Well. A few days ago I ran a poll on Twitter to find the most popular long poem for a group reading project and the clear winner, with 44% of the vote, was John Milton’s seventeenth century epic, Paradise Lost.
OK. If you were to take part in a group reading of a long poem (like the celebs are doing with Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ which of the four below would be your first choice?
— David Didau (@DavidDidau) April 18, 2020
I’ve been inundated with volunteers eager to read a section aloud and that is exactly what we’re going to do, releasing one video a day for the next month or so. We’ll be reading the 1674 version which is 798 lines long. The poem is not conveniently divided up into stanzas, so each volunteer will read a carefully chosen snippet of differing lengths to try to match the syntax as well as possible. Some of the volunteers are self confessed Milton fanatics, others are complete novices (we even have a maths teacher reading one section!) so please forgive us if some of the readings are a little… jerky?
Anyway, if you’ve never experienced the poem before, it’s a fabulous old beast. The entire epic is over 10,000 lines long, takes over 6 hours to read, is divided into 10 Books and was published in 12 parts (Books 7 and 10 are both split into two.) We’ll only be tackling Book 1.
The epic begins after Lucifer’s unsuccessful revolt against God. He and the other rebel angels have been cast into Hell. We pick up the tale with Lucifer (now Satan) and the other rebel angels waking up to find themselves floating on a lake of fire in Hell, transformed into devils. Satan delivers one of the most famous speeches in English literature to rouse his minions and begin the fight back against God. They work to build a capital in Hell, Pandemonium, and form a council to debate waging war against Heaven. Satan is a wonderfully charismatic creation and so sympathetically written that William Blake famously wrote that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”
The schedule of readings is below. I will (hopefully) be adding a video link everyday until our big finish on 26th May using the hashtag #ProjectParadise. Additionally Joe Nutt, author of A Guidebook to Paradise Lost has recording a brief analysis of the poem.
Hope you enjoy it!
18. @VHPS_AsstHead 7/5 – Lines 331-350
19. @booksandbowie 8/5 – Lines 351-375