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Copyright by Stephen Wilbers, Ph.D.


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Image result for prince photos

First published April 26, 2016

From Cicero to Prince,
classical schemes make our words memorable

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere


“Who knows where the time goes?” Judy Collins sings.


I wish I knew. Sometimes the days and weeks float by uneventfully. Other times everything seems to happen at once, and our personal and public lives are forever altered.


Last week I heard Black Panther Bobby Seale speak at an event sponsored by Penumbra Theatre, I witnessed retired environmental lawyer Chuck Dayton present The Friends of the Boundary Waters’ Conservation Award to former congressman and mayor Don Fraser, I heard singers Pieta Brown and Iris Dement perform at the Cedar Cultural Center, my son defended his thesis for his master’s in counseling and psychology services, I completed an author’s review for a new edition of a book I published 16 years ago, my Colorado grandson turned 11 months old, and Prince died – all in the space of seven days.


I also presented a workshop to some writers, some in Minneapolis, others patched in via Polycom from around the U.S. and from Warsaw, Poland. We talked about how our words convey more than meaning. Our words also convey who we are as people – our values, our character, how we treat our team members as managers, how we relate to people who hold views that differ from our own.


As I write these words now I’m listening to (and peeking at) a YouTube video of Joni Mitchell singing “The Magdalene Laundries” at the May 1994 Aionoshi Festival in Nara, Japan, staged at Todaiji, an eighth-century Buddhist temple.


“In Ireland up until 1970,” Mitchell said about her song, “women who were considered fallen women were incarcerated to scrub the clothes. Modern times eliminated all of this, but the story stands as a reminder of intolerance and misunderstanding.”


And just like that, with a few clicks, I have her music. I have her words. I have her beautiful mind.


I’m amazed at all the things that connect and divide us, not just across space but also across time. In the first century B.C. Roman statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero declared, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” In the 1916 Republican National Convention President Warren Harding used a similar line, as did President John Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address. As I was working on my author’s review I came across my explanation of Aristotle’s use of antimetabole (Word doesn’t like that word), a rhetorical scheme using antithesis, “juxtaposing and balancing contrasting ideas,” while repeating “certain words in reverse grammatical order.”


When I google “Purple Rain,” I come across this poignantly beautiful antithetical sequence: “I never meant to cause you any sorrow/I never meant to cause you any pain/I only wanted one time to see you laughing/I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain.”


And Justin Timberlake’s moving tribute on Instagram: “We should all turn away from [overwhelming grief] and HONOR this musician who changed all of our lives, our perspectives, our feeling, our whole being.”

I wonder if Timberlake knowingly used asyndeton, another classical scheme.




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