This turns out to be slow work, but it's also rather interesting to watch myself explaining my rhetorical reasoning. I write by ear--that is, in both my prose and my poetry, I hear the unarticulated sound of a line or a sentence and then choose words that match that metrical pattern. The sound may be formally distinct or looser and more conversational, but in either case sound comes before sense. Nonetheless, as soon as I begin to explain my reasons, I discover that I do, indeed, have a leg to stand on. Like music, so much great writing depends on repetition, dynamic control, theme and variations. These are all rhetorical devices, as any great preacher can instantly prove. For instance, a few years ago, as I was immersed in some very strange writings by Cotton Mather, I suddenly realized that his gorgeous style was the key to his believable claims about Satan and witchcraft. To wit:
The New-Englanders are a People of God settled in those, which were once the Devil's Territories; and it may easily supposed that the Devil was exceedingly disturbed, when he perceived such a People here accomplishing the Promise of old made unto our Blessed Jesus, That He should have the Utmost parts of the Earth for his Possession.
Try saying that out loud. It sounds very convincing in the air--much more convincing than The Strategy of Satan, which I was reading in Walmart on Saturday night. And therein lies the serpent.
[I apologize, but I could not help myself. At least I didn't write "And therein lies the Serpent."]
[P.S. The Mather quotation is from The Wonders of the Invisible World (1692), which Dover has reprinted as On Witchcraft. If you like to (1) write sermons or (2) scare yourself, it's worth reading.]