In Celebration of Halloween

The Raven

Edgar Allen Poe

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 visiter,” 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.

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 visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door–
Some late visiter 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.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals 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.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping something louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is and this mystery explore–
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;–
‘Tis the wind and nothing more.

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he,
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door–
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door–
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then the ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore–
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning–little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door–
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if its soul in that one word he did outpour
Nothing farther then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered–
Till I scarcely more than muttered: “Other friends have flown before–
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore–
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never–nevermore.'”

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore–
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee–by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite–respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!–prophet still, if bird or devil!–
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted–
On this home by Horror haunted–tell me truly, I implore–
Is there–is there balm in Gilead?–tell me–tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!–prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us–by that God we both adore–
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore–
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting–
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul has spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!–quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadows on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted–nevermore!

Write Ugly! Brainstorming exercises to let your inner-writer emerge

American poet William Stafford once said, “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.” Stafford isn’t poking fun at amateur writers or encouraging bad writing. What he means is that sometimes writers have the disease of “perfection-itis.” This ailment often begins with feelings of self-doubt, followed by pangs of harsh self-judgments, ending with a paralysis of the brain that is referred to as writer’s block. Stafford is suggesting writers must lower their standards and stop judging themselves so harshly in order to get that initial draft out. Even Shakespeare didn’t get Romeo and Juliet perfect the first time.

 Write nonsense. Write drivel. Write anything, as long as you get words on paper. Don’t know where or how to begin? Try Freewriting to get your brain in gear. The trick to Freewriting is to NOT think too much – just write. If you are in front of the computer screen, turn off the monitor. If you are using a pen and paper, don’t raise your pen off the paper – keep it moving. If you don’t know what to write – write “I don’t know what to write,” and keep writing whatever comes to mind. If you have a topic idea but nothing else, write down that idea and see where it takes you.

 Another writing exercise that will get your mental wheels rolling is Idea Mapping. Also known as “Spidergram,” the idea is to create a visual roadmap of your topic or idea by linking logical connections or legs off the body of the main topic, or spider. Write your idea in the center of the paper and circle it. Begin drawing lines or legs out from the circle with ideas that are connected to your main idea. Use different colors for your legs for more visual definition. As ideas and connections are made, keep those connected to their parent branch. Keep going until you have exhausted the possibilities and the spider is complete. It might be lopsided, but who cares? It’s your spider and you can make it how you want.

 One last exercise that will unleash your idea machine (and my personal favorite) is Clustering. Clustering is similar to Freewriting and Idea Mapping, only you jot down a word or short phrase and don’t worry too much about connections. Avoid writing in sentences. In the center of your paper, jot down your idea for a paper topic, for instance, “Texting.” So, what about “texting”? Start jotting down words on the paper that come to mind: driving; accidents; make illegal?; can’t police. See where we’re going? Don’t censor yourself or mark anything out. Let your mind roll.

 If you’re not used to using brainstorming exercises, it may feel stupid at first, but once you learn to stop the judgmental self-censor, these techniques are a great way to generate ideas and structure your paper. So try it. Write ugly.

Elizabeth Mack

First Drafts and Second Thoughts

If a teacher told me to revise, I thought that meant my writing was a broken-down car that needed to go to the repair shop. I felt insulted. I didn’t realize the teacher was saying, “Make it shine. It’s worth it.” Now I see revision as a beautiful word of hope. It’s a new vision of something. It means you don’t have to be perfect the first time. What a relief!                                             
Naomi Shihab Nye

 I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.
 James Michener

As this is our first official blog post, I thought it appropriate to discuss the topic of first drafts. I had a student in the Writing Center this week with a first draft of an English Comp. essay. He was worried about the quality of his writing, worried that it wasn’t well thought-out, worried about length – just worried about every real or imagined shortcoming in general. His draft wasn’t any better or worse than any other first draft; it was just that – a first draft.

Students who aren’t familiar with the “writing is a process” model think it possible (and maybe it was in high school) to bang out a quality paper at 2:00am the night before a due date. This effort might get a strong writer a passing grade, but most of us need several drafts to produce the quality of writing needed for more complicated college writing assignments. I have never been able to sit in front of a blank computer screen and churn out anything worth reading on the first try. In fact, it might take me 5, 6, or 10 revisions before a piece is ready to be read by my peers.

The word essay derives from the French essayer, “to try” or “to attempt.” First drafts will often be an intro that leads to nothing, a conclusion with no beginning, or a middle with no engine or caboose, or simply some scribbled notes. First drafts are just that – a first attempt. You don’t have to be perfect the first time. But I guarantee the more you revise a piece, the more close to perfect it will become.

Share your writing process with us. How many times do you revise a piece? When do you know it’s done?

Writing Center Underground

Welcome to the MCC Writing Center blog, Writing Center Underground. We created this blog with our students in mind, but we also hope faculty will find our blog to be a useful addition to their writing curriculum.  We’ll have weekly posts on any and all aspects of writing, from brainstorming paper topics, organization and development, grammar, puncuation, and even professional writing help. Students can access the cite for weekly “lessons” on writing, and faculty can utilize our blog as a fun and engaging addition to their writing curriculum.

Writing Center Underground is a “public” blog, so we also invite the community to visit our blog and engage in our conversations on writing.

To visit the MCC Writing Center page, click here.
To make an appointment, click here.