Marathon Reading of Paradise Lost Commences in Claremont

By Heidi Hong ‘12Arts & Entertainment Editor

On Dec. 2, a group of students and faculty gathered on the lawn outside Honnold/Mudd Library for a marathon reading of John Milton’s 17th century epic “Paradise Lost,” a retelling of Adam and Eve’s fall from heaven. Under a sparse white tent, microphones were set up for the four readers who took turns reading the poem. Every so often, one of the readers left the table quietly to take a break. Another person then slid easily into the empty seat and the reading continued without interruption.

Reading Milton’s epic is a remarkable feat that requires perseverance and quiet, determined energy. The text itself is packed with metaphors, allusions to mythology and language that is at first glance erudite, then excessively beautiful when closely examined. Comprised of ten books, the text chronicles Satan’s fall from heaven, Eden prior to Original Sin, and Adam and Eve’s exile from paradise. Combined, it is a complex exploration of the origins of human experience drawn out to fill the space of 12 hours.

The reading began at around 8 a.m. and lasted until 8 p.m. Heaters were set up around the tents to warm the speakers. Speakers ranged from students from the Claremont Colleges to Professor Jacqueline Wernimont, a faculty member of the Scripps English department who teaches a course on Milton. Hearing a myriad of voices recite Milton was simultaneously startling and soothing. While some recited with ardor, emphasizing the dramatics of Satan’s flight in exaggerated syllables, others read smoothly and relied on the power of Milton’s words to convey meaning. Indeed, every word in “Paradise Lost” is saturated with meaning. And on that day, the Claremont community was able to muster an astonishing devotion to Milton’s works to do justice to the poetics of meaning.