who can read, write, and speak for him(or her)self well is deserving of leadership – so Lincoln makes that list too. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Revival Girl 21 June 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    Hi there….I’m really enjoying your blog. I have nominated your blog for the “One Lovely Blog Award”. Check out details for nomination acceptance:


  18. Lion2Lamb 21 June 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    My favorite President is President Abraham Lincoln, for the same reasons you write about. He was (and is) a great God fearing man; with humble beginnings, the ambition to achieve great milestones, and words of wisdom that were beyond his years. For someone with little to no school-house education and a life of hard manual labor – Abraham Lincoln, to this day, is one of the most quoted American Presidents in U.S. history (Obama and the Bushs’ don’t count). Thank you for sharing this post!

  19. sinithwar 22 June 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Believe it or not, George Washington not because of what he did but for the mysterious background he had as a general and not as a president, How such a man could have such a horrific tale represent America amazes me.

  20. Sandy Frykholm 22 June 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Hey, can you put up some “like” buttons on here, because I really like you blog! 🙂 My husband is obsessed with George Washington, and does portrayals of him in Western Washington State. So guess I better say he’s my favorite president.

  21. Madame Weebles 22 June 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I agree with you AND Alex—TR and Lincoln are tied for my favorite presidents. TR definitely is the original “Most Interesting Man in the World” and Lincoln, well, he’s Lincoln. How can anyone top them?

  22. Kat Richter 22 June 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Thanks for following me over at FieldworkInStilettos! Grammar is the bane of my existence but this post was great 🙂 I visited the TR house in LI when I was a kid and it was GORGEOUS!!!

  23. bookzine 22 June 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Reblogged this on bookzine and commented:
    Some historical poetry.

  24. WOL 22 June 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    Lincoln’s language skills rested on the very solid foundation of the King James translation of the Bible (1611), which was intentionally translated with an ear to being read aloud, and which uses a vocabulary of only 8000 words — so that even the uneducated could hear and comprehend “the Word of God.” This translation of the Bible has its roots in that remarkable blossoming of the English language that took place during the Elizabethan age, which produced, among others, Shakespeare. In the frontier setting of Lincoln’s childhood, if any book was available, it was most likely to be this Bible. From what I remember of Lincoln’s biography, his first encounter with the written word was this remarkable book, which molded Lincoln’s language in its formative years. It’s linguistic fingerprints are all over the Gettysburg address.
    Lincoln was a self-admitted “man of the people” — a self-made man — the living embodiment of what America was all about, that a man born in a log cabin could attain the highest office in the land, that any American could rise to the peak of power, not because of birth or class, but on their own merits. — I think that one thing is what we love most about Lincoln — he personifies the American dream.

  25. WOL 22 June 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    Oh, and you should put an RSS feed thingie on your blog so that those of us who use feed readers (like me) can add your feed to it. A feed reader lets you put all the different types of feeds you can follow (including news feeds like newspapers, magazines, etc., as well as blogs) all in one manageable place.

    • Daz 23 June 2012 at 5:47 am #

      WOL, if you’re using Firefox, try this addon. It puts an RSS thingy in the address bar, wherever the service is available.

      • BernBabyBern 23 June 2012 at 9:14 am #

        I’m using Chrome. I don’t know what the URL should be though

      • Daz 23 June 2012 at 9:35 am #

        There should be an option in Dasboard→Appearance→Theme options to show/hide the RSS icon that WOL’s asking about. I hid it on mine, because it takes up a huge amount of screen space for just one little icon.

        The addon I pointed to for WOL would allow him/her to subscribe via RSS even if the icon’s hidden, as WordPress still offer the service. In that case, though, it’s WOL who’d need to install the addon in their browser. (screenshot)

        Hope that doesn’t sound like I’m lecturing! 🙂

      • BernBabyBern 23 June 2012 at 2:28 pm #

        I really have no idea what an RSS feed is lol. would you mind checking it out and seeing if that is the right thing I just did? thanks

      • Daz 23 June 2012 at 2:38 pm #

        lol. Yep, that got it. I clicked it, and got your RSS feed in my mail-client, so it works fine.

  26. Subhan Zein 22 June 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    Hello blahblahblog,

    I’m dropping by to let you know that you’ve got a nice blog up here. Well done! Keep penning and keep inspiring, my friend! 🙂

    Also, I would like thank you for following my blog. I hope I don’t disappoint you and that your visits in my blog have been and will always be a joyful ride.

    Thank you again and lovely day to you, my friend! 🙂

    Subhan Zein

  27. Danielle 22 June 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    The Address IS a wonderful speech. When I danced in high school we did a production number (about 8 minutes long with numerous dancers) called Gettysburg and in between the dancing portions the Gettysburg Address was said. It was really great. From doing that production, I learned the majority of it by heart, but it’s been so long that I don’t remember it all anymore. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    I heard that he wrote it on his way to the ceremony on a envelope or something, not sure how true that is, though!

  28. foldedcranes 23 June 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Political speech always makes me suspicious – more so when it’s very good. Your question had me thinking though about speeches placed in the mouths of historical figures by others – Marc Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him” (of course, he proceeds to praise him) was top of my list. Thanks a lot, Shakespeare.

    As for favourite president – perhaps I lean towards another Roosevelt. But FD, rather than Teddy.

  29. profesorbaker 23 June 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    I enjoyed reading this. I shared it with my friends on Facebook. Look forward to more great reads!

  30. Angel Fractured 24 June 2012 at 1:41 am #

    My favorite President? Hmm. I don’t know. If you’d asked me any other time, I would’ve said Abraham Lincoln. When I was in middle school, I had a slight crush on Thomas Jefferson, haha. Anyway, I’ve been reading “Destiny of the Republic” recently, and it’s about James A. Garfield, one of the lesser-known Presidents because he got assassinated before he could do much. And I’ve learned a bit about him that makes me like him. I especially like that he didn’t promote himself to get the Republican nomination and didn’t really want it . . . That makes me a little sad that he became the President only to be assassinated shortly after.

  31. Tamara Rendell 26 June 2012 at 2:29 am #

    I’m not American, not even from the Northern Hemishphere (nor, I supose for that matter, from the 19th Century) – but I love that Gettysburg Address. It is a stunner.

  32. bigtony111111111 26 June 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    Agree on all accounts. Lincoln’s speeches give me the chills.

  33. santahatchronicles 3 July 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    Beautiful writing. I appreciate the care and craft that go into your posts. Excellent blog–succinct, compelling, informative AND humorous. Wow! Congratulations and cheers.

  34. valeriedavies 12 July 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    Yes, love Lincoln and love the Address. I also love US Grant, because he cared about animals, punished his soldiers if they mistreated their horses, never went shooting ( unlike Teddy Roosevelt’s huge massacres) and refused to go to a bull fight put on in his honour, in Mexico, when he was President. Also love the idea of Mark Tin his guise as publisher helping the dying Grant to finish his wonderful memoirs

  35. valeriedavies 12 July 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    In my previous comment, the typing got scrambled, it shoud have read Mark Twain

    Love reading your blogs – crisp, witty and thoughtful.

  36. Norbert D. 13 September 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Oh yes, Lincoln was a unique personality of a president, at least one of my favorite. And I love speeches so much that I even wrote my dissertation back in college dealing with famous Americans’ speeches. So not only presidents (the Gettysburg Address WAS included!), but also Chief Joseph, M. Luther King Jr., etc.
    I must add here that speech-wise, I really love the sound bites of JFK. Or, for the matter, the three-step lists by M. Luther King, Jr. – his March on Washington Address.

  37. carlahoag 23 January 2016 at 9:23 am #

    Cannot choose just one. LIncoln, Reagan and Churchill. All 3 actually said something when they spoke; it wasn’t the sanitized, lifeless blathering we get now. These men led nations in critical times when it would’ve been easier to quit. Lincoln, a man of great honor and determination. Eloquent.

    I remember how Reagan reminded us of the greatness of America and urged us onward again after the ugliness and shame of the 1970s.

    And Churchill, returning time and again from failure and rejection, answering the call to to lead England to stand – alone! – against Hitler. “…I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.”

    Great post.


  1. Upward and Onward! « L.S. Engler - 21 June 2012

    […] you all here and look forward to following your blogs, too! Any day when I peek at blog and see a picture about how bad ass Teddy Roosevelt was, it’s a very good […]

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