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