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Talking point: reading aloud

reading aloud
‘Earth has not anything to show more fair. Dull would he be of soul who could pass by sight so touching in its majesty’.
How do you teach renaissance poetry to young people, many of whom might be our learners, and might feel intimidated by the language, by the sonnet sequence? Well, I normally would make them read it aloud. And you can have some startling responses.
I think you can’t do enough of it. I just think it’s the best lining of the mind you can get. I think it trains you in all sorts of things. It trains you in ordering words. It trains you in images. It gives tremendous self-confidence. You can lean back on that when you have to.
‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, and Mourners to and fro Kept treading - treading - till it seemed That sense was breaking through’.
Now that brings us to one of your rules in your book which is how valuable it is a) to read poetry slowly and b) to read it aloud. So why slowly and why aloud? Well, poets put poems together very slowly and the words are all kind of balanced and shaped like a beautiful object. And they need to be looked at, inspected, felt in the mouth, in the eyes, and of course, with the intellect, but mostly with the emotion.
‘There is a comfort in the strength of love’.
I would just wonder if there’s something very primitive about reading aloud and stresses and poetry. Well, totally because all it is is breath. Breath? We’re talking about breathing. That’s what… Yes. …reading aloud is. And that’s connected with my heartbeat. It’s connected with everything else. It’s an essential part of the condition by which I live. And so I’m breathing words and saying them aloud adds to the store of knowledge but also it connects absolutely with what’s in you. Yes, it’s like being sort of verbally stroked in a way. You see that the words almost stroke you.
‘As virtuous men pass mildly away and whisper to their souls to go’. I think the thing that first got me about this poem was probably the way it sounded. And this is very, very calm ‘as virtuous men pass mildly…’ It’s very measured, isn’t it? Very measured.
‘Away, away for I will fly to thee’.
Part of the pleasure of poetry is the crunch and feel of words in your mouth as they hit the tip of the tongue and they resound.
‘And ‘tis believed by all and many and many a day he thither went, and never lifted up a single stone’.
So far in the course, we’ve listened to a number of poetry readings, and there are lots more coming up in the final two weeks.
In weeks 5 and 6 of the course, we’ll be thinking and talking in more detail about the value of reading poetry aloud. Watch the video above to hear some of our course contributors’ thoughts on reading aloud, and then take a moment to reflect on your own opinion.
  • Do you ever read poetry aloud, to yourself or to others? If so, why?
  • Some of our contributors suggest that reading a poem aloud can make it easier to understand. Do you agree?
If you don’t usually read poetry aloud, you could use this as an opportunity to give it a go. Pick a short poem, read it aloud to yourself or to someone else, and consider whether reading the poem aloud makes you think or feel differently about it.
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Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing

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