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Reading of Paradise Lost Takes 12 Hours
“Paradise Lost is arguably the greatest long poem in English. Milton's language can be remarkably electric, and the poem's drama comes out when the poem is shared."

When most people today read poetry, they do it alone, and silently. But that's not the way poetry should be read says Paul Dyck, Associate Professor of English at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) – especially not a great epic poem like John Milton's Paradise Lost.

CMU students listen as Andre Forget of Mount Forest, Ontario, reads aloud from Milton's Paradise Lost.
Photo courtesy Sue Sorensen.

"A poem like Paradise Lost rewards individual silent reading, but it really comes alive when it is read out loud, in a group," he says.

For that reason, Dyck organized a marathon 12-hour reading of the poem at CMU, January 17, 2009, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Most of the reading was done by the 15 members of his Studies in Seventeenth-Century Literature class, but other students, staff and community members also participated, taking turns reading aloud for ten to 15 minutes each.

For Dyck, "a chance like this doesn't come along every day. Paradise Lost is arguably the greatest long poem in English. Milton's language can be remarkably electric, and the poem's drama comes out when the poem is shared."

CMU student Rob Walker found Milton's writing "very complex and difficult to read aloud but, having said that, it's a great story!"

Reading out loud in a group allowed him to "recognize both the humour and the sexism in Milton's writing in ways that would be less obvious when reading silently," he said, and hearing David Widdicombe, pastor of Winnipeg's St. Margaret's Anglican Church read Satan's lines "evoked the character of Satan very strongly and allowed me to imagine the scope and reality of the angelic rebellion against God."

What struck him most forcefully was the "vividness of Milton's portrayal of spiritual warfare – I recognized things that I believed about it, and now I suspect that my views are as much from Milton as from Scripture."

Dyck acknowledges that the poem is long, but "it's not so long that it can't be read in a day. In fact, its 12-hour span seems about right for the scale of the action that it describes: the fall of the human race."

John Longhurst is the director of communications and marketing for the Canadian Mennonite University. Phone: 487.3300. jlonghurst@cmu.ca.

Originally published on the CMU Website, January 2009.

 

 
 
 
 

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