"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.'"
Ah, The Raven. A popular and very long poem by Edgar Allen Poe. How I loved "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Talisman" and much of his macabre poetry. What I didn't like was Poe being used as my punishment for taking the easy way out!
I was a Freshman at Western Hills High School in Ft. Worth, Texas - and fortunate to have Mr. Williams as my English teacher. The man had a true love of all things literary, and although I was already an avid reader of Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Shel Silverstein. I feel I owe my love of real, solid, gotta think about it literature to Mr. Williams. It is Mr. Williams who gave me a small book of the poetry of Robert Frost that caused me to ponder which road I would take if faced with a fork in a yellow wood (25 years later, I can tell you that I'm almost certain I've taken the one less traveled). It was in his class that I read, with fervor, Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" - and cried openly in class as we read the end. It was Mr. Williams who stopped me after that class to say "If you thought that was good, you might want to check out 'Wuthering Heights' from the library." (Those who know me well, know my undying love and affection for this - my favorite tortured love story of all time - THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU MR. WILLIAMS!) And it was in Mr. Williams class that I was introduced to the literary works of the great Edgar Allen Poe.
So, it's with some amount of shame I tell you this: It was also in Mr. Williams class when I was assigned a poetry memorizing project - which counted for 1/2 of my grade one 6-week period - and I took the easy way out. The assignment was to memorize a poem of at least 100 lines in length. Ask me how smart I thought I was when I discovered and memorized a poem that was exactly 100 lines in length - each line containing merely two words! It was a child's poem, and it had something to do with a king - that's all I remember. The class had four weeks to memorize a poem, it took me all of four minutes.
Finally the day for me to recite my memorized poem had arrived! I couldn't wait to crack my friends up with my silly little poem that met, just barely, the requirements of the assignment. Oh, I wish you could've seen my cocky self-assuredness as I rose from my desk and made my way to the front of the classroom. In just under 30 seconds I recited my entire poem, bowed, grinned and began to head back to my seat. "Stop right there Miss Martin", Mr. Williams snarled (and yes, I believe there was visible smoke coming out of his ears). I turned to face my teacher (who was much too good to be teaching us miserable high school teen agers). He begins to tell me, in front of my classmates how disappointed he was in me, how he knew I was capable of much more and that my score on this very important assignment was a ZERO.
Any student who was ever blessed enough to land in one of Mr. Williams classes will tell you that he was a ruthless disciplinarian, overly strict, a stingy and unfair grader (read: you actually had to work hard and deserve a good grade to get one), and he was NOT friends with his students. I agree wholeheartedly with all of these statements. What I also know is that Mr. Williams was extremely merciful. I got the zero for my poem, and the grade stood. However, Mr. Williams assinged me mandatory extra-credit - just me, no one else - I had to memorize "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe and recite it for the class in two weeks time. If I recited it perfectly, he would give me 90% - not even an "A"!
Because of two things: 1) my respect for Mr. Williams, and 2) my fear of facing my parents with an "F" in English on my report card, I resigned myself to the grueling task of memorizing the creepy poem and reciting it - very well I might add - to an audience of less than interested classmates just 2 weeks later. My grade was saved, and more importantly my favorite teacher once again regarded me with some small measure of esteem.
Ask me what I would give to be back in that class today? Or to just see Mr. Williams one more time and tell him of the great impact he had on my love of all things with a binding and printed pages! I want to thank him for making me do "better" and requiring me to live up to his expectations. I learned a lot in my Freshman English class - how to diagram a sentence, how to make sense of Shakespeare plays, how to write a Haiku, and even how to write a decent short story. Oh, but it's the life lessons I learned in Mr. Williams' class (this "always do your best" lesson was just one) that have meant the most and which I return to time and time again.
To read "The Raven" in its entirety, click here: http://www.houseofusher.net/raven.html