Witley, May 19, 1917

Sunday          Rec’d a letter from [Janie] to day [written] Apr 25; Rained this am clearing off by noon Writing [letters] this afternoon feeling good

At home the papers report Sir Robert Borden’s announcement yesterday:

1917 05 19 headline.JPG

Borden, just returned to Canada from the Imperial War Conference in Britain, spoke to Parliament for two hours about what he had seen and learned, and ended his speech with the announcement that he and his government were reversing their position on military conscription.  “It is my duty,” he declared, “to announce to the House that early proposals will be made on the part of the Government to provide by compulsory military enlistment on a selective basis such reinforcements as may be necessary to maintain the Canadian army to-day on the field as one of the finest fighting units of the Empire. The number of men required will not be less than 50,000 and will probably be 100,000.”

His speech repays rhetorical analysis: a few of his devices are footnoted for the curious.

He had returned, he said, “impressed at once with the extreme gravity of the situation, and with a sense of responsibility for our further effort at the most critical period of the war.” (1,2) The situation is this:

“We have four Canadian divisions at the front. For the immediate future there are sufficient reinforcements. But four divisions cannot be maintained without thorough provision for future requirements. If these reinforcements are not supplied what will be the consequence? (3) The consequence (4) will be that the four divisions will dwindle to three, the three to two, and Canada’s effort, so splendid in this war up to this time, will not be maintained as we desire it to be maintained.”

The period is critical because “the months immediately before us may be decisive. They may be decisive (4) even if the war should not end this year. Germany is bringing into play during the present season the last ounce of her manhood.”

“What have we done in this war? (3) We have sent 326,000 men overseas in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces…. It is a great effort, but greater (5) still is needed.”

He knows objections to conscription can be expected, especially from the province of Québec, many of whose citizens saw the war as a British affair, and none of their concern. He addresses that indifference, insisting that Canada has a real stake in the war, however distant it is: “The battle for Canadian liberty and autonomy is being fought to-day on the plains of France and Belgium. There are other places besides the soil of a country itself where the battle for its liberty can be fought, and I venture to think that, (6) if this war should end in defeat, Canada in all the years to come would be under the shadow of military domination.”

Conscription would provide “the reinforcements necessary to sustain the gallant men at the front who have held the lines for months, and who have proved themselves more than a match for the best troops that the enemy could send against them, and who are fighting in France and Belgium that Canada may live in the future.” (1,8)

“I bring back to the people of Canada from [Canadian soldiers in Britain and France] a message that they need our help, that they need to be supported, that they need to be sustained, (1,2) that reinforcements must be sent them. (1,8) Thousands of them have made the supreme sacrifice for our liberty and preservation. Common gratitude, apart from all other considerations, should bring the whole force of this nation behind them.

“I bring (2) a message from them, yes, a message (5) from the men in the hospitals, who have come back from the very valley of the shadow of death, many of them maimed for life. But is there not some other message? Is there not (1) a call to us from those who have passed from the shadow into the light of perfect day, from those who have fallen in France and Belgium, from those who have died that Canada may live (1,2,8) – is there not a call to us that their sacrifice shall not be in vain?

Or as John MacRae had put it two years earlier:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(1) parallellism: the repetition of a similar structure. Parallelism keeps the sentence (and the reader) on track, and often goes hand in hand with…
(2) anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive structures
(3) hypophora: a question is asked, and then answered, unlike a “rhetorical question,” where the reader is left to provide the answer.)
(4) anadiplosis: the repetition of the last word of one structure at the beginning of the next.
(5) conduplicatio: rather like anaphora, but the repeated word is a keyword from the previous structure
(6) aporia: a kind of expression of doubt,  or an understatement. Borden is not making a firm prediction. Note that the sentence is structured (by the subordinate clause beginning “if” and the phrase beginning “in”) to delay the impact of the sentence to the very end, so that the threat of “domination” lands with an ominous thud after we have forgotten that Borden is only speculating.
(7) polysyndeton; the use of a conjunction between every element in a list, as opposed to the more normal use of one only between the next-to-last and the last.
(8) asyndeton: the opposite of polysyndeton, the omission of conjunctions between elements in a list. Both polysyndeton and asyndeton give the reader the sense that the list is potentially endless — since the end is not signalled by the usual conjunction before the last element — and the sense of urgency.

The headline and quotations from Borden’s speech are from The Globe, May 19, 1917. 1

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”






One thought on “Witley, May 19, 1917

  1. This is lovely. Thank you for the bouquet of terminology. I admire the list of tags: “anadiplosis, anaphora, aporia, asyndeton, conscription, hypophora, Imperial War Conference, Janie, parallelism, polysyndeton, rhetorical devices, Sir Robert Borden, weather.” There’s a name for a list which includes surprisingly unrelated terms, eh?


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