Skip to main content
Learning By Literary Audio Files

Learning By Literary Audio Files

By Theoden Humphrey
A 20-year teacher reads and discusses great works of literature for students learning at home.
Listen on
Where to listen
Breaker Logo


Google Podcasts Logo

Google Podcasts

Overcast Logo


Pocket Casts Logo

Pocket Casts

RadioPublic Logo


Spotify Logo


Nancy Mairs "On Being a Cripple"
Reading and analysis of the essay "On Being a Cripple" by Nancy Mairs. Recommended for high school. Warning: discussion of illness, disability, death, suicide. This is a great essay, though as you can see from the title, it is difficult to read in places. Analysis focuses on diction, both word choice and level of formality; and on syntax, particularly the use of lists. #8 in the Feminist Justice series, focusing on women authors and feminist themes until this podcast reaches equity. Copy of the text: Microsoft Word - MairsOnBeingaCripple.doc (
March 18, 2021
Feminist Justice #7: Amanda Gorman, "The Hill We Climb"
Reading and analysis of "The Hill We Climb" by Amanda Gorman. Recommended for high school and general audiences. *The poem was presented at the inauguration of Joseph Biden, January 20, 2021 *Some discussion of political themes are therefore inevitable *Extensive discussion of rhyme, alliteration, and puns, and the effect of all of these devices particularly in a performed poem *Analysis of themes and audience (Seventh in the series focusing on female authors and feminist themes) Original text and video of performance: (Please listen to Ms. Gorman, who does a fantastic job presenting this poem) Amanda Gorman's inaugural poem 'The Hill We Climb' full text (
March 3, 2021
Feminist Justice #6: Denise Levertov "For the New Year" and "Making Peace"
Reading and analysis of two poems by Denise Levertov, "For the New Year, 1981" and "Making Peace." Recommended for high school. Two free verse poems from a 20th c. English-American poet. Analysis focuses on theme, word choice, syntax and the use of paradox and contradiction. Very positive tone and themes, to celebrate the new year and new beginnings and new hope. (Not Star Wars. Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Sixth in the Feminist Justice series, focusing on female authors and feminist themes in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Text for first poem: “For the New Year, 1981”   I have a small grain of hope—  one small crystal that gleams  clear colors out of transparency.  I need more.  I break off a fragment  to send you.  Please take  this grain of a grain of hope  so that mine won’t shrink.  Please share your fragment  so that yours will grow.  Only so, by division,  will hope increase,  like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower  unless you distribute  the clustered roots, unlikely source—  clumsy and earth-covered—  of grace. Text for second poem: Link: Making Peace by Denise Levertov | Poetry Foundation Making Peace BY DENISE LEVERTOV A voice from the dark called out,               ‘The poets must give us imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar imagination of disaster. Peace, not only the absence of war.’                                       But peace, like a poem, is not there ahead of itself, can’t be imagined before it is made, can’t be known except in the words of its making, grammar of justice, syntax of mutual aid.                                          A feeling towards it, dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have until we begin to utter its metaphors, learning them as we speak.                                                      A line of peace might appear if we restructured the sentence our lives are making, revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power, questioned our needs, allowed long pauses . . .                               A cadence of peace might balance its weight on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence, an energy field more intense than war, might pulse then, stanza by stanza into the world, each act of living one of its words, each word a vibration of light—facets of the forming crystal.
January 5, 2021
Feminist Justice #5: The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
Reading and analysis of Katherine Anne Porter's 1930 short story, "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall." Recommended for high school. *Warning: This story is about death and dying, and also discusses loss, grief, and death in childbirth.  The story is written in stream-of-consciousness narration, and is one of the more readable examples of that technique. It is filled from top to bottom with figurative language, and so that along with the narrative style is the focus of the analysis.  Fifth in a series focusing on women authors and feminist themes, this story is less feminist than some, but it's not not feminist, and Katherine Anne Porter was one of the finest short story writers in American literature of any gender. 
December 29, 2020
Feminist Justice #4: "Trifles" by Susan Glaspell
Reading and analysis of a one-act play. Recommended for high school. First warning: I read all five parts myself. May the universe have mercy. Second warning: themes and descriptions of death, murder, abuse, and animal abuse/murder.  Third warning: The material for the second warning makes me curse a couple of times, so language warning. It's an excellent play, though, with much to say about gender, stereotypes and sexism, and about relationships and social mores. Full text:
December 7, 2020
Feminist Justice #3: Florence Kelley, "Child Labor and Women's Suffrage"
Reading and analysis of the speech "Child Labor and Women's Suffrage" by Florence Kelley. Recommended for high school. Especially of interest to AP Language and Composition classes. Rhetorical analysis of this speech, presented to the National American Woman's Suffrage Association in 1905. Analysis and explanation of the rhetorical triangle, the interactions between speaker, audience, and subject that shape a speaker's rhetoric. Analysis of the speech in its context. This is a wonderfully impressive and effective speech, which makes use of imagery and anecdote, statistics, rhetorical questions, parallelism, and various other rhetorical strategies. Third in a series focusing on female authors and feminist themes, in honor of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Text of the speech can be found here:
November 18, 2020
Feminist Justice #2: Louise Glück, "The Empty Glass"
Reading and analysis of the contemporary poem "The Empty Glass" by Louise Glück, 2020 Nobel Prize winner in Literature. Recommended for high school and adult listeners.  *Language warning (one instance of profanity in the poem, repeated 2-3 times in the course of analysis) *Subject warning: this poem is largely dark and depressing Episode includes careful analysis of symbolism, imagery, diction, and syntax; special focus on Glück's use of enjambment and classical reference. Poem link: Full text: The Empty Glass BY LOUISE GLÜCK I asked for much; I received much. I asked for much; I received little, I received next to nothing. And between? A few umbrellas opened indoors. A pair of shoes by mistake on the kitchen table. O wrong, wrong—it was my nature. I was hard-hearted, remote. I was selfish, rigid to the point of tyranny. But I was always that person, even in early childhood. Small, dark-haired, dreaded by the other children. I never changed. Inside the glass, the abstract tide of fortune turned from high to low overnight. Was it the sea? Responding, maybe, to celestial force? To be safe, I prayed. I tried to be a better person. Soon it seemed to me that what began as terror and matured into moral narcissism might have become in fact actual human growth. Maybe this is what my friends meant, taking my hand, telling me they understood the abuse, the incredible shit I accepted, implying (so I once thought) I was a little sick to give so much for so little. Whereas they meant I was good (clasping my hand intensely)— a good friend and person, not a creature of pathos. I was not pathetic! I was writ large, like a queen or a saint. Well, it all makes for interesting conjecture. And it occurs to me that what is crucial is to believe in effort, to believe some good will come of simply trying, a good completely untainted by the corrupt initiating impulse to persuade or seduce— What are we without this? Whirling in the dark universe, alone, afraid, unable to influence fate— What do we have really? Sad tricks with ladders and shoes, tricks with salt, impurely motivated recurring attempts to build character. What do we have to appease the great forces? And I think in the end this was the question that destroyed Agamemnon, there on the beach, the Greek ships at the ready, the sea invisible beyond the serene harbor, the future lethal, unstable: he was a fool, thinking it could be controlled. He should have said I have nothing, I am at your mercy.
October 26, 2020
Feminist Justice #1: Notorious RBG
Rhetorical analysis of "Brown v. Board of Education in International Context" by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Recommended for high school to adult listeners. Inspired by and in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this is the first in a series of episodes examining the rhetoric and literary style of various women and feminist authors. This first episode focuses on Justice Ginsburg herself, on a speech she gave at Columbia University School of Law in 2004. *Rhetorical analysis of the speech *Strong focus on ethos (ethical/authoritative) arguments *Examination of diction and word choice, as well as syntax, audience, tone, and authorial perspective Text of the speech: Excellent resource for all things to do with women in history and politics: Their Archive of Women's Political Communication: Vocabulary: apartheid: (in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. ascendancy:  occupation of a position of dominant power or influence. prestige: widespread respect and admiration felt for someone or something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality. eulogy: a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly, typically someone who has just died. conspicuous: standing out so as to be clearly visible; attracting notice or attention. analogy: a comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification. inexorably:  in a way that is impossible to stop or prevent. egalitarian: relating to or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. ideological: based on or relating to a system of ideas and ideals, especially concerning economic or political theory and policy. regime: a government, especially an authoritarian one. grist: 1. grain that is ground to make flour.  2. useful material, especially to back up an argument. adverse: preventing success or development; harmful; unfavorable. doctrine: a stated principle of government policy, mainly in foreign or military affairs. consul: an official appointed by a government to live in a foreign city and protect and promote the government's citizens and interests there. skepticism: doubt as to the truth of something. reverberate: (of a loud noise) be repeated several times as an echo. vibrant: full of energy and enthusiasm. ratification: the action of signing or giving formal consent to a treaty, contract, or agreement, making it officially valid. jurisdiction: the official power to make legal decisions and judgments. exemplary: serving as a desirable model; representing the best of its kind. litigation: the process of taking legal action. pernicious: having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way. allocate: distribute (resources or duties) for a particular purpose. allegedly: used to convey that something is claimed to be the case or have taken place, although there is no proof.
October 2, 2020
War Is Kind
Reading and analysis of the poem "Do Not Weep, Maiden, for War Is Kind" by Stephen Crane. Recommended for high school. The poem is highly disturbing because of imagery of war, suffering, death, and grief, so this has a strong content warning. I also get pretty deep into the imagery, and so the analysis is also graphic.  The poem is a masterpiece of irony, and in it Crane creates multiple impressions, one after another, which build to the final message; I try to trace that same thought process. Focus on imagery, diction, tone, and irony. Text:
September 13, 2020
The Cask of Amontillado
Reading and analysis of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." Recommended for high school. *Close analysis of character, plot, and theme *Analysis of diction, word choice, and tone *Horror, murder, and death -- though no gore.  *Me fully fangurling over Poe and this story, which is one of my favorites.  Text:
September 1, 2020
Endless Tales #6: The Discourager of Hesitancy by Frank Stockton
*Reading and analysis of "The Discourager of Hesitancy" by Frank R. Stockton. Recommended for high school. The last of the Endless Tales: THE SEQUEL TO "THE LADY OR THE TIGER" *Analysis of plot, character, language, symbol. Careful examination of audience and author's purpose. *I say a bad word, so be warned. Full Text of the story is available on my website: Here is a nice .pdf reproduction of a magazine edition of the story: Here is the HathiTrust digitized book with the story in it:
August 5, 2020
Endless Tales #5: The Lady, or the Tiger?
Reading and analysis of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton. Recommended for high school.  *Focus on theme and language *The story is satirical, largely about justice systems and about barbarism vs. civilization. *The story is also hilarious Cliffhanger ending (of course) Story text:
July 23, 2020
Endless Tales #4: "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Reading and analysis of "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Recommended for high school. *Some drug references. Some sexual innuendo. The famous unfinished fragment that came to Coleridge in an opium dream, and which he published unfinished -- and as he intended. Analysis of theme and imagery, language and rhyme and sound devices. Text source from Project Gutenberg here: Full poem: Kubla Khan BY SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. So twice five miles of fertile ground With walls and towers were girdled round; And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover! A savage place! as holy and enchanted As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted By woman wailing for her demon-lover! And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething, As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing, A mighty fountain momently was forced: Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail, Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail: And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever It flung up momently the sacred river. Five miles meandering with a mazy motion Through wood and dale the sacred river ran, Then reached the caverns measureless to man, And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean; And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far Ancestral voices prophesying war! The shadow of the dome of pleasure Floated midway on the waves; Where was heard the mingled measure From the fountain and the caves. It was a miracle of rare device, A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice! A damsel with a dulcimer In a vision once I saw: It was an Abyssinian maid And on her dulcimer she played, Singing of Mount Abora. Could I revive within me Her symphony and song, To such a deep delight ’twould win me, That with music loud and long, I would build that dome in air, That sunny dome! those caves of ice! And all who heard should see them there, And all should cry, Beware! Beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair! Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread For he on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of Paradise.
July 13, 2020
Endless Tales #3: "The Interlopers" by Saki
Reading and analysis of "The Interlopers" by H.H. Munro, aka Saki. Recommended for high school. Third in a series analyzing works that don't have a definite ending, this one features a heck of a cliffhanger. Examination of theme, setting, character, plot. Some historical context and author biographical context. Story features feuds, land rights, hunting, and reconciliation. Sort of. Text available here:
July 6, 2020
Endless Tales #2: "Eldorado"
Reading and analysis of "Eldorado" by Edgar Allan Poe. Recommended for high school. Second in the series of works with no ending. Analysis of diction, image, and theme. Some discussion of Eldorado, Age of Chivalry, religious themes, and death. Text: ELDORADO Gayly bedight, A gallant knight, In sunshine and in shadow, Had journeyed long, Singing a song, 5 In search of Eldorado. But he grew old, This knight so bold, And o'er his heart a shadow Fell as he found 10 No spot of ground That looked like Eldorado. And, as his strength Failed him at length, He met a pilgrim shadow: 15 "Shadow," said he, "Where can it be, This land of Eldorado?" "Over the Mountains Of the Moon, 20 Down the Valley of the Shadow, Ride, boldly ride," The shade replied, "If you seek for Eldorado!"
June 15, 2020
Endless Tales #1: The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs
Reading and analysis of the classic suspense story. Recommended for high school. Warning: death and grief described in detail *First in a series of episodes about pieces without clear, definite endings.  *Analysis of theme *Close analysis of foreshadowing Text here: Monkees Episode:
June 7, 2020
Burden in My Hand: First Attempt
Reading and interpretation of the poem "Burden in My Hand," by Chris Cornell. Recommended for high school. WARNING: Extensive discussion of depression and anxiety, suicide, and destructive behavior including alcoholism. This is my first attempt at analyzing this poem; it is intended to model the thought process of reading and understanding a complex piece of literature. But because it is that first attempt, it may be a bit more confusing as the thoughts occur to me out of order. Original version of the piece can be found here:
May 26, 2020
Poetic License #2
Analysis of a surprise poem; an excellent way to introduce poetry and poetic interpretation, at least in my experience. Recommended for high school. *Title and author withheld so as to focus on the words of the piece more closely, without context. *Careful analysis of metaphor and symbol *Themes of control and fear, society and individuality Here is the poem: Sometimes, I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear And I can't help but ask myself how much I'll let the fear Take the wheel and steer It's driven me before And it seems to have a vague, haunting mass appeal But lately I am beginning to find That I should be the one behind the wheel Whatever tomorrow brings I'll be there with open arms and open eyes Whatever tomorrow brings I'll be there, I'll be there So if I decide to waiver my chance To be one of the hive Will I choose water over wine And hold my own and drive? It's driven me before And it seems to be the way that everyone else gets around But lately I am beginning to find That when I drive myself my light is found So whatever tomorrow brings I'll be there with open arms and open eyes Whatever tomorrow brings I'll be there, I'll be there Would you choose water over wine Hold the wheel and drive? Whatever tomorrow brings I'll be there with open arms and open eyes Whatever tomorrow brings I'll be there, I'll be there Link to a performance of the poem by the poet: DON'T WATCH UNTIL AFTER YOU'VE LISTENED TO THE EPISODE, OR YOU'LL SPOIL THE SURPRISE!
May 11, 2020
Poetic License #1
Analysis of a surprise poem. Recommended for high school. This has been my activity to introduce my students to poetry: reading an unknown poem, analyzing the poem without any context, even the title and author. This has been one of my favorite activities, and this is my favorite poem to use for it.  **Warning: This poem is VERY dark and talks about child abuse and trauma. Analysis includes focus on diction and point of view, and repetition for emphasis. The poem is reproduced in this episode description. New blood joins this earth And quickly he's subdued Through constant pain disgrace The young boy learns their rules With time the child draws in This whipping boy done wrong Deprived of all his thoughts The young man struggles on and on he's known A vow unto his own That never from this day His will they'll take away What I've felt What I've known Never shined through in what I've shown Never be Never see Won't see what might have been What I've felt What I've known Never shined through in what I've shown Never free Never me So I dub thee unforgiven They dedicate their lives To running all of his He tries to please them all This bitter man he is Throughout his life the same He's battled constantly This fight he cannot win A tired man they see no longer cares The old man then prepares To die regretfully That old man here is me What I've felt What I've known Never shined through in what I've shown Never be Never see Won't see what might have been What I've felt What I've known Never shined through in what I've shown Never free Never me So I dub thee unforgiven What I've felt What I've known Never shined through in what I've shown Never be Never see Won't see what might have been What I've felt What I've known Never shined through in what I've shown Never free Never me So I dub thee unforgiven Never free Never me So I dub thee unforgiven You labeled me I labeled you So I dub thee unforgiven Never free Never me So I dub thee unforgiven You labeled me I labeled you So I dub thee unforgiven Never free Never me So I dub thee unforgiven Performance of the poem by the author: DON'T WATCH UNTIL AFTER YOU LISTEN TO THE PODCAST! IT'LL RUIN THE SURPRISE!
May 3, 2020
"The Storyteller" by Saki
Reading and analysis of a great ironic/funny story, "The Storyteller" by Saki. Recommended for high school. *Vocabulary definitions and analysis of characterization and tone *Story operates on multiple levels, and analysis attempts to do the same *Discussion of the morality presented by the story
April 26, 2020
Emily Dickinson, "Tell All the Truth..." & "Hope is the thing..."
Reading and analysis of two poems by Emily Dickinson: "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant" and "Hope is the thing with feathers." Recommended for high school. *Two favorites from Dickinson's extensive catalog (Mine and my wife's. Have different favorites? Start your own podcast. But listen to this one first. These are great poems.) *Explanation of the unique traits of Dickinson's poetry *Powerful metaphors that present concrete images of grand ideas: truth, and hope
April 19, 2020
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce
Reading and analysis of the short story. Recommended for high school. (Descriptions of death by hanging) *Focus on the structure of the story, including the use of flashbacks and imagined vs. real timelines *Analysis of how the author creates the surprise twist ending (Spoiler: there is a surprise twist ending) *Exploration of possible themes, including war, death, and the beauty of life
April 11, 2020
The Declaration of Independence
Reading and rhetorical analysis of the Declaration of Independence. Recommended for high school. *Analysis of the argument: do the Colonies have the right to secede? Should the Colonies secede? *Focus on logic and evidence *Focus on audience and purpose
April 5, 2020
"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
Reading and analysis of Kate Chopin's perfect short story. Recommended for high school. *Historical context for both story and author, as both story and author are essentially feminist in the late 19th century. *Literary analysis focusing on imagery, theme, and characterization *I include the one word that is sometimes missing from this story, and explain why it matters.
April 2, 2020
"since feeling is first" by E.E. Cummings
Reading and analysis of ee cummings's modernist love poem. Recommended for high school. *Analysis of syntax, imagery, and word choice *Examples of ambiguity in poetry, with multiple possible readings of sections and of the poem as a whole *Cummings is my favorite poet and this is one of his loveliest poems. I swear by all flowers.
March 29, 2020
Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Speech
Reading and analysis of Lincoln's famous speech, "With malice toward none, with charity for all." Recommended for high school. *Detailed rhetorical analysis of Lincoln's language and purpose *Some explanation of context, but analysis comes primarily out of the language of the speech itself *Historical context related to slavery and the Civil War *Also, you can hear jets flying over in the background because I live near an Air Force base. It's not too loud or distracting.
March 26, 2020
Queen Elizabeth I's Speech at Tilbury
Reading and rhetorical analysis of Queen Elizabeth's speech to her troops on the eve of the Spanish invasion. Recommended for high school. *Literary non-fiction *Historical context *General explanation of rhetoric *Rhetorical triangle (Speaker, Audience, Message) *Nobody expects the Spanish invasion
March 25, 2020
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain
Reading and analysis of Twain's comic story. Recommended for high school. *Close analysis of diction, formal/informal speech *Analysis of narrative voice and characterization *Examination of frame stories *I read this one in a funny accent, so watch out. Be careful of the text, as well: my copy had several typographical errors.
March 24, 2020
"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost
Reading and analysis of Frost's poem. Recommended for high school. *Analysis of symbolism and metaphor *Careful close reading of the text, encouraging multiple readings. *This poem is famously misunderstood based on the last three lines. Because of that, it is the perfect illustration of the importance of reading and examining the entire poem.  *This one gets pretty philosophical because of the subject matter of the poem.
March 24, 2020
"The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe
Reading and analysis of Poe's legendary short story. Recommended for high school.  *STRONG warning for content: there is disease and death, quarantine, blood, suffering. Particularly during this Covid-19 outbreak, this is a tough story in many ways. *Analysis of character and theme  *Analysis of literary style/authorial intent *Focus on diction and vocabulary *It does have one of the best party scenes in literature, tho.
March 23, 2020
"The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe
Reading and analysis of Poe's most famous poem.  Recommended for high school students. *The poem is very dark: themes of grief and death and loss *Some discussion of witchcraft and demons and the afterlife, God and the Devil, as they relate to the poem *Discussion of rhyme and Poe's artistry *Analysis of meaning Text can be found at Project Gutenberg,
March 22, 2020
"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Reading and analysis of Shelley's classic sonnet. Recommended for high school students. *The poem is dark, and possibly ironic.  *Discussion of sonnet structure *Discussion of rhythm and rhyme *Comparison to Horace Smith's "Ozymandias" *Analysis of meaning *Lil bit of salt about how Mary Shelley was cooler than her husband Percy
March 20, 2020