Voice Lesson #1– Early American Authors Diction

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Voice Lesson #1– Early American Authors



… then Satan first knew pain,

And writh’d him to and fro convolv’d; so sore

The grinding sword with discontinuous wound

Passed through him.

- John Milton, Paradise Lost Book VI, lines 327-330


  • By using the word grinding, what does Milton imply about the pain inflicted by the sword?

  • What does discontinuous mean? How does the use of discontinuous reinforce the idea of a grinding sword?


Describe the action of a grinding sword, a slashing sword, a piercing sword. (A sword would grind when…)



Whenever he was so fortunate as to have near him a hare that had been kept too long, or a meat pie made with rancid butter, he gorged himself with such violence that his veins swelled, and the moisture broke out on his head. – Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Samuel Johnson”


  • What effect does the detail (the spoiled hare, the rancid butter, the sweaty forehead) have on the reader?


Write a sentence describing someone with disgusting eating habits. It must be one, correct sentence; and it must contain at least three vivid details. Highlight your three vivid details.



Meanwhile, the United States Army, thirsting for revenge, was prowling the country north and west of the Black Hills, killing Indians wherever they could be found. – Dee Brown, Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee


  • What are the connotations of thirsting? What feelings are evoked by this diction?

  • What are the connotations of prowling? What kind of animals prowl? What attitude toward the U.S. army does this diction convey?


Use an eating or drinking verb in a sentence which expresses anger about a parking ticket. Do not use the verb to literally express eating or drinking. Instead, express your anger through the verb. Use Brown’s sentence as a model. Highlight your angry verbs.



Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow;

- John Donne, “Death be not Proud”


  • What is the effect of opening the first sentence with the imperative mood of the verb to be?

  • In the first clause of the second sentence (lines 5-6), the verb is understood: in the second clause of this sentence, the subject is understood. What verb is omitted? What subject is omitted? What effect does this have on the meaning of the lines?


Write a sentence about credit cards which begins with a verb in the imperative mood. Make sure you convey an attitude toward credit cards by using an appropriate opening verb. Highlight your opening verb that expresses attitude.



In pride, in reasoning Pride, our error lies;

All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies.

Pride still is aiming at the best abodes,

Men would be Angels, Angels would be Gods.

Aspiring to be Gods, if Angels fell,

Aspiring to be Angels, men rebel:

And who but wishes to invert the laws

Of Order, sins against th’ Eternal Cause.

- Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man”


  • What is Pope’s attitude toward pride, the subject matter? Cite your evidence.

  • What is the tone of this passage? What attitude underlies the tone?


Write a short paragraph of advice about drinking and driving. Show through your diction and choice of detail that you believe yourself superior in every way to your reader. Never directly state your superiority. Instead, let the tone of your paragraph carry your haughty attitude. Highlight all of your tone words.

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