THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM

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).

life and health appear. all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades. for a few moments of delirious horror. but who fell with their leader." The number seven has many interpretations (see "The Masque of the Red Death. but just as my spirit came at length properly to feel and entertain it. there came a most deadly nausea . for presently I heard no more. too. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution. and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery. while the angel forms became meaninglesss spectres. and seemed white slender angels who would save me. all at once. In the deepest slumber-no! In delirium-no! In a swoon-no! In deathno! even in the grave all is not lost. down. and when they at length unbound me. In "Shadow" he also speaks of the "Hames of the seven lamps. supervened. where grim death has been." note 1:2). the tall candles sank into nothingness. I had swooned. Bobespierre. I saw. And then there stole into my fancy.J 1 I was sick-sick unto death with that long agony. so that the place seemed . (so frail may that web have been) we remember 1 "Here the wicked mob. Now that the fatherland has been saved. Arousing from the most profound of slumbers. Then silence. Yet. and I saw that from them there would be no help. This only for a brief period. The [acobins were the political club of the French Revolution. . and I was permitted to sit. and around. the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave. there was an enclosed place. thin with the intensity of their expression of flrmness=-of immoveable resolution-of stern contempt of human torture. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define. the sound of the inquisitorial voices seemed merged in one dreamy indeterminate hum. the very mansion of death. hung round with black cloth." (Compare with the rooms of "Ligeia" and "Masque of the Red Death. In Blackwood's. July 1826. long cherished a hatred of innocent blood. with heads of flame. responsible for the Reign of Terror (1793). At one end. but. fracto nunc funeris antro. like a closet. as if magically. At first they wore the aspect of charity. non satiata. And then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon the table. the figures of the judges vanished. and the cave of death demolished." note :25· . it is a symbol for pain.The Pit and the Pendulum Impia tortorum longos hie turba furores Sanguinis innocui. 4 5 4 Poe may have in mind the seven candlesticks in the midst of which sits God the Judge. the great romantic French poet and author. had no gates. like a rich musical note. which was built on the site of the old [acobin Club. 121 [Quatrain composed for the gates of a market to be erected upon the site of the [acobin Club House at Paris. we break the gossamer web of some dream. from before me. for a while. and dimly lighted by candles placed in candlesticks fastened to the wall. Yet in a second afterward. in July of 1794. and stillness. yet all was not lost. They appeared to me white--whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these words-and thin even to grotesqueness. I saw that the decrees of what to me was Fate. The notorious Inquisition of 1483 reputedly saw two thousand persons burned at the stake.") 5 See "Loss of Breath. 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. aluit. and certainly no inscription. but then. spinning down. Mors ubi dira fuit vita salus que patent. Sospite nunc patria. or even to describe. in Revelation 1:13. and it seemed long before it attained full appreciation. Poe may have read: "This was a large apartment under ground. the blackness of darkness . but with how terrible an exaggeration! I saw the lips of the black-robed judges. vaulted. their flames went out utterly. After that. everything being calculated to inspire terror. It conveyed to my soul the idea of revolution-perhaps from its association in fancy with the burr of a millwheel. Else there is no immortality for man. I saw. I felt that my senses were leaving me. and I shuddered because no sound succeeded. I saw them fasion the syllables of my name. like that occasioned by the rapid revolution of a rnillwheel. and night were the universe. Muslims) who were not true believers. with a loud humming or vibrating sound. . among others. unappeased. over my spirit. 3 Compare with "MS. 2 3 2 The Spanish Inquisition was begun to discover and punish converted Jews (and later. the soft and nearly impercetible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped the walls of the apartment. where the Inquisitor in attendance and the notary sat at a table. the Marche St. were still issuing from those lips. Honore. The sentence--the dread sentence of death-was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears. The thought came gently and stealthily. but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost." There is also the suggestion of the sensation often experienced when a person loses consciousness-as if one were on a huge wheel." According to Baudelaire.

I reached out my hand. p. Then a rushing revival of soul and a successful effort to move. when the revival is attended with remembrance of visions (as is now and then the case. Then entire forgetfulness of all that followed. I had not opened my eyes. 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. It is a definite functioning which is independent of willing and wishing. of the swoon. After this I call to mind flatness and dampness. as if those who bore me (a ghastly train!) had outrun. and shuddering terror. In the return to life from the SWOOn there are two stages." (Poe. the limits of the limitless. and. upon reaching the second stage. Then the mere consciousness of existence. like everything that happens in nature. So far. 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. It seems probable that if. These shadows of memory tell. and then all is madness--the madness of a memory which busies itself among forbidden 7 things. And now a full memory of the trial. secondly. I felt that I lay upon my back. symbolic. and touch-a tingling sensation pervading my frame. in their descent.. Yale. thought. are not. They tell also of a vague horror at my heart. 194:3. Then a pause in which all is blank. that of the sense of physical. indistinctly. there have been moments when I have dreamed of success. and it fell heavily upon something damp and hard.122 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe not that we have dreamed. of the judges. the sound of its beating. that of the sense of mental or spiritual. there have been brief. Then again sound. without thought-a condition which lasted long. "The dream cannot be explained with a psychology taken from consciousness. first. very suddenly. because they stir up the "forbidden things" of the unconscious. do they not come unbidden. of the intentions and conscious aims of the ego. a fall into utter unconsciousness would indicate that the soul itself was near death. for Poe. yet. as the narrator here clings to. Then comes a sense of sudden motionlessness throughout all things. in my ears. Then. while I strove to imagine where and what 6 " . 7 According to [ung." CCIX) Thus. it is the key to the subconscious. On the other hand. a perilous state. existence. 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. 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. is not he who beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view. Very suddenly there came back to my soul motion and sound-the tumultuous motion of the heart. There I suffered it to remain for many minutes. . 7:3) Thus the narrator does not understand his dreams and wonders why he has them. and earnest endeavor to conprehend my true state. on account of that heart's unnatural stillness. is not he who find strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow. and paused from the wearisomeness of their toil." (Psychology of C." note :30). Note the parallel with astral projection-the idea that the soul can leave the body during unconsciousness (see "William 'Nilson. 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. at will.. after long interval. J. of all that a later day and much earnestness of endeavor have enabled me vaguely to recall. 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. But when some traces of consciousness are left. annihilation would have followed. and prelogicalin other words. It is involuntary. of the sickness. [ung. there is still sufficient strength for the person to recover. "Marginalia. amid earnest struggles to regather some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which my soul had lapsed. recalled. Amid frequent and thoughtful endeavors to remember. Then a strong desire to lapse into insensibility. had death occurred. we could recall the impressions of the first. of the sentence. in fact). of the sable draperies. we should find these impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf beyond. and motion. the language of dreams is archaic. while we marvel whence they come? He who has never swooned. unbound.

My worst thoughts. is that he led the way away from "puerile superstitions. and made effort to exercise my reason. Such a supposition. and Gothic fiction in general. yet dared not to employ my vision. Victims had been in immediate demand. although there was one in Mexico as late as 1815. Edgar Huntly may be the best. Brown (1771-1810) is one American writer who should be better known than he is. Moreover. to be buried alive. 11 . The atmosphere was intolerably close. and stands on a granite hill surrounded on three sides by a gorge. perished usually at the autos-da-fe. involving a hero who walks in his sleep. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. 10 I. Scott. I still lay quietly. my dungeon. Mass. My outstretched hands at length encountered some solid obstruction. and a sermon. The Church itself did not execute anyone. spontaneous combustion. with a wild desperation at heart. I breathed more freely. but that I grew aghast lest there should be nothing to see. and Poe all admired Brown's work. between 1483 and 1498. 10 11 In Chapter 16 of Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly (1799). I longed. Heretics were dressed in the ceremonial San Benito. as I still continued to step cautiously onward. and a murdering religious fanatic.e. save in a whisper. trembling convulsively in every fibre. and details his sensations as he attempts to find his way out. which would not take place for many months? This I at once saw could not be. or what fate. Hawthorne. the hero finds himself in a pitch-black cave. and they wore a yellow miter. stepping with all the careful distrust with which certain antique narratives had inspired me. I thrust my arms wildly above and around me in all directions. translating the European Gothic tradition into American terms. Ormond (1799) tells of a woman who murders the man who tried to rape her. At length. in central Spain. sentences were read and the convicted person executed. and for a brief period. But in Portuguese auto means a public ceremony. Gothic castles and chimeras.The Pit and the Pendulum I could be. afforded me no means 123 8 9 8 Auto-da-fe is often translated as "act offaith. and one of these had been held on the very night of the day of my trial. Shelley. however. I followed it up. at least. Of the dungeons there had been strange things narrated-fables I had always deemed them-but yet strange. the most hideous of fates. An important commercial center for centuries. the Inquisition was involved in only two major tasks: to force an admission of heresy or sin from the accused (by torture. and a death of more than customary bitterness. with my arms extended. especially among the readers of Poe. and I cautiously moved forward. Arthur Mervyn (1800) chronicles a case of mistaken identity wrapped around a yellow-fever epidemic. The mode and the hour were all that occupied or distracted me. it declined in the sixteenth century but gained as the spiritual capital of Spanish Catholicism. after a procession. The agony of suspense grew at length intolerable. slimy. Perspiration burst from every pore. I felt nothing. His Wieland (1798) deals with hypnotism. yet dreaded to move a step. to await the next sacrifice. And now. and too ghastly to repeat. It seemed evident that mine was not. I knew too well the . and my eyes straining from their sockets. and attempted from that point to deduce my real condition. It was not that I feared to look upon things horrible. 9 Toledo is the capital of Toledo province. however. notwithstanding what we read in fiction. Yet not for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. marauding Indians.-but where and in what state was I? The condemned to death." Although the word originated in Lisbon. Had I been remanded to my dungeon. so that a better translation would be "A public ceremony offaith. and Van Wyck Brooks calls him a precurser of both Melville and Henry James. I at once started to my feet.. were confirmed. lest I should be impeded by the walls of a tomb. a yellow penitential garment with a red cross on the front and back (grotesquely embroidered for the unrepentant). perhaps even more fearful. it is most often applied to the ceremony of the Spanish Inquisition at which. usually by burning. I brought to mind the inquisitorial proceedings. Was I left to perish of starvation in this subterranean world of darkness. I proceeded for many paces. Those sentenced to death were handed over to the civil authorities for execution within five days. His most immediate importance. as well as all the condemned cells at Toledo. Actually. A fearful idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heart. The intensity . had stone floors." as he phrased it." perhaps referring to the age-old demonstration of faith or truthfulness in which one places a hand in a fire. and stood in cold big beads upon my forehead. I knew. lance more relapsed into insensibility. then. is altogether inconsistent with real existence. It was a wall. seemingly of stone masonry-very smooth. and cold. The sentence had passed. I struggled for breath. of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. This process. there came thronging upon my recollection a thousand vague rumors of the horrors of Toledo. awaited me? That the result would be death. Most of the great autos-da-fe took place when Tomas de Torquemada was head of the Inquisition. Upon recovering. but still all was blackness and vacancy. and light was not altogether excluded. Cooper. I quickly unclosed my eyes. in the hope of catching some faint ray of light. and some effective Gothic touches all Brown's own. The last in Spain was at Seville in 1781.character of my judges to doubt. Hawthorne. I dreaded the first glance at objects around me. if necessary) and to save his or her soul by the purification of death by fire. Keats. and it appeared to me that a very long interval of time had since elapsed.

whose extent. and with much toil. I therefore sought the knife which had been in my pocket. for vault I could not help supposing it to be. Shortly afterward. It was this-my chin rested upon the floor of the prison. came at last upon the fragment of the serge. for the floor. so perfectly uniform seemed the wall. I had counted forty-eight more. and did not hesitate to step firmly. of course. then. I took courage. was but trivial. there is a strong parallel between "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. and thus I could form no guess at the shape of the vault." According to Edwards." He is an example of Poe's "passive" narrators. So.and that he can combine "trivial" discoveries with creative thought and come up with solutions to his predicament. but it was gone. There were in all. with many angles in the wall.-when I arrived at the rag. and sleep SOon overtook me as I lay." that remarkable tract by Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). and upon resuming my walk. and while I still lay prostrate. when led into the inquisitorial chamber. I had little object-certainly no hope-in these researches. In groping my way around the prison. arrested my attention. I was too much exhausted to reflect upon this circumstance. admitting two paces to the yard. I stepped on it. however. but ate and drank with avidity. the quotation from Psalms implies that sinners "were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. I had thought of forcing the blade in Some minute crevice of the masonry. I had met. 12 but a vague curiosity prompted me to continue them. While Poe was an alien to the New England tradition. QUitting the wall. was treacherous with slime. but my lips and the upper portion of my head. I put forward my arm. I resumed my tour around the prison. been connected with Hell and destruction. I presumed the dungeon to be fifty yards in circuit. 13 The image of the pit has. and at right angles to the wall. My excessive fatigue induced me to remain prostrate. At the same time my forehead seemed bathed in a clammy vapor. as in a moment!" These lines are also part of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Upon awaking. at least I thought: but I had not counted upon the extent of the dungeon. and the peculiar smell of decayed fungus arose to my nostrils. as I might make its' circuit. in the disorder of my fancy. I did not immediately apprehend a somewhat startling circumstance. he can't foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next. I could not fail to encounter this rag upon completing the' circuit. touched nothing. although seemingly of solid material. and stretching forth an arm. for it shows he has both brains and imagination. Up to the period when I fell I had counted fifty-two paces. and. This is important. or upon my own weakness. and . At length. thou castedst them down into destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall. in a few seconds afterward. . and shuddered to find that I had fallen at the very brink of a circular pit. I found beside me a loaf and a pitcher with water. and return to the point whence I set out without being aware of the fact. nevertheless. I staggered onward for some time. I tore a part of the hem from the robe and placed the fragment at fun length. the last apostle of New England Puritanism. a hundred paces. I resolved to cross the area of the enclosure. however. At first I proceeded with extreme caution. when I stumbled and fell. and fell Violently on my face. I had no means of ascertaining at the 12 The narrator has literally circumscribed his world. when the remnant of the torn hem of my robe became entangled between my legs. as in Psalms 73:18-19: "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places. although seemingly at a less elevation than the chin. endeavoring to cross in as direct a line as possible. whose survival in a hostile environment is based on their willingness to forgo old assumptions and meet a new world on its own terms. which yet. The difficulty. I had advanced some ten or twelve paces in this manner. ' In the confusion attending my fall. as does the narrator of "A Descent into the Maelstrom. although.124 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe of ascertaining the dimensions of my dungeon. The ground was moist and slippery. How are they brought into desolation. so as to identify my point of departure. for centuries. it seemed at first insuperable. my clothes had ben exchanged for a wrapper of coarss serge.

14 Mental. . when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost. and then.The Pit and the Pendulum moment. By a wild sulphurous lustre. . out of Hell. Shea. for scarcely had I drunk. And the death just avoided. the objects around me were visible. I had been reserved for the latter. they shall fall into destruction." the narrator alludes to the burning of sulfur (brimstone). The narrator escapes the pit-this time. Upon arousing. of course. For it is said. their foot shall slide . But Poe. as there is for the narrator of "MS. At the same moment there came a sound resembling the quick opening. To the victims of its tyranny. but will let them go. I must have returned upon my 125 13 when he does fall. or death with its most hideous moral horrors. I had nearly performed the circuit of the vault. succeeded by loud echoes. but when. at anyone moment. For some minutes this fact occasioned me a world of vain trouble. and he awakens in something very much like Hell. I then slept. His words could just as easily refer to Poe. In its size I had been greatly mistaken. I saw clearly the doom which had been prepared for me.. was of that very character which I had regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the tales respecting the Inquisition. not the red that one would expect of hellfire. kept from destruction only by the whim of God/Fate. 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. there was the choice of death with its direst physical agonies. 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.. at that very instant. let no man of peace and freedom despair. How long it lasted of course. "There is nothing that keeps wicked men. and congratulated myself upon the timely accident by which I had escaped. as he that stands in such slippery declining ground on the edge of a pit that he can't stand alone." Despite his Puritan theology. "An immense river of oblivion is sweeping us away into a nameless abyss. Groping about the masonry just below the margin. although that flame is usually blue and yellow. without being thrown down by the hand of another. is no Puritan. sulphurous lustre. in Major Writers of Early American Literature (Wisconsin. 200). and had become in every respect a fitting subject for the species of torture which awaited me. 1972.. needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down . and don't fall now. . as before. like Edwards. under the terrible circumstances which environed me. at length there was a sullen plunge into water. without warning . resolving there to perish rather than risk the terrors of the wells. chaos. . God won't hold them up in these slippery places any longer. I must then have been within a pace or two of the fragment of serge. Edwards was a highly original thinker who moved "out from an intense and sometimes fatalistic subjectivity to construct a vast. is a passive element in the universe. and annihilation. A deep sleep fell upon me-a sleep like that of death. once again. In my first attempt at exploration I had counted fifty-two paces. he falls at once. That the reason why they are not fallen already. "However close we sometimes seem to that dark and final abyss. . By "wild. Another step before my fall. in fact. but the mere pleasure of God. and I busied myself in endeavors to account for the error I had committed in my measurement. I know not. p. Agitation of spirit kept me awake for many long hours. than the mere dimensions of my dungeon? But my soul took a wild interest in trifles. . suggests that there is an appointed time. and let it fall into the abyss.. and President Kennedy in 1962 said. and I emptied the vessel at a draught. The observation from the words that I would not insist upon is this." writes Ernest Renan in a memorable passage from Souvenirs d'enfance et de jeunesse (1883). the origin of which I could not at first determine. As he that stands or walks on slippery ground. vain indeed! for what could be of less importance. a loaf and a pitcher of water. Another thing implied is that they are liable to fall of themselves. that when that due time. Shaking in every limb. A burning thirst consumed me. It must havebeen drugged. I found by my side. or appinted time comes." it is this "wild interest in trifles" that saves him. I groped my way back to the wall. but at length I again slumbered. is only that God's appointed time is not come. psychological 15 The abyss is associated with nothingness. 17 17 Like the narrator of "A Descent into the Maelstrom. The whole circuit of its walls did not exceed twenty-five yards. I was enabled to see the extent and aspect of the prison. [r. up to the period when I fell. I unclosed my eyes. while a faint gleam of light flashed suddenly through the gloom. I succeeded in dislodging a small fragment. and as suddenly faded away. but if we substitute "fate" for "God"-or even Poe's concept of the Godhead-the similarities become clearer. metaphysically ambitious correlative of the soul. before I became irresistibly drowsy. and the world had seen me no more." Poe." says Daniel B. Man." 14 15 16 16 His sleep "like that of death" ends. until I trembled at the sound of my own voice. . Writers after Poe have continued to use it in this manner. but now I was the veriest of cowards. The truth at length flashed upon me. By long suffering my nerves had been unstrung. of which my imagination now pictured many in various positions about the dungeon. both writers say. and upon awaking. In other conditions of mind I might have had courage to end my misery at once by a plunge into one of the abysses. Found in a Bottle. For many seconds I hearkened to its reverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent. and as rapid closing of a door overhead.

. and constructed much as the side walls. in respect to the shape of the enclosure. but also the girdle. and gradually cuts on.. . too. reprinted in a review in the Philadelphia Museum. but it was the only one in the dungeon. and I comprehended that these were hideous figures scrawled in phosphorous to terrify me.D. but that the colors seemed faded and blurred. I watched it for some minutes. which hangs over our heads. carries an hourglass and a scythe. according to tradition. In feeling my way I had found many angles. that the pitcher had been removed. I had been deceived. Wearied at length with observing its dull movement. 19 A belt or girth around the body of a horse to keep a saddle or pack on the animal's back. upon a table. and thus deduced an idea of great irregularity. Time can also be seen as a sort of sword of Damocles. or ensuring confiscation. too. To this I was securely bound by a long 19 strap resembling a surcingle. I now lay upon my back. or niches. leaving at liberty only my head. which was of stone. and it is so constructed as to become longer with every movement. It was the painted picture of Time as he is commonly represented save that. steady marking off of one's lifetime. the edge of which is sharp. All this I saw indistinctly and by much effort: for my personal condition had been greatly changed during slumber. on perceiving myself surrounded by demons. until life is extinct. This thirst it appeared to be the design of my persecutors to stimulate: for the food in the dish was meat pungently seasoned. It may be doubted if the holy office in its mercy ever invented a more humane and rapid method of exterminating heresy. in huge plates. Its sweep was brief. he held what. April 1827= "One of these prisoners had been condemned. I say to my horror. on a species of low framework of wood. I observed that the outlines of these monstrosities were sufficiently distinct. on his back. suspended above him is a Pendulum. to my horror. and ended it with the wall to the right. as if from the effects of a damp atmosphere. and my left arm to such extent that I could. who. My confusion of mind prevented me from observing that I began my tour with the wall to the left. in lieu of a scythe. is actually that of Saturn. at a casual glance. and of course slow. and was to have suffered on the following day. who. 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. . The figures of fiends in aspects of menace. A. I saw. but more in wonder.. What I had taken for masonry seemed now to be iron. I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. Poe no doubt borrowed the idea from the preface to Llorente's History of the Inquisition (1826). at odd intervals. as we now know it. A slight noise attracted my notice. . There was something. forth clouds of it around me.The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe steps-thus supposing the circuit nearly double what it actually was. What I touched was cold . The wretch sees this implement of destruction swing to and fro above him. with the pendulum adding the idea of slow.. and every moment the keen edge approaching nearer and nearer: at length it cuts the skin of his nose." Poe mentions Melmoth in a letter of July 1836 and in a review in Graham's of January 1842. I turned my eyes upon the other objects in the cell. by dint of much exertion. clothed in fire were breathing. in the appearance of this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. or some other metal. let it be remembered. somewhat in fear. His punishment was to be death by the Pendulum. In an instant afterward the fancy was confirmed. 20 The figure of Time. 18 Compare with the bedchamber of "Ligeia. was a punishment of the Secret Tribunal. While I gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own) I fancied that I saw it in motion. 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. so that two symbols of Time are combined. for a priest's cassock. I now noticed the floor. with skeleton forms. whose sutures or joints occasioned the depression. In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. and at full length. and other more really fearful 18 images. by Charles Robert Maturin: "I started up with horror . The general shape of the prison was square. This. supply myself with food from an earthen dish which lay by my side on the floor. with intolerable thirst. or cincture. I supposed to be the pictured 20 image of a huge pendulum such as we see on antique clocks. for I was consumed. looking to the floor. overspread and disfigured the walls. and. It was some thirty or forty feet overhead. The scythe is the instrument by which Time "cuts down" all things according to their allotted span. however. It passed in many convolutions about my limbs and body. 1820!!!" . In the centre yawned the circular pit from whose jaws I had escaped. Looking upward. Here the scythe is a pendulum." Poe may have also been inspired by a description in Chapter Six of Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). The method of thus destroying the victim is as follows:-the condemned is fastened in a groove.

24 There was another interval of utter insensibility. At last the devil himself. accoutred. too. which Poe pokes fun at in "How to Write a Blackwood Article. made his appearance." but he cannot keep his eyes from it. allured by the scent of the meat. the last extremity. As a natural consequence. inexpressibly sick and weak." "To look at the object was bitter as death. as in the common description of the evil spirit. with ravenous eyes. Pliny. and who could have arrested the vibration at pleasure. At the same time. while others. "end. the horns upward. and struggled to force myself upward against the sweep of the fearful . where it is to be pronounced "Thuly. it seemed massy and heavy." Poe mentions it again in his poem Dream-Land. during which I counted the rushing vibrations of " the steel! Inch by inch-line by line-with a descent only appreciable at intervals that seemed ages-down and still down it came! Days passed-it might have been that many days passed-ere it swept so closely over me as·to fan me with its acrid breath. or Isles of Darkness. and took possession of the small remnant which had been 127 21 The end of the world. they came up in troops. upon again lapsing into life there had been no perceptible descent in the pendulum. "The bell pealing above and opening its jaws with a hideous clamor" seems to be "a ravening monster raging to devour" him. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly descended. What boots it to tell of the long. In that tale. Thule was the most northern point known to the ancient Romans. hurriedly. 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. it was no part of the demon plan to hurl me into the abyss. and the whole hissed as it swung through the air. the cavern in which he is trapped seems to be full of hideous faces. Like a razor also. The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. horn. and Mela take it for Iceland. Milder! I half smiled in my agony as I thought of such application of such a term." and connected with the Greek telos. perhaps even an hour.~il. still more appalling. as a child at some rare bauble. It might have been half an hour. Even amid the agonies 25 of that period. consider it to be Shetland. which glare down on him "with terrifying frowns. I prayed-I wearied heaven with my prayer for its more speedy descent. typical of hell. With painful effort I outstretched my left arm as far as my bonds permitted. and lay smiling at the 23 glittering death. I felt very-oh. Having failed to fall. formed an important portion of all the grotesquerie of these dungeon deaths. Solinus. it was brief. They had issued from the well. tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. and . by lack of food and water ." not uncommon in previous centuries. (for I could take but imperfect note of time) before I again cast my eyes upward. while I gazed. glittering object. and eyes ofinfernal lustre. the human nature craved food. but it could be the Gothic Tiule. 25 Lethargy caused. 24 He seems to be mesmerized by the moving. The plunge into this pit I had 21 avoided by the merest of accidents. From this it required much effort and attention to scare them away. scimitar. or entrapment into torment. I grew frantically mad. and regarded by rumor as the Ultima Thule of all their punishments. Even then. and I knew that surprise. with hoof. meaning "the most remote land. as if through long inanition. or with grinning mockery. I now observed-with what horror it is needless to say-that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel. But it might have been long. about a foot in length from hom to hom. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass. What I then saw confounded and amazed me. for. and thus (there being no alternative) a different and a milder destruction awaited me." the narrator tells how "Every moment I saw the bell sweep within an inch of my face. Bochart says it is a Syrian word and that the Phoenician merchants who traded to the group called it Gezirat Thule. no doubt. Upon my recovery. And then Hell suddenly calm. The odor of the sharp steel forced itself into my nostrils. for I knew there were demons who took note of my swoon. and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor. like Camden. I could no longer doubt the doom prepared for me by monkish ingenuity in torture. long hours of horror more 22 than mortal. 22 Avails or profits (obsolete usage) 23 Compare with Thomas Mann's (a pseudonym for William Maginn) "The Man in the Bell" (1821).The Pit and the Pendulum I saw several enormous rats traversing it. its velocity was also much greater. Its etymology is unclear. which lay just within view to my right.

as I say. in so dwelling. a half formed thought-man has many such which are never completed. from the platter beside me. . for several minutes. It would fray the serge of my robe-it would return and repeat its operation-again-and again. Down-steadily down it crept. I could arrest here the descent of the steel. As I put a portion ofit within my lips. The vibration of the pendulum was at right angles to my length.128 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe spared me by the rats. It was hope that prompted the nerve to quiver-the frame to shrink. 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. In vain I struggled to perfect-to regain it. I would have seized and attempted to arrest the pendulum. to free my left arm. there rushed to my mind a half formed thought of joy-of hope. I felt that it was of joy-of hope. I saw that the crescent was designed to cross the region of the heart. Down-certainly. My eyes followed its outward or upward whirls with the eagerness of the most unmeaning despair. Vol. I pondered upon all this frivolity until my teeth were on edge. I might as well have attempted to arrest an avalanche! Down-still unceasingly-still inevitably down! Ivgasped and struggled at each vibration. Could I have broken the fastenings above the elbow. sufficient to sunder these very walls of iron. Notwithstanding its terrifically wide sweep (some thirty feet or more) and the hissing vigor of its descent. I forced myself to ponder upon the sound of the crescent as it should pass across the garment-upon the peculiar thrilling sensation which the friction of cloth produces on the nerves. I dwelt upon it with a pertinacity of attention-as if. Long suffering had nearly annihilated all my ordinary powers of mind. To the right-to the left-far and wide--with the shriek of a damned spirit. I shrunk convulsively at its every sweep. but no farther. they closed themselves spasmodically at the descent. 25). still the fraying of my robe would be all that. I dared not go farther than this reflection. to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled as the one or the other idea grew predominant. furiously. It now occurred to me that the 26 "Because of the limitations imposed upon him by an inquisitionary force. p. 2. I could reach the latter. Yet what business had I with hope? It was. Poe Newsletter. It was hope-the hope that triumphs on the rackthat: whispers to the death-condemned even in the dungeon 26 of the Inquisition. I saw that some ten or twelve vibrations would bring the steel in actual contact with my robe. this paradox suggests that while Poe ordinarily remained true to his conception of the torture of the disordered personality. For the first time during many hoursor perhaps days-I thought. collected calmness of despair. . with great effort. he did not overlook the possibility that sanity can be more terrifying than madness" (James Lundquist.to my mouth. This was free only from the elbow to the hand. although death would have been a relief. I was an imbecile-s-an idiot. and with this observation there suddenly came over my spirit all the keen. but I felt also that it had perished in its formation. glistening axe upon my bosom. oh! how unspeakable! Still I quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keen. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral velocity. 1969. And at this thought I paused.

the proximity of the steel! The result of the slightest struggle how deadly! Was it likely. and. The surcingle enveloped my limbs and body close in all directions-save in the path of the destroying 27 All in one piece (archaic) 129 crescent. I so far elevated my head as to obtain a distinct view of my breast. glistening axe upon my bosom. But how fearful. 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. nineteenth century . 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. as it seemed. 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. would so detach it that it might be unwound from my person by means of my left hand. I 27 was tied by no separate cord. Scarcely had I dropped my head back into its original position. moreover. and of which a moiety only floated indeterminately through my brain when 28 I raised food to my burning lips. or surcingle. which enveloped me. The first stroke of the razor-like crescent athwart any portion of the band.The Pit and the Pendulum bandage. in that case. was unique. my last hope frustrated. Illustration by Jules Descartes Ferat.

I knew that in more than one place it must be already severed. by some invisible force. But this was only for a moment. With the particles of the oily and spicy viand which now remained. swelled 30 my bosom. in spite of all my efforts to prevent them. and slow-I slid from the embrace of the bandage and beyond the reach of the scimitar. their red eyes glaring upon me as if they waited but for motionlessness on my part to make me their prey. In their voracity the vermin frequently fastened their sharp fangs in my fingers. Observing that I remained without motion." . "To what food. Twice again it swung. one or two of the boldest leaped upon the framework. Poe may have had this in mind. to attempt its execution. as well as Robert Southey's verses "God's Judgment on a Wicked Bishop. I lay breathlessly still. and chilled. They clung to the wood-they overran it. Avoiding its strokes they busied themselves with the anointed bandage. They pressed-they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps. This seemed the signal for a general rush. With a steady movement--cautious. disgust. Nor had I erred in my calculations-nor had I endured in vain. at length. and smelt at the surcingle. . raising my hand from the floor. They were wild. who was supposedly eaten by mice in the tower he had built as a refuge. sidelong. 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.-but still entire. . I had fallen into an habitual see-saw. The measured movement of the pendulum disturbed them not at all. The animal also represents plague. with the nervous energy of despair. or wave of the hand about the platter: and. At a wave of my hand my deliverers hurried tumultuously away. Freel-and in the grasp of the Inquisition! I had scarcely stepped from my wooden bed of horror upon the stone floor of the prison. and so the rat's kiss is horrifying beyond mere sanitary reasons. With a more than human resolution I lay still. Forth from the well they hurried in fresh troops." I thought. But the moment of escape had arrived. "have they been 29 accustomed in the well?" They had devoured. then. scarcely definite. At first the ravenous animals were startled and terrified at the change-at the cessation of movement. andappropriately here-the underworld. had been literally swarming with rats. through the ceiling. shrinking. scarcely sane. many sought the well. For the moment.The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe present-feeble. The surcingle hung in ribands from my body. 30 Rats are traditional symbols of infirmity ad death. I was half stifled by their thronging pressure. when the motion of the hellish machine ceased and I beheld it drawn up. 31 The narrator does not escape unscythed. It had divided the serge of the robe. bold. decay. I proceeded at once. I was free. their cold lips sought my own. But the stroke of the pendulum already pressed upon my bosom. my heart. 31 and a sharp sense of pain shot through every nerve. and I felt that the struggle would be over. for which the world has no name. I at length felt that I was free. at least. all but a small remnant of the contents of the dish. They shrank alarmedly back. They writhed upon my throat. ravenous. Plainly I perceived the loosening of the bandage. Yet one minute. For many hours the immediate vicinity of the low framework upon which I lay. I had not counted in vain upon their voracity. and leaped in hundreds upon my person. I thoroughly rubbed the bandage wherever I could reach it. the unconscious uniformity of the movement deprived it of effect. with a heavy clamminess. It had cut through the linen beneath.

did my spirit refuse to comprehend the meaning of what I saw. I threw my straining vision below. With that thought I rolled my eyes nervously around on the barriers of iron that hemmed me in. My every motion was undoubtedly watched. The Inquisitorial vengeance had been hurried by my two-fold escape. comprehends is annihilation. Something unusual-some change which. 131 32 He apparently sees the light from' the furnace that heats the iron. that gave to the spectral and fiendish portraitures an aspect that might have thrilled even firmer nerves than my own. As before. But not long was I left in doubt. Demon eyes. shuddering as with a fit of the ague. of the origin of the sulphurous light which illumined the cell. 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. "How to Write a Blackwood Article" mentions a tale entitled "The Involuntary Experimentalist. completely separated from the floor. about half an inch in width. endeavored to appreciate or understand what was taking place. I could not appreciate distinctly-it was obvious. to be delivered unto worse than death in some other. not knowing of his presence. of course. although the outlines of the figures upon the walls were sufficiently distinct. I rushed to its deadly brink. the idea of the coolness of the well came over my soul like balm.34 it wrestled its way into my soul-it burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. and buried my face in my hands-weeping bitterly. of a wild and ghastly vivacity. only a pit.-Oh! for a voice to speak!-oh! horror!oh! any horror but this! With a shriek. For many minutes of a dreamy and trembling abstraction. I busied myself in vain. extending entirely around the prison at the base of the walls. There had been a second change in the cell-and now the change was obviously in the form. yet the colors seemed blurred and indefinite. the mystery of the alteration in the chamber broke at once upon my understanding. but of course in vain. The room had been square. for a wild moment. 33 The room has truly taken on the aspect of Hell. fires the thing up. I had observed that. I saw that two of its iron angles were now acute-two. and there was to be no more dallying with the King of Terrors. These colors had now assumed. I became aware. This torture device is not only elaborate but fantastic. for the first time." about a man working inside a boiler who is trapped when someone. which thus appeared. to look through the aperture. and were. It proceeded from a fissure. Yet. and gleamed with the lurid lustre of a fire that I could not force my imagination to regard as unreal. at first. but what he . I endeavored. it was in vain that I. The heat rapidly increased. and once again I looked up. Free!-I had but escaped death in one form of agony. unconnected conjecture. and were momentarily assuming.The Pit and the Pendulum heart. At length it forced. 34 What he sees is. at first. since heat would have to be provided on all four sides and somehow not interfere with the movement of the walls. glared upon me in a thousand directions. Amid the thought of the fiery destruction that impended. 32 As I· arose from the attempt. where none had been visible before. a startling and most intense brilliancy. During this period. I rushed from the margin. 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. had taken place in the apartment. The glare from the enkindled roof illumined its inmost recesses.

This. for no adjustment of the faculties can help him. fainting. Comte de Lasalle. she says. to be delivered into worse than death in some other. Its centre. in effect. and which has visualized the ordeal of life itself-through the apprehensive eyes of Franz Kafkaas an arbitrary trial. He cannot let the scimitar "enter and split his heart-the scimitar replacing the phallus. " (James Lundquist. for. and impelled toward a gaping abyss. 'The Pit and the Pendulum. obtuse. Poe Newsletter. his intellect. could I withstand its pressure? And now. threatened by an encroaching mechanism." I said. "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. 592) In Jungian analysis. if even that. 'I had but escaped death in one form of agony. Harry Levin sees the tale as an existential parable: "The hero is not less heroic because he suffers rather than acts. is indicativeof Poe's suppressed homosexual nature. accuses Poe of plagiarism." by William Mudford (Blackuiood's. and final scream of despair. isolated and immobilized. and recoiling from both. 36 The narrator would rather die by the red-hot walls than be cast into oblivion. For Poe the will is constrained to choose between evils which. At length for my seared and writhing body there was no longer an inch offoothold on the firm floor of the prison. 38 General Antoine Chevalier Louis Colbert. Through his feeling. and for Poe that is frightening merely because we do not 35 36 37 38 . intellect. an unjust imprisonment. swift retreat of the walls-just in time to save the narrator-is impossible. upon confrontation.. he was always to be tossed between these poles of his bisexuality with never a hope of escape. charging that the moving walls are stolen from "The Iron Shroud. His arrival parallels the announcement of the Second Coming in Browning's Childe Hamid: "He that endureth to the end shall be saved. Even though the three faculties are perfectly unified when the glowing walls begin to close in. 35 Griswold. the room is huilt of blocks that are removed a few at a time. its greatest width. "Feeling. His climactic adventure. and the hero escapes the pendulum-but he escapes into a more restricted and horrible situation. pp. entered Toledo during the Peninsular War of 1808. 1969. to lose once and for all his sole claim to existence. His escape is "the supreme wishphantasy of Poe. 153-54) Marie Bonaparte sees Poe as heing caught between the male force (the pendulum) and the female (the pit). 2. but the agony of my soul found vent in one loud. and his will. in his memoir of Poe (1850). however. ." (P. I struggled no more. The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies. However. nor is he less contemporary in an epoch which has so vastly multiplied the sentence of political imprisonment." and he cannot enter the pit-the female sexual organ--either. but there is no alternative left. The French army had entered Toledo. and an unjustified condemnation." (The Power of Blackness.' abandons him to the existential dilemma: the agony of the prostrate individual. 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).. I shrank back-but the closing walls pressed me resistlessly onward. The fearful difference quickly increased with a low rumbling or moaning sound." The man who wants to enter Heaven must first go through Hell (or at least Purgatory) . 25-26) 37 It is only when we think about it afterward that we realize that the sudden. long. quite unlike Poe's. pp. But the alteration stopped not h~re-I neither hoped nor desired it to stop. I could have clasped the red walls to my bosom as a garment of eternal peace. . "Death. the pit or hole is seen as symbolic of the passage from temporal to nontemporal existence. came just over the yawning gulf. and of course.132 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe consequently. within the context of the tale. and will function together. Vintage. 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. It was that of General Lasalle. 1958. it works beautifully. His previous escapes have worsened his condition to the point where he gives up hope and yields at last. with a rapidity that left me no time for contemplation. He is completely limited in time. into the abyss. sanity can no longer help the hero... August 1830). flatter and flatter grew the lozenge.' he says as he enters the third and most horrible crisis. he comprehends the predicament and wants to escape. In an instant the apartment had shifted its form into that of a lozenge. seem worse than their alternatives: the pit or the pendulum. There. surrounded by watchful rats. the frying-pan versus the fire .

The ego will then find an inner power that contains all the possibilities of renewal." (M. or as Christian allegory. Thus "The Pit and the Pendulum" can be read as a simple tale of terror. p. a parable of man's existence. 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. von Franz. as symbolized by the pit. Man and his Symbols. the death of the self. a representation of the emergence of the self. Yet the Jungian self does at least have a hope of saving itself: "Whenever a human being genuinely turns to the inner world. but by following the expressions of his own objective nature such as dreams and genuine fantasies-then sooner or later the Self emerges. and tries to know himself-not by ruminating about his subjective thoughts and feelings.The Pit and the Pendulum 133 know what lies beyond. is even more so.-L. and surrenders himself completely to God. While physical death by the pendulum is terrifying. Poe seems to offer something for everyone. an unconscious reworking of Poe's ambivalent sexuality. . can he be saved.

Garden City. New York 1981 . lnc. Notes.. and a Bibliography by STEPHEN PEITHMAN Doubleday & Company.he nnotated Talesof LL Edited with an Introduction.

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