Far above our poor power to add or detract


As mentioned, I'm memorizing the Gettysburg Address. This should be unsurpising to anyone who knows me or has listened to my reciting Jabberwocky when testing a microphone set up before giving a technical talk.

Lots of kids memorize the Gettysburg Address in high school, usually with little understanding the power of the words. The words are incredibly important to me. I have chills every time I read the Address out loud, even though I've recited it a hundred times so far while memorizing it.

I initially struggled with some of the nuances of Lincoln's speech patterns. He has repetitions of some words ("that," "here," "great") that make memorizing both easier and harder. One pattern that trips me just about every time is in the line

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

I consistently want to say "far beyond our poor power to add or detract." It's a small change, one word, but using "beyond" instead of "above" means I'm not memorizing the correct words. Which bugs me.

"Above" versus "beyond." A small difference.

That choice of word I believe reflects a difference between Lincoln's world and mine.

In particular, air and space travel.

In Lincoln's time, up meant the stars and the moon and the clouds. Up was where only birds could go. Above means heaven, and goodness.

In our time, we have planes and cloud research and space travel and satellites.

While we haven't conquered "above," it holds less mystery than it did 150 years ago. Now we need to go beyond instead of above. Beyond the trees. Beyond the mountain tops. Beyond the atmosphere. Beyond the moon. Beyond the solar system.

Heh. Or maybe to infinity and beyond.