Rough diamonds may sometimes be mistaken for worthless pebbles. — Sir T. Browne

I am different. I would say it appropriately like the Fantastic Mr. Fox and move my hands for you to see, but due to the restrictions of blog posting, I give you a clip.

I am (hands waving) different. For instance, I find it enjoyable to sit in my apartment by myself and read The Faerie Queene for fun. It gets worse. In finding myself alone, I (naturally) discover that it would be enjoyable to hear someone read me The Faerie Queene aloud. I get giddy. It’s something like how a normal person may feel when they’ve decided they want to watch the next show that just came out on Hulu or something. So I search for a a good reading of my favorite poem on Youtube and only find a dreadful LibriVox version. I apologize in advance if someone actually enjoys this version of The Faerie Queene, but it genuinely sounds like a novice who is experiencing the epic poem for the first time. The reader randomly pauses halfway through a line when there is not punctuation that hints he should do so, and he reads with basically no emotion whatsoever. If any poem should be read with emotion, it is The Faerie Queene. So I get upset.

Like I said, I am (hands waving) different.

I fume for a few minutes, and then a idea forms into my thick skull. I start reading the thing out loud to myself. I take on a different voice and stress what I believe needs to be stressed. I pause where Spenser would have me pause. I truly experience the alliteration, assonance and rhyming. I get caught up in the action of the poem as I feel it should be read.

Any English teacher of poetry would recommend that poetry should be read aloud. This post is not advocating anything new or experimental. It is, however, cognizant of the fact that its author is (hands waving) different. There are people out there that just don’t get it, and I wish to reach just one of those sad souls and argue that reading epic poetry (and epic prose) out loud is thoroughly enjoyable and should be a regular practice among us mortals.

I pen this post in response to a conversation I had with two good friends this past week on the matter. As I told them the aforementioned tale on my reading adventure, they looked at me as if I had the plague. I may as well have told them I was reading tax law or a car manual. They simply did not get it. They did not understand the epic nature of reading poetry out loud. And because I realize that these people exist, because I recognize that I exist, because I am aware that I am in the minority,¹ that I am (hands waving) different, I pen this post.

Being on vacation at the moment, I did a foolish thing no man should ever do and left my Queene at my apartment. But I do have a copy of The Odyssey translated by Robert Fagles sitting beside me, and this will certainly suffice. I am utterly useless at judging translations, but Fagles did a great job in my opinion. Having not finished this poem, I’m sure there are more epic lines to use, but I give these by way of example.

Just as that fear went churning through his mind
a tremendous roller swept him toward the rocky coast
where he’d have been flayed alive, his bones crushed
if the bright-eyed goddess Pallas had not inspired him now.
He lunged for a reef, he seized it with both hands and clung
for dear life, groaning until the giant wave surged past
and so he escaped its force, but the breaker’s backwash
charged into him full fury and hurled him out to sea.
Like pebbles stuck in the suckers of some octopus
dragged from its lair–so strips of skin torn
from his clawing hands stuck to the rock face.
A heavy sea covered him over, then and there
unlucky Odysseus would have met his death —
against the will of Fate —
but the bright-eyed one inspired him yet again.
Fighting out from the breakers pounding toward the coast,
out of danger he swam on, scanning the land, trying to find
a seabeach shelving against the waves, a sheltered cove,
and stroking hard he came abreast of a river’s mouth,
running calmly, the perfect spot, he thought…
free of rocks, with a windbreak from the gales.
As the current flowed he felt the river’s god and
prayed to him in spirit: “Hear me, lord, whoever you are,
I’ve come to you, the answer to all my prayers —
rescue me from the sea, the Sea-lord’s curse!
Even immortal gods will show a man respect,
whatever wanderer seeks their help–like me–
I throw myself on your mercy, on your current now–
I have suffered greatly. Pity me, lord,
your suppliant cries for help!”

A lengthy passage no doubt. Now if you were as enthusiastic about this post as I am and actually read that passage, I would encourage you to reread it and this time read it out loud, and if you are brave enough I would encourage you to find an audience of some sort and do so with an a deep, epic voice.

(Brief pause as you reread it aloud to an audience with a deep, epic voice.)

See! Isn’t it so much more epic now that you have read it out loud? The entire sense of the passage seems to change and take on more significance. Now ideally, I would have you find a copy of The Odyssey yourself and then find a good spot out in nature somewhere and read it. For this to work best, you need a mountain and you need to get to the top. If you don’t have a mountain, a ledge will have to suffice and if you live in the city the top of your house may work just fine. Just know that you need to be standing and overlooking something (could be your couch, overlooking your children).

An audience would be nice, but really it is not necessary and you may find that attracting an audience is part of the fun. But in any case you should have the sense that an audience would be there and read as if there is one. Now, I am already aware of the objections. I see the raised hands coming from the back of the classroom, and I anticipate the snide remark about to be made.

“But I am so bad at reading! I am like the guy on the LibriVox recording!”

“Well, get better. Read more. Work on pronunciation. Or for the time-being just mispronounce and move on. I, for one, am horrendous at pronouncing words.”

As I stated earlier, reading aloud also works well for prose. This semester my students were to write a proposal paper to a local official of some sort. This type of writing requires one to be succinct and to the point, to describe their solution quickly. By way of encouraging them, I thought it would be best to show them what not to do and read them a bit out of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien will, beautifully mind you, go on for about three paragraphs describing one bit of scenery, and in reading this to them, I recognized how epic it truly was. I could gather a sense of where Tolkien wanted me to pause and what he wanted me to stress in a way that I probably would not have recognized had I not read it out loud. For when we read silently to ourselves, we read much faster and tend to pay less attention to punctuation. When we read to an audience, we find that we are somewhat self-conscious of them gaining a true understanding of the words, and so we stress what we feel needs to be stressed.

In summation, I encourage both readers and non-readers to start reading epic poetry and to do so out loud in a deep, epic voice and on a mountain if possible. But if you are still resistant or do not have a mountain, I suggest we re-institute the age-old tradition of reading to our loved ones before we are overcome with weary sleep each night. Husbands ought to read to their wives, wives to their husbands, parents to their children, children to their parents. And for those lonely hearts, a dog (or I suppose a cat…) may have to suffice. The benefits of this are numerous as we practice our much needed skills at public reading to audiences and we hone our listening skills. I suppose if we lack a voice for epic poetry, we can find ours elsewhere. In the end, it is more important that you read something out loud and, as The King’s Speech taught us, find your voice. You may discover that you are far more epic than you ever realized — that, in turn, you have a knack for making Green Eggs and Ham and Matilda equally as epic as yourself.

_______________

¹On a completely unrelated note, this blog adheres to the common notion that all minority groups be represented in benefits and not be discriminated against. This applies to the minority of people who read epic poetry aloud by candlelight in their apartment. Not a new minority group by any stretch of the imagination, but one that is constantly oppressed by the larger, TV watching public, whose practices make it virtually impossible for one to fully enjoy their epic reading. (How can you with that God forsaken noise!) I argue recognition be displayed in the form of a pointless holiday that no one actually celebrates except for the few, poetry reading persons. Of course, as is common with this blog, if everyone follows the above argument, we will no longer be a minority and this side note will be as it already is, pointless.

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2 thoughts on “On Reading Epic Poetry Out Loud

  1. I hope you have discovered the much, much better Librivox recording of “The Faerie Queene” by Thomas Copeland that was released on January 20, 2014. It is also on YouTube under some guise or other.

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