Everyday epiphanies from Milton's Eden and beyond

Read-A-Thon Lite

I was surprised by how enlightening of an experience reading Book XII and XIII were out loud as a group in class. I think this is due, in part, to the multiplicity of voices and the forced reality of having to read both carefully and slowly. It brought to my attention vivid details, specifically about creation, where I actually began to envision the garden with bushes of “frizl’d hair implicit” and “clustring Vine” that made “Earth now [seem] like to Heav’n.” These are details that I would quickly read over and miss to merely get to the “good stuff” or action within the plot.

The significance of enjambment and punctuation (or lack thereof) also became very noticeable when reading the epic out loud. It brought emphasis to words that would otherwise be lost in the mere wordiness of Paradise Lost such as this example in Book XIII:

Of Earth before scarce pleasant seemd. Each Tree

Load’n with fairest Fruit, that hung to the Eye

Tempting, stirr’d in me sudden appetite

To pluck and eate; whereat I wak’d, and found (306-309)

The word “tempting” followed by a comma is quite menacing, no doubt a foreshadow of the tragedy to come and all the more emphasized when properly read out loud.

Lastly, something every Milton scholar knows yet its implications dawned on me during our reading was the fact that Paradise Lost was composed orally. It was a poem created by the spoken word and therefore is, arguably, in its truest form when read out loud. This in itself makes the tradition worthwhile and I feel better off for having experienced it.

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3 Comments

  1. This is true, the word “tempting” did seem to jump out. I think also since we had to follow along so closely to keep track of our part, it made us pay attention more to the text. Also, your point about Paradise Lost being composed orally brought something to mind, how did Milton know exactly where to put all of the punctuation. The fact that everything is placed so precisely, while he is completely blind, adds a new level to the poem.

  2. The multiplicity of voices you brought up is a great point and that did help in the grabbing of all of the details. Like you said, it is easy to focus on the “good stuff” when tackling the poem by yourself, and I found that the group setting made each line more impactful.

  3. I definitely think the enjambment thing is spot on. I was trying today to read Paradise Lost out loud to myself and it was super weird trying to settle my mind with the lined format and the actual punctuation.

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