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