About Eighteenth-Century Audio

father-reading-to-family-Oxford-Prof-Abigail.jpgWhy this site exists

This site was first conceived as a tool for students struggling to understand older poetry. Listening to someone read a poem aloud can clarify what a poet means, even if changes in context and vocabulary over the last few centuries mean we still need the footnotes in our printed editions.

But listening to poetry is also fun. In the long eighteenth century, it was common for families and friends to gather together and listen to one person read aloud. Poems were often printed in large type to make reading easier by candlelight. In an age before electronic entertainment, poetry and song played a large role even in humble homes, while being able to read well was considered an important skill for an educated person. (Of course, what it means to read well is partly a matter of opinion; remember the funny moment in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility where Marianne bemoans Edward’s too-calm reading of Cowper?)

Our ears also detect things our eyes can miss: an interesting rhyme, a startling word choice, a vivid image. Listening to a poem can bring out details we hadn’t noticed. It can show us what another reader finds interesting and important. Sometimes it can change our whole way of thinking about the poem. If a particular reading taught you something about a poem, we invite you to share your thoughts in the comment space on each page.

We hope this audio archive will bring you both pleasure and a deeper understanding of this poetry!

What’s New

Nearly every semester since Spring 2009, students from the eighteenth-century literature courses at the University of Mary Washington have been recording poems for this site. You can identify student readings by the designation “Source: UMW” attached to each.

As we identify them, audio recordings from around the world are added. Please send us information about yours!

Technology information

The technology design for this site was created by Jim Groom. It uses WordPress blogging software with internal RSS feeds. You can learn more by searching for ECAudio at Jim’s blog site.

Submitting a poem: listeners outside UMW

Use the “contact” link to send us links to your own readings, request that we record your favorite eighteenth-century poem, or ask questions.