Spotting a declamation is not difficult. It can be seen in any speech that is presented with great emotion and forceful emphasis. Gestures may accompany the oration, and it can be much like a tirade or a verbal attack.
Declamations Show Passion
Any speech given with passion and strong emotion could be considered a declamation. Declamation examples would include Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Oratory began in ancient times and will continue as long as people are fervent about their ideals.
Declamation can also be a slogan, like “Fur is Dead” to protest the wearing of animal fur. It could be a sentence, taken alone or from a speech, like Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death.” or “Remember the Alamo.”
Other famous quotes that can be considered declamations in themselves are:
- “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy
- “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” – Diogenes
- “Ignorance, the root and stem of all evil.” – Plato
- “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it – Aristotle
- “I have a dream.” – Martin Luther King
The word “declamation” is not commonly used any more; other synonyms are now used like oration or recitation.
Here are some longer declamation examples that you may remember from history:
Excerpt from “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”
Excerpt from “The Gettysburg” by Abraham Lincoln
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Excerpt from “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.”
Part of the “Finest Hour” speech given by Winston Churchill speech in 1940
“Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
Ending of the “Quit India” speech by Mahatma Gandhi
“As a matter of fact, I feel myself to be a greater friend of the British now than ever before. One reason is that they are today in distress. My very friendship, therefore, demands that I should try to save them from their mistakes. As I view the situation, they are on the brink of an abyss. It, therefore, becomes my duty to warn them of their danger even though it may, for the time being, anger them to the point of cutting off the friendly hand that is stretched out to help them. People may laugh, nevertheless that is my claim. At a time when I may have to launch the biggest struggle of my life, I may not harbour hatred against anybody.”
Presidential Inaugural Addresses
When a President takes office, he makes a speech to the nation called his inaugural address. Many presidents who are great speakers have created wonderful declamation examples through their inaugural addresses.
Here are just a few examples:
In 1981, Ronald Reagan was the first president to take part in an inauguration ceremony on a terrace in the west front of the Capitol. His inaugural speech included the following declamation example:
“You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think that collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by that same limitation?We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding—we are going to begin to act, beginning today.”
J.F.K. has become an American icon. His inaugural address was also considered to be a great one.
“Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”
Barack Obama has been called a great orator and his inaugural address did not disappoint:
“That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many — and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.”
Declamation in Literature
Declamation can be found in literature as well. Consider these examples from Shakespeare:
- “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!” – King Richard III
- “But love is blind, and lovers cannot see.” – The Merchant of Venice
- “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”. – The Merchant of Venice
- “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” – Macbeth