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