From Philip Pullman’s introduction to Oxford World’s Classics edition of Paradise Lost.
The Story as a Poem
So I begin with sound. I read Paradise Lost not only with my eyes, but with my mouth. … And thus it was that I first heard lines like this. Satan is making his way across the wastes of hell towards the new world he intends to corrupt, and a complex and majestic image evokes his flight: [Book II, lines 636-43]
As when far off a fleet at sea descried
Hangs in the clouds, by equinoctial winds
Close sailing from Bengala, or the Isles
Of Ternate and Tidor, whence merchants bring
Their spicy drugs: they on the trading flood
Through the wide Ethiopian to the Cape
Ply stemming nightly toward the pole. So seemed
far off the flying fiend . . .
… To see these things and hear them most vividly, I found that I had to take the lines in my mouth and utter them aloud. A whisper will do; you don’t have to bellow it, and annoy the neighbours; but air has to pass across your tongue and through your lips. Your body has to be involved.
A poetry teacher of mine, Fran Quinn, was adamant about making all of the poets, would-be poets and readers in the world listen to the music of the lines; it was a good shaking up for me, as I had gotten used to seeing poetry, which takes so much feeling out of it; with a great work, even more so.
It is good to know Ophelia ages and doesn’t drown an early death.
Yes, the music of any writing is key to its affect on the reader and listener.
Coincidentally, I put Paradise Lost into my bag this morning as my book to read. And, then, your comment. I’ve been wondering where you’ve been.