1. Deliver the biographical information on Poe in a brief lecture or have the class read a brief written biography of the poet.
Edgar Allan Poe lived a bizarre life, died a bizarre death and wrote short stories, poems and essays about bizarre topics. His writings still awe readers of all ages. Born in Boston in 1809 to parents who traveled from one acting job to another, Poe was never secure in his early years. By 1811 his father had abandoned the family and his mother was dead. Poe became the foster child of Mr. and Mrs. John Allan, a wealthy couple who were able to provide the young boy with a sophisticated upbringing including private schools and travel.
Clearly capable of academic success, Poe dabbled in studies at the University of Virginia but left abruptly for Boston where he gambled, published some of his writing and joined the army. Little success resulted from any of these endeavors but Poe continued to write and work at various editing jobs. As he grew increasingly estranged from his foster father and found it difficult to get along with others, Poe began to develop the image of the quirky and troubled artist whose poverty and failure to gain recognition pushed him into neurosis.
During the years between 1831 and 1835, Poe lived in Baltimore where he worked on creating an artistic philosophy and married his thirteen year old cousin, Virginia Clemms. Some of his best work came from this period; he published The Raven in 1845 which was met with both critical and popular acclaim. After his wife’s death from tuberculosis in 1847, Poe sank deeper into estrangement and poverty. His reputation as a womanizer and alcoholic grew until his death in 1849. He was found unconscious on the streets in Baltimore and died several days later in a hospital. It was believed that he suffered from the dementia of alcohol or some physical illness that caused his mind to deteriorate.
Poe may have been something of a madman but he nonetheless contributed a great deal to the body of American literature. In his various essays on the nature of literature, he asserted the value of emotion above thought as the basic intention of a writer. He eschewed didacticism and disdained moral lessons. Poe believed that literature should be about illumination of the unchanging human experienced and claimed that the best subject for poetry was the death of a beautiful woman, perhaps because he experienced the deaths of important women in his own life. He died young, at age forty, but left behind works so important that they are still used in schools throughout the country and even appear in animated TV shows.
2. After students have become familiar with the biography of Edgar Allan Poe, show the episode of “The Simpsons” for overall delight unencumbered by the notion that a test may follow. Then distribute the following list of vocabulary words and ask that the students find definitions, either on their own or in groups. This task should be completed prior to the second viewing of the episode or reading the poem.
Vocabulary list for The Raven: aidenn; balm; beguile; betook; censer; countenance; craven; crest; decorum; desolate; dirge; discourse; divine; entreat; gaunt; gilead; gloat; implore; implore; lattice; lore; melancholy; methought; mien; nepenthe; obeisance; ominous; Pallas; pallid; placid; Plutonian; quaff; respite; surcease; thereat; undaunted; ungainly; wrought; yore.
3. Once students are familiar with the definitions of the words used in the poem, distribute the complete version of The Raven. Read it with the students, again noting the vocabulary words and making certain that the definitions they have found fit into the context of the poem. For example, the word “gloat” means not only to delight in self-satisfaction; it means to “refract light from”. Students may enjoy noting the double meaning,
4. Show “The Simpsons” episode again and have the students notice which verses have been excised from the reading. This is tricky; the voices run rapidly over the poem, but working cooperatively they will see that the missing verses are numbers 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16. They may note that lines from some verses have been dropped and others repeated.