MTH - The Descriptive Essay - Edgar Allan Poe

The Descriptive Essay

The following assignment is based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tale-Tale Heart." However, the writing skills learned can be applied to any descriptive essay assignment.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe

Pretend you are one of the policemen who investigated the murder. Write a description for your police department of what you saw as you first entered the victim's room.

You should begin with an attention-getting introduction. Next, describe the victim's room using spatial order and present tense. Describe the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and the furniture. Include anything interesting or unusual that you might have seen. Finally, sum up your description with an intriguing conclusion.


1. Create "a picture in words" by showing how the objects in the description are placed in relationship to one another -- spatial order.

2. Use transitional words and phrases to show spatial order.

3. Use active voice (present tense and action verbs) to help show location.

4. Avoid the use of helping verbs and linking verbs: is, are, was, were, has, had.

5. Use descriptive adjectives to bring your picture to life.

6. Keep in mind the details you know from "The Tell-Tale Heart." You may add your own creative ideas, but you must keep to the main idea of the story.



Analyze "The Invasion" for the following descriptive essay characteristics:

1. Underline the topic sentence.

2. What is the dominant impression of this room?

3. Underline all location phrases.

4. Circle all action verbs.

5. Underline descriptive adjectives twice.

6. Underline the concluding sentence.

Invasion of the English Teacher's Classroom

As we enter the corner classroom, we immediately know that it belongs to an English teacher. In the front of the room, the chalkboard reports the SAT Word-of-the-Day and critical announcements, while an overhead projector beams instructions for the day's objectives and the night's homework. To the left, a chalk board stretches across the light beige wall and displays important information about class activities; in addition, a laminated large poster offers a time line on American authors. Bulletin boards flank each end of the chalkboard and hold information and illustrations about an author and his works. On the back wall, warped bookshelves overflow with dictionaries, literature books, and bulging writing folders. Locked blue closets, also in the back, contain secret devices that only an English teacher could disclose. The right wall should support large sparkling windows which would brighten the attractive room and nourish flowering pink begonias or delicate purple violets with the warm afternoon sunshine; however, worn bricks shadow the room. Bulletin boards on this wall honor commendable student writing and again trap a chalk board to which ancient remains of yellow dust cling with boredom. In the middle of the area, rows of neatly arranged dark brown desks and sky blue chairs foretell of students reading Shakespeare's sonnets, composing creative essays, or punctuating complicated sentences. In addition, the teacher's desk, located near the right front of the room, conceals tests and lesson plans for the day. Finally, even the bluish gray carpet marks an English teacher's presence, as it muffles harsh voices and secludes fallen paper clips and hole punchings which nestle in the crevices of the rough fabric. As we silently exit the room, we extinguish the banks of harsh florescent lights which clutter the ceiling, leaving no evidence of our invasion of the English teacher's domain.

Vivid Verbs Bring Your Writing to Life! 

Action Verb: A word which expresses action.

A. Rewrite the following sentences using action verbs and NO linking or helping verbs.

B. Add descriptive words where appropriate.

Example: Linking verb: A spider's web is in the corner of the ceiling.

Action verb: A spider's intricate web carefully camouflages a jagged crack in the corner of the plastered ceiling.

1. The candle is on the desk.

2. A picture of a raven is on the right wall.

3. There is a hardwood floor.

4. A tin tub is in the corner.

5. Drapes were hanging from brass rings.

6. A chest of drawers is on the left wall.

7. A fire is in the fireplace.

8. Books are in the bookcase.

9. The room is musty and suffocating.

10. The room is bright and cheery.

A List of Transitional Words and Phrases Used in Description

in, on, above, under, behind, near, up, over, below, high, low

ahead of, outside, downstairs, upstairs, close to, between, beneath, beside, in the center, in the corner, on the edge

down, by, front, north, east, toward, among, to the left of, at the top of, around, throughout

to the right, back and forth, at the end of, side by side, in back of, next to, facing, against, onto, inside

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe 

TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story. It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever. Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded -- with what caution -- with what foresight, with what dissimulation, I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night about midnight I turned the latch of his door and opened it oh, so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern all closed, closed so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly, very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this? And then when my head was well in the room I undid the lantern cautiously -- oh, so cautiously -- cautiously (for the hinges creaked), I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights, every night just at midnight, but I found the eye always closed, and so it was impossible to do the work, for it was not the old man who vexed me but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed , to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept. Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers, of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was opening the door little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea, and perhaps he heard me, for he moved on the bed suddenly as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back -- but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness (for the shutters were close fastened through fear of robbers), and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily. I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening , and the old man sprang up in the bed, crying out, "Who's there?" I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; just as I have done night after night hearkening to the death watches in the wall. Presently, I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief -- oh, no! It was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself, "It is nothing but the wind in the chimney, it is only a mouse crossing the floor," or, "It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes he has been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions ; but he had found all in vain. ALL IN VAIN, because Death in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel, although he neither saw nor heard, to feel the presence of my head within the room. When I had waited a long time very patiently without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little -- a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it -- you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily -- until at length a single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot out from the crevice and fell upon the vulture eye. It was open, wide, wide open, and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness -- all a dull blue with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones, but I could see nothing else of the old man's face or person, for I had directed the ray as if by instinct precisely upon the damned spot. And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses? now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage. But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder, every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! -- do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me -- the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once -- once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But for many minutes the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more. If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. I took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly so cunningly, that no human eye -- not even his -- could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out -- no stain of any kind -- no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all -- ha! ha! When I had made an end of these labours, it was four o'clock -- still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, -- for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises. I smiled, -- for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search -- search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim. The officers were satisfied. My MANNER had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears; but still they sat, and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct : I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definitiveness -- until, at length, I found that the noise was NOT within my ears. No doubt I now grew VERY pale; but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased -- and what could I do? It was A LOW, DULL, QUICK SOUND -- MUCH SUCH A SOUND AS A WATCH MAKES WHEN ENVELOPED IN COTTON. I gasped for breath, and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly, more vehemently but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why WOULD they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men, but the noise steadily increased. O God! what COULD I do? I foamed -- I raved -- I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder -- louder -- louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly , and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! -- no, no? They heard! -- they suspected! -- they KNEW! -- they were making a mockery of my horror! -- this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! -- and now -- again -- hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER! -- "Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear up the planks! -- here, here! -- it is the beating of his hideous heart!"

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