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