The Raven Revisited by author Joseph J. O’Donnell

Author Joseph J. O'Donnell

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, while I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a  tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door- only this, and nothing more.”

I was an English teacher at Stone Junior High School, in Centreville, Virginia. I had always cherished this subject throughout my own school days, and it feels almost natural for me to make this my career.

I actually liked…no, loved… the subject. Teaching was also a great desire or mine, and combing both of my life’s greatest pleasures made me happier than most men at their careers. I also had a great ability in projecting my voice and at the same time loved being dramatic when stressing the subject of English. I enjoyed watching the students facial expressions while I read stories or recited poetry, or prose. I made sure that I fervently acted out the parts to hold everyone’s attention.

“Well, my subjects,” I started sounding as if I stepped out of the story of Macbeth or King Lear, “last week we enjoyed Whitman, who was one of America’s greatest poets. The test results on Friday deserve a rousing round of applause.” with this smiles appeared on everyone’s faces. My pupils knew that they had all done well, and in this u had proved a point that learning and teaching, could be fun and rewarding.

“With no exceptions, you were all brilliant,” I had continued, turning those smiles into broad beaming grins.

“This week however,” I said with a pause, watching all those smiles falter, “we are going to learn about my favorite author. Can anyone guess who that is?”

I watched as several hesitant hands slowly reached skyward. “Yes?,” I asked Joey, a normally shy boy in the front row.

“Shakespeare?,” he asked awkwardly.

“Why Shakespeare?,” I asked with genuine interest.

“You’ve sort of his…,” hesitated to say something, but broke off in a desperate search for the right word.

“Yes?,” I asked again, with a warm smile, providing him with confidence.

“…..Qualities!,” he exclaimed, with relief for what he hoped was the best definition.

“Excellent, thank you!,” I said, with a look of sincere appreciation. He beamed back at me with satisfaction and I knew that I had helped conquer one more of his many little fears.
“But no, although you were very close,” I said in a forgiving way but in such a manner as to keep his confidence in tact.

My questions next fell on a girl named Jennifer, she was in no way shy, yet her life seemed to be rife with tragedies that she only knew. She was one of my newest pupils and a brief reading of her records led me to believe that she was troubled, and yearned for someone to have faith in her.

“Yes?,” I asked her.

“Poe!,” she exclaimed.

“Bingo!,” I replied with a broad smile that caught her off guard, “and why Poe?”

Recovering her candor, she said, “Tragedies. I believe everyone has tragedies and I think you may have a few that you hide in your work.”

Now it was my turn to be caught off guard. This girl was truly remarkable. She hit upon a nerve that had never been exposed before. Whether by luck, or good guess, I endeavored to find out.

“And why do you say that?,” I asked bringing on my charming smile again.

“Just something about you,” she replied, “I can’t explain it.”

“Well that’s a good point,” I said changing the subject now and leaning toward the lesson at hand. “I do have tragedies, as all people have, but Mr. Poe is quite an exception in this case.”

“Edgar, as I like to refer to him as,” I continued, “ had been orphaned at two years old. Both his mother and father were actors, though suffered greatly in poverty. His father had entered this career after leaving the practice of law, which drew the objections of his parents.”

I continued on with a brief, but pointed, biography of the author. “He was truly America’s first master of horror, as his poems, sonnets, and stories revealed.”

“Did you know that he wrote forty-nine poems and sonnets, and seventy-four stories?,” I asked no one in particular.

“Well he did!,” I said answering my own question.

“He was a man of many tragedies, and relieved his troubles in all his work,” I explained giving a knowing frown toward Jennifer. Her smile held that air of ‘I told you so.’

“So,” I added, “that is what makes him so interesting to me.”

“Today we will start with ‘The Raven’, which is probably one of the more revealing works of his inner soul. So if you turn to page fifty-nine in your text, we will begin,” I directed. “I will read, and you, my brilliant prodigy, will listen.”

“Once upon a midnight dreary,” I began, lowering my voice in tones dark, and sullen.

Once again I captured their attention, and watched their rapture as they hung on my every word. I really loved doing this and I know they knew it. Still, their full attention was paid on me and I felt like I had the proverbial gift of tongue. I lowered my voice further and in memory recited the next two verses, meeting each students’ eyes as a snake hypnotizes a bird.

As I touched upon the third verse, I kept myself aware of my timing and knew the effect I was about to cause would catch everyone by surprise.
I continued with:

“And the silken sad uncertain of each purple curtain thrilled me, filled me with terrors never felt before; so that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating, “Tis some visitor
entreating entrance at my chamber, at my chamber door; this is it…
With that, the period bell rang and gave me the effect that I hoped for! Several girls squealed, and even the shy, and the big, Joey yelled, “Jesus.”

With a chuckle, I concluded the verse with, “…And nothing more.”

“Don’t do that Mr. Stevens,” Joey said with a half smile, half grimace.

“You students will love dear old Edgar,” I quickly followed, catching them all as they began to file out. “Finish the poem tonight and I will ask questions tomorrow.”

Each pupil was sighing with relief from their ordeal, and I know they were now as enthusiastic about Poe as I was. “Wow, I love this job,” I thought, smiling to myself.

As the school day ended, and I drove to my home in Fauquier County, I reflected on my student’s revelation in pointing out a possible tragic event in my life. Little Jennifer didn’t know how close she came to pin-pointing the truth. It had been four years since my wife had died, and I still hadn’t grown use to the fact that she was no longer around. I had since filled the void in my life with my teaching career and I had volunteered to take charge of the drama club and literary club as well. My home, which my wife Eleanore and I had built, became my second passion. Most of the interior design had been hers, and what she did not finish, I had completed in her memory. The outside gardens were my handiwork. For me, I found peace out there, and created an environment that was pleasing to the eye. I preferred the gardens, rather being inside, because I still felt hurt to look at all that we had dreamed of together. As I would round every corner, or crossed every room, I would imagine her standing there observing her creations.

Within a half hour, I pulled up into my driveway and was fumbling for my house keys to let myself into the front door. I glanced back down the drive and slowly observed the landscape on each side. We had opted for a cape cod style house, with approximately ten acres of land surrounding it, in order to have a wider diversity in the landscape. Roominess was important to us, and the fact that I like to putter around outside, decided the choice in moving to this countryside area of Virginia. The driveway, therefore, was long and offered us more privacy from the road.

Once inside, I hung my jacket and coat up and headed to the kitchen to put the tea kettle on. A brief walk back outside to my mailbox by our white picket fence netted a few bills and various pieces of junk mail., I stopped to inspect a rhoderndrien bush I planted last weekend, and found that it was still doing well. While doing this, I reflected upon the picket fence and how my thought pattern referred to it as ‘ours’. “I guess some feelings just die hard,” I thought with a slight edge of depression. I snapped out of it as I walked back up the drive, hearing the whistling tea kettle beyond my open front door beckoning me. I hurried inside to the kitchen to turn off the stove, and prepared a mug with an Earl Gray tea bag. Pouring in the hot water, I let it steep for a time while I finished reading the mail.

Later that evening, after I had eaten a hastily coked dinner, I returned to my study to prepare my lessons for the next day. Thumbing my text on Poe, I quietly read his work, ‘The Raven’, to myself.

I lost count of the times that I had re-read this work, but in doing so, it always comforted me. I must of dozed off, but I was awaken with a feeling that someone as in the house with me. I listened for a moment, when I suddenly heard a distinct creaking sound.

I began to feel very uneasy and thought, “It must be the wind in the trees.”

Then I heard the sound again, and justified to myself that it had to be coming from inside the house. I opened my study door to be confronted by a dark abyss from beyond. I realized that must of dozed off longer than I thought and forgot to turn on any other interior lights other than the desk lamp.

Sheepishly, I ventured out of my study and turned on the light in the hall. I then went to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of milk. I felt a little foolish for being startled like that. I was led astray by the late hour and my reading of Poe’s work. I decided that I should turn in for the night and headed back to the study to tidy up and turn off the light. As I did so, with dinner dishes in hand. I heard the creaking sound again. This time it was directly behind me. Frozen in place with terror, it seemed an eternity to be able to turn around and face whatever my horror was. As I was finally able to do so, I heard a tapping sound on the window next to my desk.

To my horror, I had believed I saw the shape of a hand scratching on the window pane. I hastily dropped the dishes on my desktop and turned the lamp back on. To my relief the hand turned out to be nothing more than a small branch of a bush just outside.

“I believe, that I must get to bed,” I said to myself. Luckily nothing I dropped broke, and I quickly gathered everything up, opting to keep the light on as I left.

“I’ll finish cleaning up in the morning,” I thought. A goodnight’s sleep is all that I really needed. I had overworked myself during this semester. I had found myself thinking more and more of my late wife in the past months, and tried to remedy my grief with all the extra duties that I took on at the school.

I wearily went to my room and undressed for bed, and in the small adjoining bathroom to my chamber, I brushed my teeth and decided to leave the bathroom light on as a nightlight for myself. Once under the covers, I fell fitfully to sleep, finding it hard to do so from my recent scare. As I began to doze off I heard the creaking sound from down stairs.

“Just the wind,” I thought trying to convince myself again. Courage would escape me as I heard the sound continue.

Finally I yelled, “Who’s there!,” and instantly felt foolish for doing so.

To my amazement, I heard a groaning sound, but knew for certain it was the wind outside my window. The evidence was unnerving, and I became more and more restless. Sleep, I now knew, was not going to be obtained anytime soon. I decided I needed at least one more glass of mild to soothe my nerves. I reached over and turned on the lamp on my night stand. As I stood up to put on my bathrobe and slippers, I felt the cold hand of terror grasp my heart. Just outside my window, across the room, I could see a ghostly apparition floating in clear view. I could feel the blood pumping in my brain as the figure glared back at me. My heart seemed to want to burst, and, as I felt myself backing away from the window, it seemed that the figure beyond grew smaller.

Suddenly, with great guilt, I burst into a hideous laughter. The apparition turned out to be my own reflection. “I could scare myself to death like that!,” I yelled in relief. The lamp behind me cast my reflection and because the light was over my shoulder, I could not quite discern my facial features. I could feel the sweat on my brow as I gathered up my courage and made way downstairs. I hastily drank a glass of milk and chortled to myself as I made my way back to bed.

As I lay there hastily trying to fall asleep, I quickly leaned over to turn off the lamp at my bedside and thought, “I must get some sleep or I’ll be useless tomorrow,” .

I then glanced toward the window amusing myself with my imagined apparition. I could still see it seemingly hanging outside my window. I gave a chuckle only to see that the ‘reflection’ didn’t reciprocate to my amusement. I also realized that I no longer had the light on, nor was I standing in front of the window as before.

The next day at school, an announcement was made over the public address system by the school’s principle, Mr. John Browning.

“I’d like to inform you of a sad occurrence,” he began in a somber note, “one of our most beloved teachers, Mr. Jerry Stevens, passed away last night. He died quietly in his sleep of a heart attack.

He will be sadly missed, especially by those who fervently attended his English classes.”

The school then held a moment of silence, and there were few dry eyes that day throughout the building.

JOD/TAEM