To celebrate World Book Day last week I read the poem below, by Thomas Lux, to my students. 

It reminds me of the complexity and layeredness of reading as a skill and as a composite of attitudes and learned behaviours and history.

As Seamus Heaney says in his essay The Government of the Tongue ‘[the poem] does not say to the accusing crowd or to the helpless accused, ‘Now a solution will take place’, it does not propose to be instrumental or effective. Instead, in the rift between what is going to happen and whatever we would wish to happen, poetry holds attention for a space, functions not as distraction but as pure concentration, a focus where our power to concentrate is concentrated back on ourselves’ (The Governement of the Tongue, p.108).

The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently


is not silent, it is a speaking-

out-loud voice in your head: it is spoken,

a voice is saying it

as you read. It’s the writer’s words, 

of course, in a literary sense

his or her voice, but the sound

of that voice is the sound of your voice.

Not the sound your friends know

or the sound of a tape played back

but your voice

caught in the dark cathedral

of your skull, your voice heard 

by an internal ear informed by internal abstracts

and what you know by feeling,

having felt. It is your voice

saying, for example, the word barn

that the writer wrote

but the barn you say

is a barn you know or knew. The voice

in your head, speaking as you read,

never says anything neutrally – some people 

hated the barn they knew,

some people love the barn they know

so you hear the word loaded

and a sensory constellation

is lit: horse-gnawed stalls,

hayloft, black heat tape wrapping

a water pipe, a slippery

spilled chirr of oats from a split sack,

the bony, filthy haunches of cows…

And barn is only a noun -no verb 

or subject has entered the sentence yet!

The voice you hear when you read to yourself 

is the clearest voice: you speak it

speaking to you.


Thomas Lux from New and Selected Poems: 1975-1995 (Mariner Books)