Seven students spent their Saturday night reciting Milton's "Paradise Lost," and one student said it was unlike anything he had done before.
Louis Schwartz, associate professor of English, began the reading at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25, and ended around 6:45 a.m. Sunday. The students took turns reading and took a break every two books to rest and discuss the poem. It was held in the Whitehurst Living Room, where the group brought cookies, chips, soda and coffee.
Schwartz has organized the marathon reading of "Paradise Lost" with his classes ever since he began teaching at the University of Richmond in 1989. People who usually participate are students, alumni and honors English students at St. Christopher's School in Richmond.
"The students are not required, but I strongly recommend that they come," Schwartz said. "I ask them to come and I hope they will."
The students have to read the poem for class. The marathon reading allowed them to finish it in one night, and they were able to ask questions as they read. It also helped them to bond as a class, Schwartz said.
"If you love poetry and you love to read," he said, "it's one of the most interesting and powerful ways to do it because your attention is heightened."
Reading the entire poem at once allowed the students to immerse themselves in the poem without having to worry about taking notes or reading footnotes.
"For me, reading things over and over is helpful," senior Jackie Blucher said. "Hearing it aloud is so different from reading it yourself."
Kate Peters, a graduate student who is taking the class as part of an independent study, said Schwartz had told her it was one of the few epic poems in English that could be read in one sitting.
"You will be able to get a sense of it as a whole rather than in pieces," Peters said.
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People who participated in the readings in the past have said it was something they would never forget, Schwartz said.
"Wherever life takes you, it's not likely that you're going to run into a group of people who are going to say, 'Yeah, let's stay up all night and read this 400-year-old poem,'" Schwartz said. "It's just not something people do."
Senior Matt Weinraub said he attended the reading because he was in the seminar class.
"I haven't read it," Weinraub said. "This will be the first time."
Students are required to read "Paradise Lost" not only because it's Milton's most famous work, but because of the intensity of the poem.
"It's a very powerful narrative and the verse is very musical and rhythmic," Schwartz said. "Much of it is made up of dramatic speeches and it is fun to read those. To take it all in at once through the course of the night is powerful."
Toward dawn, the readers relied on food, caffeine and reading around the circle faster to keep themselves awake, Schwartz said.
"I'll probably have trouble," Blucher said before the reading started. "I don't know if I'll be able to stay awake."
The class finished around 6:45 a.m. on Sunday, and senior Michael Gaynor said he slept until 4 p.m. on Sunday. Gaynor said it was very interesting and unlike anything he had ever done before.
"It definitely helped me understand the poem better, being able to focus on it all night and watch the story progress," Gaynor said. "I've never even read a book in one sitting -- even in terms of that, it was an eye-opening event."
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