American Readings of Classical English Language Works — Some Ideas

September 15, 2017

Classical language is yet our language. Centuries have past since what we consider classical was contemporary. And yet, the aesthetic discoveries made by Western civilization, which represent our common tradition, provide us with many opportunities to delight in them, whether poetic beauty or dramatic engagement.

This is the first in a series of video readings of brief segments of the classical language. I’ve read this poem in its entirety for you in a conversational, modern American style. One can say, readily, that this is neither the dialect nor the style in which the poem was written. One question to ask, when reading any work, is this: what did the author intend? Does one take a liberty to read this poem aloud in the modern tongue? And conversationally, without reference to the meter?

The Undertaking, published in 1633, was written by John Donne. The speaker has discovered a woman of rare virtues, worthy of his greatest love and admiration. He must, however, love her in secret (as she presumably must love him in return) because the men of these times will not allow that such a love is commendable.

A good discussion of the work may be found here:!

The first two videos in my series on American readings of classical English language works pose several questions: 

How might (or ought) an American performer read aloud the classical English language, when it was written to be voiced in a dialect long unspoken?  

Is a conversational American reading persuasive for a modern audience?  

What about meter?  Is a work of definite meter, intended to convey a musical rhythm undergirding the meaning, more persuasive when so read?

In the first video, I’ve read John Donne’s, The Undertaking (1633), in a conversational American cadence.  

In the second video, I’ve read the same poem while closely adhering to the meter.  I’ve not approximated the dialect scholars believe readers of the early 17th century would have expected.

Which do you think is more persuasive?  

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Wyntner Woody