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