Okay. Before you read any further, stop! And click on this link
That’s a recording of my most influential college professor, Dr. Luke Reinsma, reading the Prologue of The Canterbury Tales–in Middle English.
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote…
That cadence takes me back to cozy firesides in the British Isles, where I was studying abroad three years ago. (Three years! How is that possible?)
Assigned to read The Canterbury Tales in Middle English for our Medieval Literature class, most of my classmates and I felt overwhelmed. Middle English is similar enough to modern English that it can mostly be understood–but it takes a lot of effort. Medieval non-comprehension set in. Frustration set in.
And so Dr. Reinsma began hosting semi-weekly reading sessions. His background is in medieval literature, and he reads fluently in Middle English. And so we students would sprawl all over hostel couches, chairs, benches, carpets (sometimes beside an English fireside so quaint it looked like a painting) and listen to The Professor read.
It’s amazing what reading aloud can do for your appreciation of books. One of my earliest memories of literature is hiding under the couch cushions when my parents got to the part about Black Riders in The Fellowship of the Ring. It was a rite of passage when I got to take a turn in intoning the passages of Little House on the Prairie. And even in college, as an adult living in another country for three months, having The Professor read aloud took me back to that childhood place.
A human voice reading does not just transmit information–it conveys experience, wisdom, and a passion for life. We learn from being read to, but it’s much more than an academic exercise. The vocal rhythms whisk us back to a time when wandering bards passed down ancient traditions–history, legend, theology–through oral song and story.
To read aloud from a book proclaims your investment, both in the book and in the person being read to. Now that I am an adult, reading aloud to my students is one of my favorite parts of our lessons–getting to use my voice and presence to bring alive the literature I believe in. It’s a manifestation of care through quality time, combined with the wisdom and learning contained in the book itself.
Though The Canterbury Tales may never be my favorite work of literature, listening to the recording of it today brought tears to my eyes. Much more than a homework assignment, reading aloud became a memory.
Do you ever read aloud? Have any special memories of someone reading to you?