Living Literature: The Raven

One of my goals as an English teach is to bring literature to life for my students. I have found that students who grew up using technology have atrophied their imaginations before they were even developed. Instead of playing out doors, finger painting, reading, and pretending with friends, many students grew up watching movies, music videos, cartoons, and playing video games. They lack the ability to associate their senses with the literature we cover in class. Why imagine a book when you can watch the movie? Because the ability to imagine is the ability to see the future, to create, to improve the world. Imagination is not a frivolous skill to develop in students, but is absolutely necessary for them as they go out into the workplace. I love having students act out portions of books or create short films to express the visuals associated with a poem. However, the epitomy of bringing literature to life (other than live theatre) is to create an installation art piece that allows someone to step into the world of a book. I worked primarily with my 8th period English class to bring to life The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. We took over an empty classroom, hung black paper all over the walls, and created hallways the viewers had to walk through as they experienced it. Students brainstormed what images we wanted to bring to life from the book and here's what they chose:

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 some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore— For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore— Nameless here for evermore. To illustrate the above text, students created a space with an old chair surrounded by books on the floor and in the air "volumes of forgotten lore". The candles represent "each separate dying ember."

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic 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 door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—

Darkness there and nothing more.

For this section, students helped to created a video of birds with sound in the background that included rapping, rustling fabric, and tapping sounds.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—

Merely this and nothing more.

Students were haunted by the idea of Lenore being his bride who died and visited him as a ghost or in dreams. They hung a wedding dress from the ceiling and cast a red light on it to represent Lenore.

Additionally there was a spiral shaped flock of fake ravens attached to the ceiling. Due to the darkness, it was very difficult for the viewers to see these, so they kept bumping into them, which created the same disoriented feeling the character in The Raven feels.

Students guided parents and peers through this installation on curriculum night and were very proud of what they accomplished! Here's a picture of the 8th period class that accomplished a lot f the work!

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