Heaney salutes Milton in 'Paradise Lost ' reading


With such warnings of wind, rain and flood it seemed yesterday’s reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost at Trinity College Dublin was to prove a particularly damp squib. It was not so.

Undeterred, the dedicated gathered in large numbers at TCD’s Graduates Memorial Building in epic tribute to one of the greatest literary works in English.

Their mission, for the first time in Ireland, was to perform a public reading of the entire 10,000 lines and 12 books of this great poem, depicting the fall of Lucifer and man.

They did so in aid of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, as Milton was himself blind when dictating the poem to aides between 1658 and 1663.

So there, under the dark gaze of Trinity’s first provost archbishop Adam Loftus, they set out, led by Seamus Heaney.

Like a high priest he intoned, with mild Northern nuance, those words:

“What in me is dark Illumin,

what is low raise and support;

That to the highth of this great Argument I may assert Eternal Providence,

And justifie the wayes of God to men.”

Striking woman

At the back of a very crowded room, he was followed intently by a striking older woman who moved a postcard line by line down the pages of her huge Paradise Lost, mouthing the words succulently and beating a gracious rhythm in the air with a heavily braceleted right hand.

Similarly on the platform, awaiting his turn to read, Prof Nicholas Grene nodded in tune with the cadences of Milton’s verse, allowing an occasional smile of recognition at the expected arrival of some familiar and still welcome phrase.

He was followed by Prof Gerard Dawe, Prof Darryl Jones and Senator Fiaich Mac Conghai. So ended book one.

Other readers through the long day’s journey included Brendan Kennelly, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Jonathan Williams, Senator David Norris, Peter Sirr, Eilean Ní Chuilleanáin, Gerard Smyth, Macdara Woods, Martin Mansergh, David Davin Power and Terence Brown.

By last night, all the remaining 11 books were read, concluding in Trinity’s Gallery Chapel under a vivid Crucifixion.