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.