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First published in The Gift, 1842, this has always been one of Poe's most-read tales, a skillful exercise in suspense with. an undercurrent of something much more complex than most readers fully understand, although they may sense it. Poe's source was probably a paragraph in Thomas Dick's Philosophy of Religion (1825): "On the entry of the French into Toledo during the late Peninsular War, General Lasalle visited the palace of the Inquisition. The great number of instruments of torture, especially the instruments to stretch the limbs, and the drop-baths, which cause a lingering .death, excited horror, even in the minds of soldiers hardened in the fields of battle." Other background, as well as some of the incidents found here, was probably drawn from Anales de la Inquisici6n de Espana, written by Juan Antonio Llorente (1756-1823) in 1812 and published in English in 1826. The Spanish Inquisition was independent of the medieval Inquisition, which began in 1233, when Pope Gregory IX commissioned Dominicans to investigate heresy among the Albigenses, in southern France. Established by Ferdinand V and Isabella in 1478 with the reluctant approval of Pope Sixtus IV, the later Inquisition was entirely controlled by the Spanish kings, and the popes were never reconciled to the institution, which they regarded as usurping a church prerogative. Like the Commti.nist hysteria in the American fifties, the original purpose of the Inquisition was soon overshadowed by political witch-hunting, so that even St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Theresa of Avila were investigated for heresy. The Spanish Inquisition was not abolished until 1820. Films include Le Puds et le Pendule (1910), directed by Henri Desfontaines (1910), a 1913 English version directed by Alice Guy Blanche, and a Roger Corman production in 1961. The latter film, with Vincent Price, John Kerr, and Barbara Steele, stretches the story by adding a wholly new framework about an Englishman (Kerr) who arrives at a Spanish castle to investigate the mysterious death of his sister. The acting is atrocious, but the shocks are good, especially the final shot of Steele locked in the Iron Maiden as Price unknowingly seals her inside the Inquisitional torture chamber forever. Plot elements from Poe's story also have made their way into Avenging Conscience, a 1914 D. W. Griffith film with Henry B. Walthall, Dorothy Gish, Donald Crisp, Blanche Sweet, and Mae Marsh; as well as The Raven (1912), Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) (the title speaks for itself), and The Snake Pit (Blood Demon), a 1967 West German film with Christopher Lee. Basil Rathbone narrates a superb recorded version (Caedmon lll5); Martin Donegan also reads one (CMS 652).
supervened. with heads of flame. life and health appear. the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave. This only for a brief period. yet all was not lost. and I was permitted to sit. like a rich musical note. for presently I heard no more. all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades. Yet. from before me." (Compare with the rooms of "Ligeia" and "Masque of the Red Death. while the angel forms became meaninglesss spectres. the figures of the judges vanished. for a few moments of delirious horror. in July of 1794. I felt that my senses were leaving me. Found in a Bottle": "As I placed my foot upon the upper step of the companion-ladder I was startled with a loud humming noise. were still issuing from those lips. and when they at length unbound me. there was an enclosed place. The thought came gently and stealthily. over my spirit. the blackness of darkness . The sentence--the dread sentence of death-was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears.The Pit and the Pendulum Impia tortorum longos hie turba furores Sanguinis innocui. the soft and nearly impercetible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped the walls of the apartment. so that the place seemed . I saw. In the deepest slumber-no! In delirium-no! In a swoon-no! In deathno! even in the grave all is not lost. and I saw that from them there would be no help. where grim death has been. but then. thin with the intensity of their expression of flrmness=-of immoveable resolution-of stern contempt of human torture. Then silence. but. the tall candles sank into nothingness. long cherished a hatred of innocent blood. Sospite nunc patria. where the Inquisitor in attendance and the notary sat at a table. Bobespierre. we break the gossamer web of some dream. Mors ubi dira fuit vita salus que patent. Now that the fatherland has been saved. it is a symbol for pain. and the cave of death demolished. which was built on the site of the old [acobin Club. spinning down. the sound of the inquisitorial voices seemed merged in one dreamy indeterminate hum. and dimly lighted by candles placed in candlesticks fastened to the wall. The notorious Inquisition of 1483 reputedly saw two thousand persons burned at the stake. 121 [Quatrain composed for the gates of a market to be erected upon the site of the [acobin Club House at Paris. (so frail may that web have been) we remember 1 "Here the wicked mob. The [acobins were the political club of the French Revolution. and it seemed long before it attained full appreciation. responsible for the Reign of Terror (1793). down. but who fell with their leader. Yet in a second afterward. And then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon the table. non satiata. They appeared to me white--whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these words-and thin even to grotesqueness. I saw them fasion the syllables of my name. and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery. After that." There is also the suggestion of the sensation often experienced when a person loses consciousness-as if one were on a huge wheel. 2 3 2 The Spanish Inquisition was begun to discover and punish converted Jews (and later. but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost.J 1 I was sick-sick unto death with that long agony. hung round with black cloth. . 4 5 4 Poe may have in mind the seven candlesticks in the midst of which sits God the Judge. I had swooned. in Revelation 1:13. and around. among others. like a closet. 3 Compare with "MS. had no gates. Honore. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution. the very mansion of death. Else there is no immortality for man. July 1826. their flames went out utterly. for a while. unappeased. In Blackwood's. the Marche St. It conveyed to my soul the idea of revolution-perhaps from its association in fancy with the burr of a millwheel. everything being calculated to inspire terror. like that occasioned by the rapid revolution of a rnillwheel. I saw that the decrees of what to me was Fate." The number seven has many interpretations (see "The Masque of the Red Death. or even to describe. there came a most deadly nausea . as if magically. . and night were the universe. and seemed white slender angels who would save me. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define. At first they wore the aspect of charity. too. fracto nunc funeris antro.") 5 See "Loss of Breath. and I shuddered because no sound succeeded. Arousing from the most profound of slumbers. At one end. but with how terrible an exaggeration! I saw the lips of the black-robed judges." According to Baudelaire. but just as my spirit came at length properly to feel and entertain it. Muslims) who were not true believers." note :25· . And then there stole into my fancy. with a loud humming or vibrating sound. and stillness. all at once. vaulted. In "Shadow" he also speaks of the "Hames of the seven lamps. and certainly no inscription. Poe may have read: "This was a large apartment under ground. I saw. the great romantic French poet and author. aluit." note 1:2).
Then entire forgetfulness of all that followed. thought. it is the key to the subconscious. of all that a later day and much earnestness of endeavor have enabled me vaguely to recall. 7 According to [ung. annihilation would have followed. J. Then comes a sense of sudden motionlessness throughout all things. Then. of the sentence. I reached out my hand. of the judges. on account of that heart's unnatural stillness. There I suffered it to remain for many minutes. and shuddering terror. after long interval. And that gulf is-what? Howat least shall we distinguish its shadows from those of the tomb? But if the impressions of what I have termed the first stage. and. indistinctly. that of the sense of mental or spiritual. is not he who ponders over the perfume of some novel flower-is not he whose brain grows bewildered with the meaning of some musical cadence 6 which has never before arrested his attention. Amid frequent and thoughtful endeavors to remember. But when some traces of consciousness are left. Then the mere consciousness of existence. as if those who bore me (a ghastly train!) had outrun. the language of dreams is archaic. of the intentions and conscious aims of the ego. "Marginalia. without thought-a condition which lasted long. Then a rushing revival of soul and a successful effort to move. is not he who beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view. of the swoon. as the narrator here clings to. It seems probable that if. "The dream cannot be explained with a psychology taken from consciousness. at will." note :30). very suddenly. These shadows of memory tell.122 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe not that we have dreamed. 7:3) Thus the narrator does not understand his dreams and wonders why he has them. do they not come unbidden. in fact). and prelogicalin other words. we should find these impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf beyond. 194:3. is not he who find strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow. It is involuntary. there have been moments when I have dreamed of success. in their descent. of tall figures that lifted and bore me in silence down-downstill down-till a hideous dizziness oppressed me at the mere idea of the interminableness of the descent. had death occurred. of the sickness. I felt that I lay upon my back. the limits of the limitless. while I strove to imagine where and what 6 " . and motion. In the return to life from the SWOOn there are two stages. amid earnest struggles to regather some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which my soul had lapsed. and it fell heavily upon something damp and hard. Very suddenly there came back to my soul motion and sound-the tumultuous motion of the heart." (Psychology of C. [ung. After this I call to mind flatness and dampness. It is a definite functioning which is independent of willing and wishing. we could recall the impressions of the first. the sound of its beating. there is still sufficient strength for the person to recover.. recalled. then the soul is to be considered in such condition as would ensure its existence after the bodily death-the bliss or wretchedness of the existence to be indicated by the character of the visions. existence. while we marvel whence they come? He who has never swooned. that of the sense of physical. very brief periods when I have conjured up remembrances which the lucid reason of a later epoch assures me could have had reference only to that condition of seeming unconsciousness. Yale. I had not opened my eyes. like everything that happens in nature. upon reaching the second stage. and then all is madness--the madness of a memory which busies itself among forbidden 7 things. unbound. for Poe. symbolic. to swoon and awake in utter consciousness of any lapse of time during the syncope would demonstrate the soul to have been in such condition that. there have been brief. On the other hand. in my ears. yet. and paused from the wearisomeness of their toil. p. Then a strong desire to lapse into insensibility. are not. Then again sound. when the revival is attended with remembrance of visions (as is now and then the case. of the sable draperies. secondly. and touch-a tingling sensation pervading my frame. Note the parallel with astral projection-the idea that the soul can leave the body during unconsciousness (see "William 'Nilson. a fall into utter unconsciousness would indicate that the soul itself was near death." (Poe. So far. and earnest endeavor to conprehend my true state. . And now a full memory of the trial. first." CCIX) Thus.. because they stir up the "forbidden things" of the unconscious. They tell also of a vague horror at my heart. a perilous state. Then a pause in which all is blank.
however. 11 . Cooper. I longed. I thrust my arms wildly above and around me in all directions. it is most often applied to the ceremony of the Spanish Inquisition at which. The agony of suspense grew at length intolerable. Brown (1771-1810) is one American writer who should be better known than he is. Most of the great autos-da-fe took place when Tomas de Torquemada was head of the Inquisition. had stone floors. Victims had been in immediate demand. It was a wall. and details his sensations as he attempts to find his way out. and for a brief period. notwithstanding what we read in fiction. and one of these had been held on the very night of the day of my trial. stepping with all the careful distrust with which certain antique narratives had inspired me. to await the next sacrifice. 10 11 In Chapter 16 of Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly (1799). in central Spain. and I cautiously moved forward. Upon recovering. so that a better translation would be "A public ceremony offaith.-but where and in what state was I? The condemned to death. and light was not altogether excluded.e.character of my judges to doubt. and too ghastly to repeat. I knew too well the . And now. seemingly of stone masonry-very smooth. and they wore a yellow miter." as he phrased it. and some effective Gothic touches all Brown's own. although there was one in Mexico as late as 1815. the most hideous of fates. the hero finds himself in a pitch-black cave. It seemed evident that mine was not. Gothic castles and chimeras. and my eyes straining from their sockets. I knew. Keats. perhaps even more fearful. Hawthorne. Mass. and made effort to exercise my reason. perished usually at the autos-da-fe. I still lay quietly. Moreover. awaited me? That the result would be death. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. slimy. Such a supposition. trembling convulsively in every fibre. Shelley. and cold. 10 I. Those sentenced to death were handed over to the civil authorities for execution within five days. which would not take place for many months? This I at once saw could not be. but still all was blackness and vacancy. the Inquisition was involved in only two major tasks: to force an admission of heresy or sin from the accused (by torture. of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. I dreaded the first glance at objects around me. Heretics were dressed in the ceremonial San Benito. and attempted from that point to deduce my real condition. I at once started to my feet. Edgar Huntly may be the best. I proceeded for many paces. Ormond (1799) tells of a woman who murders the man who tried to rape her. if necessary) and to save his or her soul by the purification of death by fire. with my arms extended. A fearful idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heart. there came thronging upon my recollection a thousand vague rumors of the horrors of Toledo. Was I left to perish of starvation in this subterranean world of darkness. save in a whisper. but that I grew aghast lest there should be nothing to see. involving a hero who walks in his sleep. Had I been remanded to my dungeon. Of the dungeons there had been strange things narrated-fables I had always deemed them-but yet strange. between 1483 and 1498. His most immediate importance. My worst thoughts. and a sermon. is altogether inconsistent with real existence. as I still continued to step cautiously onward. translating the European Gothic tradition into American terms. It was not that I feared to look upon things horrible. and a death of more than customary bitterness. I brought to mind the inquisitorial proceedings. The last in Spain was at Seville in 1781. I breathed more freely.The Pit and the Pendulum I could be. marauding Indians. The Church itself did not execute anyone. were confirmed. I felt nothing. with a wild desperation at heart. however. lest I should be impeded by the walls of a tomb. yet dared not to employ my vision. The sentence had passed. lance more relapsed into insensibility. it declined in the sixteenth century but gained as the spiritual capital of Spanish Catholicism. after a procession. Perspiration burst from every pore. usually by burning. or what fate. I struggled for breath. afforded me no means 123 8 9 8 Auto-da-fe is often translated as "act offaith." Although the word originated in Lisbon. The atmosphere was intolerably close. a yellow penitential garment with a red cross on the front and back (grotesquely embroidered for the unrepentant). At length. Yet not for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. sentences were read and the convicted person executed. and Poe all admired Brown's work. as well as all the condemned cells at Toledo. Scott. yet dreaded to move a step. and it appeared to me that a very long interval of time had since elapsed. I quickly unclosed my eyes. in the hope of catching some faint ray of light. The intensity . 9 Toledo is the capital of Toledo province. My outstretched hands at length encountered some solid obstruction. and a murdering religious fanatic. The mode and the hour were all that occupied or distracted me. then. at least. my dungeon." perhaps referring to the age-old demonstration of faith or truthfulness in which one places a hand in a fire. Actually. But in Portuguese auto means a public ceremony. An important commercial center for centuries. Hawthorne. is that he led the way away from "puerile superstitions. and Gothic fiction in general. I followed it up. This process. and stands on a granite hill surrounded on three sides by a gorge. to be buried alive. especially among the readers of Poe. and Van Wyck Brooks calls him a precurser of both Melville and Henry James. and stood in cold big beads upon my forehead. Arthur Mervyn (1800) chronicles a case of mistaken identity wrapped around a yellow-fever epidemic. spontaneous combustion. His Wieland (1798) deals with hypnotism..
It was this-my chin rested upon the floor of the prison. whose survival in a hostile environment is based on their willingness to forgo old assumptions and meet a new world on its own terms. of course. and with much toil. when the remnant of the torn hem of my robe became entangled between my legs. ' In the confusion attending my fall. and return to the point whence I set out without being aware of the fact. when I stumbled and fell. in the disorder of my fancy. My excessive fatigue induced me to remain prostrate. I did not immediately apprehend a somewhat startling circumstance. I took courage. This is important. I had advanced some ten or twelve paces in this manner. . Shortly afterward. nevertheless. when led into the inquisitorial chamber. admitting two paces to the yard." that remarkable tract by Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). I found beside me a loaf and a pitcher with water. I had thought of forcing the blade in Some minute crevice of the masonry. At the same time my forehead seemed bathed in a clammy vapor. How are they brought into desolation. but my lips and the upper portion of my head. endeavoring to cross in as direct a line as possible. arrested my attention. The ground was moist and slippery. at least I thought: but I had not counted upon the extent of the dungeon. although. and sleep SOon overtook me as I lay. I could not fail to encounter this rag upon completing the' circuit. in a few seconds afterward. or upon my own weakness. There were in all. The difficulty." According to Edwards. I resolved to cross the area of the enclosure. and while I still lay prostrate. as in Psalms 73:18-19: "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places. for it shows he has both brains and imagination. the last apostle of New England Puritanism. it seemed at first insuperable. I put forward my arm. the quotation from Psalms implies that sinners "were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. and stretching forth an arm. So. so perfectly uniform seemed the wall. I staggered onward for some time. then. touched nothing. however. for the floor. as in a moment!" These lines are also part of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.124 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe of ascertaining the dimensions of my dungeon. but ate and drank with avidity. In groping my way around the prison. been connected with Hell and destruction. for vault I could not help supposing it to be. as I might make its' circuit. At first I proceeded with extreme caution. but it was gone. my clothes had ben exchanged for a wrapper of coarss serge. came at last upon the fragment of the serge. and. QUitting the wall. I had counted forty-eight more. was treacherous with slime. as does the narrator of "A Descent into the Maelstrom. although seemingly of solid material. with many angles in the wall. for centuries." He is an example of Poe's "passive" narrators. While Poe was an alien to the New England tradition. I had no means of ascertaining at the 12 The narrator has literally circumscribed his world. was but trivial. and fell Violently on my face. he can't foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next. and did not hesitate to step firmly. thou castedst them down into destruction. and upon resuming my walk. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall. Up to the period when I fell I had counted fifty-two paces. I had met. 12 but a vague curiosity prompted me to continue them. I was too much exhausted to reflect upon this circumstance. and at right angles to the wall.and that he can combine "trivial" discoveries with creative thought and come up with solutions to his predicament. I presumed the dungeon to be fifty yards in circuit. I had little object-certainly no hope-in these researches. although seemingly at a less elevation than the chin. whose extent. and . Upon awaking. At length. I resumed my tour around the prison. I stepped on it. I therefore sought the knife which had been in my pocket. 13 The image of the pit has. however. and the peculiar smell of decayed fungus arose to my nostrils. a hundred paces. and thus I could form no guess at the shape of the vault. and shuddered to find that I had fallen at the very brink of a circular pit. I tore a part of the hem from the robe and placed the fragment at fun length. which yet. so as to identify my point of departure.-when I arrived at the rag. there is a strong parallel between "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
I succeeded in dislodging a small fragment. and the world had seen me no more. A burning thirst consumed me. I had nearly performed the circuit of the vault. I saw clearly the doom which had been prepared for me. without warning . like Edwards. that when that due time. and annihilation.. is no Puritan. I was enabled to see the extent and aspect of the prison. 1972. let no man of peace and freedom despair. before I became irresistibly drowsy. That the reason why they are not fallen already. Writers after Poe have continued to use it in this manner. and let it fall into the abyss. as there is for the narrator of "MS. at anyone moment. and I emptied the vessel at a draught. their foot shall slide .The Pit and the Pendulum moment. . sulphurous lustre. and as rapid closing of a door overhead. Neither could I forget what I had read of these pits-that the sudden extinction of life formed no part of their most horrible plan. For it is said. psychological 15 The abyss is associated with nothingness. Edwards was a highly original thinker who moved "out from an intense and sometimes fatalistic subjectivity to construct a vast. His words could just as easily refer to Poe. and President Kennedy in 1962 said. of course. For some minutes this fact occasioned me a world of vain trouble. than the mere dimensions of my dungeon? But my soul took a wild interest in trifles. How long it lasted of course. but at length I again slumbered. 200). The narrator escapes the pit-this time. I must then have been within a pace or two of the fragment of serge. for scarcely had I drunk. I had been reserved for the latter. . To the victims of its tyranny. kept from destruction only by the whim of God/Fate. out of Hell. at length there was a sullen plunge into water. In my first attempt at exploration I had counted fifty-two paces. . up to the period when I fell. p. "There is nothing that keeps wicked men. or death with its most hideous moral horrors. As he that stands or walks on slippery ground. But Poe. resolving there to perish rather than risk the terrors of the wells. as before. a loaf and a pitcher of water. chaos. Agitation of spirit kept me awake for many long hours." writes Ernest Renan in a memorable passage from Souvenirs d'enfance et de jeunesse (1883). "An immense river of oblivion is sweeping us away into a nameless abyss. For many seconds I hearkened to its reverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent. suggests that there is an appointed time. Shaking in every limb. and congratulated myself upon the timely accident by which I had escaped. of which my imagination now pictured many in various positions about the dungeon. under the terrible circumstances which environed me. Upon arousing." it is this "wild interest in trifles" that saves him. but the mere pleasure of God. but will let them go. I know not. At the same moment there came a sound resembling the quick opening. and upon awaking. who is "Calvinistic" in his belief that the universe was created by a "fall" from unity and that man is estranged from God's ideal world. but if we substitute "fate" for "God"-or even Poe's concept of the Godhead-the similarities become clearer. By long suffering my nerves had been unstrung. 14 Mental. metaphysically ambitious correlative of the soul. and don't fall now. I then slept. I groped my way back to the wall. Shea. the origin of which I could not at first determine. in Major Writers of Early American Literature (Wisconsin. ." Poe. vain indeed! for what could be of less importance.. succeeded by loud echoes. The whole circuit of its walls did not exceed twenty-five yards. The truth at length flashed upon me. but when. And the death just avoided. and I busied myself in endeavors to account for the error I had committed in my measurement. at that very instant. once again. I found by my side. until I trembled at the sound of my own voice. Found in a Bottle. In its size I had been greatly mistaken. or appinted time comes. was of that very character which I had regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the tales respecting the Inquisition. there was the choice of death with its direst physical agonies. Groping about the masonry just below the margin. as he that stands in such slippery declining ground on the edge of a pit that he can't stand alone. and as suddenly faded away." 14 15 16 16 His sleep "like that of death" ends. and had become in every respect a fitting subject for the species of torture which awaited me. The observation from the words that I would not insist upon is this. and then. in fact." the narrator alludes to the burning of sulfur (brimstone). By a wild sulphurous lustre. while a faint gleam of light flashed suddenly through the gloom. "However close we sometimes seem to that dark and final abyss." says Daniel B. without being thrown down by the hand of another. both writers say. By "wild. God won't hold them up in these slippery places any longer. In other conditions of mind I might have had courage to end my misery at once by a plunge into one of the abysses. It must havebeen drugged. A deep sleep fell upon me-a sleep like that of death. .. . I unclosed my eyes. is only that God's appointed time is not come. is a passive element in the universe. . Man. I must have returned upon my 125 13 when he does fall. but now I was the veriest of cowards. needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down . Another step before my fall. [r. he falls at once.. the objects around me were visible. and he awakens in something very much like Hell. they shall fall into destruction. when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost. 17 17 Like the narrator of "A Descent into the Maelstrom. Another thing implied is that they are liable to fall of themselves." Despite his Puritan theology. although that flame is usually blue and yellow. not the red that one would expect of hellfire.
The entire surface of this metallic enclosure was rudely daubed in all the hideous and repulsive devices to which the charnel superstition of the monks has given rise. and constructed much as the side walls. but more in wonder.. I turned my eyes upon the other objects in the cell. so that two symbols of Time are combined. . somewhat in fear. To this I was securely bound by a long 19 strap resembling a surcingle. In feeling my way I had found many angles. but also the girdle. however. I had been deceived. . I watched it for some minutes. and other more really fearful 18 images.. at odd intervals. on perceiving myself surrounded by demons. Its sweep was brief. or cincture. but it was the only one in the dungeon. with skeleton forms. or niches. The wretch sees this implement of destruction swing to and fro above him. and I comprehended that these were hideous figures scrawled in phosphorous to terrify me. forth clouds of it around me. with the pendulum adding the idea of slow. which hangs over our heads. whose sutures or joints occasioned the depression. In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. who. This thirst it appeared to be the design of my persecutors to stimulate: for the food in the dish was meat pungently seasoned. suspended above him is a Pendulum. for I was consumed. with intolerable thirst. There was something. looking to the floor. Wearied at length with observing its dull movement. This. It was some thirty or forty feet overhead. by Charles Robert Maturin: "I started up with horror . 19 A belt or girth around the body of a horse to keep a saddle or pack on the animal's back. let it be remembered." Poe mentions Melmoth in a letter of July 1836 and in a review in Graham's of January 1842. but that the colors seemed faded and blurred. clothed in fire were breathing. It may be doubted if the holy office in its mercy ever invented a more humane and rapid method of exterminating heresy. and was to have suffered on the following day. 18 Compare with the bedchamber of "Ligeia.D. was a punishment of the Secret Tribunal. Poe no doubt borrowed the idea from the preface to Llorente's History of the Inquisition (1826). The general shape of the prison was square. and ended it with the wall to the right. I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. overspread and disfigured the walls. What I had taken for masonry seemed now to be iron.. In the centre yawned the circular pit from whose jaws I had escaped. What I touched was cold . or some other metal. In an instant afterward the fancy was confirmed. and at full length. The method of thus destroying the victim is as follows:-the condemned is fastened in a groove. as we now know it. I now lay upon my back. leaving at liberty only my head. carries an hourglass and a scythe. steady marking off of one's lifetime. supply myself with food from an earthen dish which lay by my side on the floor. April 1827= "One of these prisoners had been condemned. on his back. for a priest's cassock. is actually that of Saturn. to my horror. and. 1820!!!" . and my left arm to such extent that I could. on a species of low framework of wood. who. in the appearance of this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. While I gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own) I fancied that I saw it in motion." Poe may have also been inspired by a description in Chapter Six of Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). and gradually cuts on. according to tradition. Looking upward. I supposed to be the pictured 20 image of a huge pendulum such as we see on antique clocks. he held what. It passed in many convolutions about my limbs and body. which was of stone. too. in respect to the shape of the enclosure. as if from the effects of a damp atmosphere. . I observed that the outlines of these monstrosities were sufficiently distinct. Here the scythe is a pendulum. the edge of which is sharp. until life is extinct. or ensuring confiscation. reprinted in a review in the Philadelphia Museum. in huge plates. The scythe is the instrument by which Time "cuts down" all things according to their allotted span.The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe steps-thus supposing the circuit nearly double what it actually was. All this I saw indistinctly and by much effort: for my personal condition had been greatly changed during slumber. I saw. and every moment the keen edge approaching nearer and nearer: at length it cuts the skin of his nose. His punishment was to be death by the Pendulum. upon a table. A slight noise attracted my notice. My confusion of mind prevented me from observing that I began my tour with the wall to the left. too. A. and of course slow.. Time can also be seen as a sort of sword of Damocles. at a casual glance. I now noticed the floor. and it is so constructed as to become longer with every movement. 20 The figure of Time. so potent is the effect of total darkness upon one arousing from lethargy or sleep! The angles were simply those of a few slight depressions. by dint of much exertion. and thus deduced an idea of great irregularity. in lieu of a scythe. The figures of fiends in aspects of menace. I say to my horror. It was the painted picture of Time as he is commonly represented save that. that the pitcher had been removed.
and regarded by rumor as the Ultima Thule of all their punishments. 24 There was another interval of utter insensibility.The Pit and the Pendulum I saw several enormous rats traversing it. "The bell pealing above and opening its jaws with a hideous clamor" seems to be "a ravening monster raging to devour" him. (for I could take but imperfect note of time) before I again cast my eyes upward. scimitar. Solinus. And then Hell suddenly calm. Milder! I half smiled in my agony as I thought of such application of such a term. the last extremity. allured by the scent of the meat. upon again lapsing into life there had been no perceptible descent in the pendulum. with hoof." "To look at the object was bitter as death. typical of hell. At last the devil himself. with ravenous eyes. At the same time. and who could have arrested the vibration at pleasure. which glare down on him "with terrifying frowns." the narrator tells how "Every moment I saw the bell sweep within an inch of my face. and eyes ofinfernal lustre. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass.~il. hurriedly. What boots it to tell of the long. it seemed massy and heavy. and Mela take it for Iceland. Having failed to fall. they came up in troops. What I then saw confounded and amazed me. still more appalling. and struggled to force myself upward against the sweep of the fearful . long hours of horror more 22 than mortal. tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. As a natural consequence. My cognizance of the pit had become known to the inquisitorial agents-the pit whose horrors had been destined for so bold a recusant as myselfthe pit. as if through long inanition. meaning "the most remote land. I could no longer doubt the doom prepared for me by monkish ingenuity in torture. which lay just within view to my right. which Poe pokes fun at in "How to Write a Blackwood Article. as in the common description of the evil spirit. 22 Avails or profits (obsolete usage) 23 Compare with Thomas Mann's (a pseudonym for William Maginn) "The Man in the Bell" (1821). about a foot in length from hom to hom. I grew frantically mad. its velocity was also much greater. From this it required much effort and attention to scare them away. and . The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. for I knew there were demons who took note of my swoon. too. and I knew that surprise. 25 Lethargy caused. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly descended. Its etymology is unclear. and the whole hissed as it swung through the air. "end. consider it to be Shetland. With painful effort I outstretched my left arm as far as my bonds permitted. I felt very-oh. the cavern in which he is trapped seems to be full of hideous faces. Thule was the most northern point known to the ancient Romans. The odor of the sharp steel forced itself into my nostrils. accoutred. it was brief. as a child at some rare bauble. or entrapment into torment. but it could be the Gothic Tiule. like Camden. while others. the human nature craved food. It might have been half an hour. and thus (there being no alternative) a different and a milder destruction awaited me. Bochart says it is a Syrian word and that the Phoenician merchants who traded to the group called it Gezirat Thule. or with grinning mockery. during which I counted the rushing vibrations of " the steel! Inch by inch-line by line-with a descent only appreciable at intervals that seemed ages-down and still down it came! Days passed-it might have been that many days passed-ere it swept so closely over me as·to fan me with its acrid breath. it was no part of the demon plan to hurl me into the abyss." not uncommon in previous centuries. by lack of food and water . made his appearance. I prayed-I wearied heaven with my prayer for its more speedy descent." and connected with the Greek telos. glittering object. for. They had issued from the well. Upon my recovery. But it might have been long. while I gazed. horn. Even then. 24 He seems to be mesmerized by the moving. Like a razor also. and took possession of the small remnant which had been 127 21 The end of the world. where it is to be pronounced "Thuly. the horns upward. or Isles of Darkness. and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor. The plunge into this pit I had 21 avoided by the merest of accidents. inexpressibly sick and weak. and lay smiling at the 23 glittering death." Poe mentions it again in his poem Dream-Land. Even amid the agonies 25 of that period." but he cannot keep his eyes from it. I now observed-with what horror it is needless to say-that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel. In that tale. no doubt. perhaps even an hour. Pliny. formed an important portion of all the grotesquerie of these dungeon deaths.
Down-steadily down it crept. Yet what business had I with hope? It was. but I felt also that it had perished in its formation. I felt that it was of joy-of hope.128 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe spared me by the rats. he did not overlook the possibility that sanity can be more terrifying than madness" (James Lundquist. I pondered upon all this frivolity until my teeth were on edge. Down-certainly. To the right-to the left-far and wide--with the shriek of a damned spirit. although death would have been a relief. I saw that some ten or twelve vibrations would bring the steel in actual contact with my robe. it would accomplish. to free my left arm. It would fray the serge of my robe-it would return and repeat its operation-again-and again. with great effort. every act of balance or sanity only leads to a worsening of his situation. Notwithstanding its terrifically wide sweep (some thirty feet or more) and the hissing vigor of its descent. I saw that the crescent was designed to cross the region of the heart. Poe Newsletter. In vain I struggled to perfect-to regain it. there rushed to my mind a half formed thought of joy-of hope. It was hope-the hope that triumphs on the rackthat: whispers to the death-condemned even in the dungeon 26 of the Inquisition. My eyes followed its outward or upward whirls with the eagerness of the most unmeaning despair. a half formed thought-man has many such which are never completed. It was hope that prompted the nerve to quiver-the frame to shrink. And at this thought I paused. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral velocity. 25). It now occurred to me that the 26 "Because of the limitations imposed upon him by an inquisitionary force. they closed themselves spasmodically at the descent. Vol. Could I have broken the fastenings above the elbow. glistening axe upon my bosom. I would have seized and attempted to arrest the pendulum. 1969. and with this observation there suddenly came over my spirit all the keen. For the first time during many hoursor perhaps days-I thought. I dwelt upon it with a pertinacity of attention-as if. sufficient to sunder these very walls of iron. as I say. I was an imbecile-s-an idiot. this paradox suggests that while Poe ordinarily remained true to his conception of the torture of the disordered personality. furiously. 2.to my mouth. relentlessly down! It yibrated within three inches of my bosom! I struggled violently. but no farther. . p. I forced myself to ponder upon the sound of the crescent as it should pass across the garment-upon the peculiar thrilling sensation which the friction of cloth produces on the nerves. I could reach the latter. . Long suffering had nearly annihilated all my ordinary powers of mind. from the platter beside me. still the fraying of my robe would be all that. to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled as the one or the other idea grew predominant. I dared not go farther than this reflection. collected calmness of despair. for several minutes. As I put a portion ofit within my lips. I might as well have attempted to arrest an avalanche! Down-still unceasingly-still inevitably down! Ivgasped and struggled at each vibration. The vibration of the pendulum was at right angles to my length. This was free only from the elbow to the hand. I could arrest here the descent of the steel. oh! how unspeakable! Still I quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keen. I shrunk convulsively at its every sweep. in so dwelling.
The surcingle enveloped my limbs and body close in all directions-save in the path of the destroying 27 All in one piece (archaic) 129 crescent. was unique. moreover. when there flashed upon my mind what I cannot better describe than as the unformed half of that idea of deliverance to which I have previously alluded. The first stroke of the razor-like crescent athwart any portion of the band. glistening axe upon my bosom. I so far elevated my head as to obtain a distinct view of my breast. that the minions of the torturer had not foreseen and provided for this possibility? Was it probable that the bandage crossed my bosom in the track of the pendulum? Dreading to find my faint. Scarcely had I dropped my head back into its original position. But how fearful. and of which a moiety only floated indeterminately through my brain when 28 I raised food to my burning lips. my last hope frustrated. would so detach it that it might be unwound from my person by means of my left hand. I 27 was tied by no separate cord. nineteenth century . and. Illustration by Jules Descartes Ferat. The whole thought was now 28 A half Still I quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keen.The Pit and the Pendulum bandage. or surcingle. in that case. the proximity of the steel! The result of the slightest struggle how deadly! Was it likely. as it seemed. which enveloped me.
I proceeded at once. and smelt at the surcingle. With a more than human resolution I lay still. scarcely definite. Freel-and in the grasp of the Inquisition! I had scarcely stepped from my wooden bed of horror upon the stone floor of the prison. It had cut through the linen beneath. Poe may have had this in mind. their red eyes glaring upon me as if they waited but for motionlessness on my part to make me their prey. I had fallen into an habitual see-saw. ravenous. my heart. This was a lesson which I took desperately to 29 A poem published in Knickerbocker Magazine of November 1837 tells the legend of Archbishop Ratto II of Mainz. Avoiding its strokes they busied themselves with the anointed bandage. Observing that I remained without motion. their cold lips sought my own. andappropriately here-the underworld. I at length felt that I was free. all but a small remnant of the contents of the dish. shrinking. when the motion of the hellish machine ceased and I beheld it drawn up. by some invisible force. In their voracity the vermin frequently fastened their sharp fangs in my fingers. swelled 30 my bosom. . Forth from the well they hurried in fresh troops. to attempt its execution. raising my hand from the floor. This seemed the signal for a general rush. as well as Robert Southey's verses "God's Judgment on a Wicked Bishop. At first the ravenous animals were startled and terrified at the change-at the cessation of movement. bold. With a steady movement--cautious. the unconscious uniformity of the movement deprived it of effect. But the stroke of the pendulum already pressed upon my bosom. They writhed upon my throat. The measured movement of the pendulum disturbed them not at all. then. 31 The narrator does not escape unscythed. with a heavy clamminess. I was half stifled by their thronging pressure. or wave of the hand about the platter: and. through the ceiling. I knew that in more than one place it must be already severed. But this was only for a moment. for which the world has no name. It had divided the serge of the robe. They pressed-they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps. and leaped in hundreds upon my person. decay. They were wild. For many hours the immediate vicinity of the low framework upon which I lay." . scarcely sane. "have they been 29 accustomed in the well?" They had devoured." I thought. Nor had I erred in my calculations-nor had I endured in vain.-but still entire. At a wave of my hand my deliverers hurried tumultuously away. I was free. But the moment of escape had arrived. Plainly I perceived the loosening of the bandage. and so the rat's kiss is horrifying beyond mere sanitary reasons. one or two of the boldest leaped upon the framework. in spite of all my efforts to prevent them. and chilled. I thoroughly rubbed the bandage wherever I could reach it. . who was supposedly eaten by mice in the tower he had built as a refuge. They shrank alarmedly back. at least. sidelong. 30 Rats are traditional symbols of infirmity ad death. disgust. They clung to the wood-they overran it. The animal also represents plague. The surcingle hung in ribands from my body. I lay breathlessly still. "To what food. 31 and a sharp sense of pain shot through every nerve. and I felt that the struggle would be over. Yet one minute. I had not counted in vain upon their voracity. at length. For the moment. with the nervous energy of despair. and slow-I slid from the embrace of the bandage and beyond the reach of the scimitar.The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe present-feeble. had been literally swarming with rats. With the particles of the oily and spicy viand which now remained. many sought the well. Twice again it swung.
I endeavored. although the outlines of the figures upon the walls were sufficiently distinct. During this period." about a man working inside a boiler who is trapped when someone. But not long was I left in doubt. and were. I became aware. of the origin of the sulphurous light which illumined the cell. but of course in vain. Free!-I had but escaped death in one form of agony. With that thought I rolled my eyes nervously around on the barriers of iron that hemmed me in. yet the colors seemed blurred and indefinite.-Oh! for a voice to speak!-oh! horror!oh! any horror but this! With a shriek. at first. I had observed that. As before. glared upon me in a thousand directions. but what he . "How to Write a Blackwood Article" mentions a tale entitled "The Involuntary Experimentalist. There had been a second change in the cell-and now the change was obviously in the form. 131 32 He apparently sees the light from' the furnace that heats the iron.34 it wrestled its way into my soul-it burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. At length it forced. the idea of the coolness of the well came over my soul like balm. Something unusual-some change which. and gleamed with the lurid lustre of a fire that I could not force my imagination to regard as unreal. I panted! I gasped for breath! There could be no doubt of the design of my tormentors-ohl most unrelenting! oh! most demoniac of men! I shrank from the glowing metal to the centre of the cell. It proceeded from a fissure. not knowing of his presence. to look through the aperture. had taken place in the apartment. which thus appeared. extending entirely around the prison at the base of the walls. This torture device is not only elaborate but fantastic. the mystery of the alteration in the chamber broke at once upon my understanding. 34 What he sees is. I rushed from the margin. My every motion was undoubtedly watched. The room had been square. The glare from the enkindled roof illumined its inmost recesses. The heat rapidly increased.The Pit and the Pendulum heart. and buried my face in my hands-weeping bitterly. did my spirit refuse to comprehend the meaning of what I saw. unconnected conjecture. I threw my straining vision below. and were momentarily assuming. Amid the thought of the fiery destruction that impended. at first. endeavored to appreciate or understand what was taking place. The Inquisitorial vengeance had been hurried by my two-fold escape. a startling and most intense brilliancy. to be delivered unto worse than death in some other. where none had been visible before. Yet. and there was to be no more dallying with the King of Terrors. only a pit. since heat would have to be provided on all four sides and somehow not interfere with the movement of the walls. I busied myself in vain. for a wild moment. 33 The room has truly taken on the aspect of Hell. that gave to the spectral and fiendish portraitures an aspect that might have thrilled even firmer nerves than my own. I saw that two of its iron angles were now acute-two. about half an inch in width. For many minutes of a dreamy and trembling abstraction. I rushed to its deadly brink. and once again I looked up. of a wild and ghastly vivacity. for the first time. These colors had now assumed. comprehends is annihilation. completely separated from the floor. I could not appreciate distinctly-it was obvious. it was in vain that I. shuddering as with a fit of the ague. of course. 33 Unreal/-Even while I breathed there came to my nostrils the breath of the vapour of heated iron! A suffocating odour pervaded the prison! A deeper glow settled each moment in the eyes that glared at my agonies! A richer tint of crimson diffused itself over the pictured horrors of blood. 32 As I· arose from the attempt. Demon eyes. fires the thing up.
she says. the frying-pan versus the fire . " (James Lundquist. It was that of General Lasalle. "Death. flatter and flatter grew the lozenge. to lose once and for all his sole claim to existence.' he says as he enters the third and most horrible crisis. into the abyss. 'I had but escaped death in one form of agony. August 1830). His climactic adventure. to be delivered into worse than death in some other.. However. 1958. "Feeling. fainting. and of course. His arrival parallels the announcement of the Second Coming in Browning's Childe Hamid: "He that endureth to the end shall be saved. long. isolated and immobilized. it works beautifully. with a rapidity that left me no time for contemplation. however. and final scream of despair.' abandons him to the existential dilemma: the agony of the prostrate individual. upon confrontation. . and the hero escapes the pendulum-but he escapes into a more restricted and horrible situation. charging that the moving walls are stolen from "The Iron Shroud. The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies. pp. swift retreat of the walls-just in time to save the narrator-is impossible. and which has visualized the ordeal of life itself-through the apprehensive eyes of Franz Kafkaas an arbitrary trial. 'The Pit and the Pendulum. the pit or hole is seen as symbolic of the passage from temporal to nontemporal existence. 1969. 592) In Jungian analysis. But the alteration stopped not h~re-I neither hoped nor desired it to stop. is indicativeof Poe's suppressed homosexual nature. sanity can no longer help the hero.132 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe consequently. "any death but that of the pit!" Fool! might I have not known that into the pit it was the object of the burning iron to urge me? Could I resist its glow? or. nor is he less contemporary in an epoch which has so vastly multiplied the sentence of political imprisonment. Through his feeling. in effect. . could I withstand its pressure? And now." I said. 35 Griswold. Even though the three faculties are perfectly unified when the glowing walls begin to close in. entered Toledo during the Peninsular War of 1808. quite unlike Poe's. but the agony of my soul found vent in one loud. surrounded by watchful rats." by William Mudford (Blackuiood's. and will function together. Its centre. There. I could have clasped the red walls to my bosom as a garment of eternal peace. and an unjustified condemnation. intellect.. He cannot let the scimitar "enter and split his heart-the scimitar replacing the phallus. came just over the yawning gulf. within the context of the tale. obtuse. His escape is "the supreme wishphantasy of Poe. and recoiling from both. 38 General Antoine Chevalier Louis Colbert. In an instant the apartment had shifted its form into that of a lozenge. I shrank back-but the closing walls pressed me resistlessly onward. and for Poe that is frightening merely because we do not 35 36 37 38 . he comprehends the predicament and wants to escape. seem worse than their alternatives: the pit or the pendulum. Poe Newsletter. Vintage. Comte de Lasalle. This." (P. I felt that I tottered upon the brink-I averted my eyes-There was a discordant hum of human voices! There was a loud blast as of many trumpets! There was a harsh grating as of a thousand thunders! The fiery walls rushed back! An outstretched arm caught my own as I fell. For Poe the will is constrained to choose between evils which. and his will. he was always to be tossed between these poles of his bisexuality with never a hope of escape. The French army had entered Toledo." (The Power of Blackness. threatened by an encroaching mechanism. his intellect. I struggled no more. He is completely limited in time. pp. 153-54) Marie Bonaparte sees Poe as heing caught between the male force (the pendulum) and the female (the pit).. 2. if even that.. in his memoir of Poe (1850). 25-26) 37 It is only when we think about it afterward that we realize that the sudden. The fearful difference quickly increased with a low rumbling or moaning sound. 36 The narrator would rather die by the red-hot walls than be cast into oblivion. for no adjustment of the faculties can help him. an unjust imprisonment." and he cannot enter the pit-the female sexual organ--either. At length for my seared and writhing body there was no longer an inch offoothold on the firm floor of the prison. accuses Poe of plagiarism. It is typical of Griswold's obsessive degrading of Poe that he trumps up this criticism but says nothing about the countless other borrowings that can be found in Poe's works (all of which have been throughly reworked). its greatest width. Harry Levin sees the tale as an existential parable: "The hero is not less heroic because he suffers rather than acts. His previous escapes have worsened his condition to the point where he gives up hope and yields at last. but there is no alternative left. for." The man who wants to enter Heaven must first go through Hell (or at least Purgatory) . the room is huilt of blocks that are removed a few at a time. and impelled toward a gaping abyss.
-L. but by following the expressions of his own objective nature such as dreams and genuine fantasies-then sooner or later the Self emerges. can he be saved. a representation of the emergence of the self. While physical death by the pendulum is terrifying. p. and tries to know himself-not by ruminating about his subjective thoughts and feelings. as symbolized by the pit. and surrenders himself completely to God." (M. an unconscious reworking of Poe's ambivalent sexuality. Yet the Jungian self does at least have a hope of saving itself: "Whenever a human being genuinely turns to the inner world. the death of the self. The ego will then find an inner power that contains all the possibilities of renewal. . 234) Still another interpretation can be stated in purely Christian terms: only when the narrator admits that his predicament is beyond his power to escape. Man and his Symbols. a parable of man's existence. von Franz. or as Christian allegory. Poe seems to offer something for everyone. is even more so.The Pit and the Pendulum 133 know what lies beyond. Thus "The Pit and the Pendulum" can be read as a simple tale of terror.
New York 1981 . lnc. Garden City.. Notes. and a Bibliography by STEPHEN PEITHMAN Doubleday & Company.he nnotated Talesof LL Edited with an Introduction.
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