By W. W. Myers

From The Preacher's Magazine, Oct. 1929


In the previous article on the forms of emphasis two forms were discussed. One was the method of emphasis by the use of inflection, which is the kind that predominates in conversation: the other was the method of emphasis by change of pitch, which is the principal form in contrast and subordination. There remain three forms for discussion in this article.

The first of these three, the third method, is that of rhythmic emphasis. This consists of a "greater prolongation of pause and the consequent increase of touch." It implies strong emotion and "suggests the movement of vivid impressions which are intensely felt. It expresses the intense fervor and deep continuous flow of passion." There are two appeals which a speaker may make to his audience; he may appeal to their intellect, or he may appeal to their emotions. When an appeal is made to the intellect the rhythm becomes broken and irregular; when it is made to the emotions it becomes smooth and regular. "The more smooth, regular, and obviously rhythmical speech becomes," says Dr. Woolbert, "the more it stirs up a total bodily attitude -- emotions -- in hearers; while the more varied, broken, and unmetrical it is, within definable limits, the more it makes an appeal intellectual."

It is possible to emphasize by the use of rhythm out of all proportion to the content of the message. "Many modern evangelists," says Walter Dill Scott, "are especially powerful in the use of rhythm in their discourses, and the effects produced are out of all proportion to the substance of their sermons." These statements are sufficient to show one the importance of rhythmic emphasis. It should be studied by all our preachers so that they might know how to use it to the best advantage in building up the kingdom of God.

Rhythm exists in prose as well as in poetry. It is necessary, then, to have some rhythm in reading, but care must be taken not to overdo it. "It is esthetically displeasing," says Dr. Curry, "to have too much made of rhythm in the reading of prose or poetry, but the highest manifestations of art are present when the rhythmical form is used to express the thought."

The following selections are given for study. Read them first, making an intellectual appeal, and second, making an appeal to the emotions. The methods of emphasis for these two appeals are well expressed by Dr. Curry: "Emphasis by means of inflection and intervals or the extension of form accentuates the logical relation of ideas; rhythmic emphasis expresses the intense fervor and deep continuous flow of passion." Contrast these methods in reading the selection below. Read it first in the conversational style of direct address.

"Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for


And may there be no moaning of the bar when

I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep, too

full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless

deep turns again home.

"Twilight and evening bell, and after that the


And may there be no sadness of farewell, when

I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of time and place

the flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face, when I have

crosst the bar."


Now read the selection again giving attention to rhythm and to feeling.

In reading the following selection give special attention to rhythmic emphasis, and practice it until you can read with some degree of proficiency.

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene

The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear;

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

From the Elegy, GRAY

Passages of scripture which should be read with rhythm are as follows:

Psalms 1, 19, and 91; Isaiah 35 and 53; and Job 39:19-25.

The fourth method of emphasis is that of pause. This consists in making a rhetorical pause just before or just after the emphatic word. It is very effective although it is seldom employed alone; some other form usually accompanies it. "When a speaker," says Dr. Woolbert, "has just uttered words that carry vital and impelling meaning, he can add very definitely to that meaning by keeping silent while the meaning sinks in and effects its full mission. Or, again, if the hearers are listening intently to the thought of the speaker, a sudden silence brings all their listening powers to a focus on what is coming next. Either of these types of the dramatic pause is very effective in carrying both logical intent and personal attitude, but especially the latter. A sudden silence has the same effect as a sudden noise -- it attracts attention and gets an intense reaction. Silences judiciously interposed compel attention to the speaker's thought, and so keen the meaning to its intended destination."

If the reader will pause at the dashes in rendering the following sentences, he will note the effect which may be produced by the emphatic pause.

"The one rule for attaining perfection in my art -- is practice."

"Quoth the raven -- nevermore.

My answer would be -- a blow.

"This -- shall slay them both."

"Of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: -- 'It might have been.'

"Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship -- him declare I unto you."

[For some reason, the following rhyme was given next in this exercise, although it contained no dashes. Were the dashes, perhaps, mistakenly omitted? -- DVM]

"At the devil's booth all things are sold,

Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;

For a cap and bell our lives we pay,

Bubbles we buy with a whole soul's tasking;

'Tis heaven alone that is given away,

'Tis only God may be had for the asking."

The above selections will give the reader a fair representation of this mode of emphasis. Other examples may be found in your reading if you will watch for them.

The last method of emphasis to be discussed is that of force. This consists in speaking the important word or words with a greater degree of loudness or with more intensity; it may be a combination of both. This method is the most common, although it is by no means the most important. It is so common that the term emphasis is often associated with only this one form.

"The degree of loudness is governed by mental concept rather than by the emotions." A high key and a loud tone are frequently used together, both resulting from an excited mental state. Passions such as joy, alarm, terror, defiance, or rage require a louder tone than contentment, timidity, pathos, veneration, or reverence. If one is governed by the meaning, this mode of emphasis is practically self-evident in the following:

"Halt!" the dust brown ranks stood fast;

"Fire!" out blazed the rifle blast.

Degree of loudness and intensity are sometimes used interchangeably, although they differ considerably. Degree of loudness is dependent upon the amplitude of the vibrations of the vocal cords; intensity is dependent upon the "manifestation of thought and emotional life as expressed by the entire body." Intensity is not dependent upon mere loudness, but it is dependent upon earnestness...

There is one saying of Jesus where this method was employed, although Christ seldom emphasized by the use of force.

"It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves" (Matthew 21:13)...

The mastery of the various forms of emphasis cannot be accomplished in a day. It will take months of careful practice. Do not be discouraged, but keep everlastingly at it. Perseverance will win. Remember that if one would be at his best in presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ, he must master these principles.