Poetry and the Birmingham Jail

Poetic preaching filled with the romance of the biblical text has been substituted for laborious lectures fixed on the iotas of the larger story while losing the story itself. As one who speaks for a living, I ask one simple thing of other speakers: “Does the speaker draw me into the truth he is proclaiming?” The same can be applied to reading. I read a lot, but I love to underline and re-read lines that create a poetic resonance; like a refrain from a great hymn. As I read through Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” I was reminded of this poetic treasure:

“Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

King’s use of Hebrew poetry and creational language cause this linguistic earthquake in the reader. It doesn’t take time to create long sentences and sermons; it takes time to put together beautiful words and create a memorable sentence. The job of the rhetorical revolutionary is not to give the world more words, but to give the world more meaning through words.

On this day, use words carefully, beautifully, and work to communicate gracefully. Opine strongly about a topic or cause you cherish, but articulate artistically for the sake of others.

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