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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).
yet all was not lost. but who fell with their leader. And then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon the table. At first they wore the aspect of charity. Muslims) who were not true believers. the very mansion of death. and I felt every fibre in my frame thrill as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery. They appeared to me white--whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these words-and thin even to grotesqueness. After that. I had swooned." According to Baudelaire. over my spirit. the blackness of darkness . and dimly lighted by candles placed in candlesticks fastened to the wall. like a closet. for a while. Honore. there came a most deadly nausea . the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave. down. the sound of the inquisitorial voices seemed merged in one dreamy indeterminate hum. and I saw that from them there would be no help. the figures of the judges vanished. I saw them fasion the syllables of my name. had no gates. The thought came gently and stealthily. At one end. fracto nunc funeris antro. and when they at length unbound me. I saw. among others. which was built on the site of the old [acobin Club. the soft and nearly impercetible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped the walls of the apartment. . Mors ubi dira fuit vita salus que patent. from before me. supervened." There is also the suggestion of the sensation often experienced when a person loses consciousness-as if one were on a huge wheel." The number seven has many interpretations (see "The Masque of the Red Death. it is a symbol for pain. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution. thin with the intensity of their expression of flrmness=-of immoveable resolution-of stern contempt of human torture. as if magically. everything being calculated to inspire terror." note 1:2). non satiata. and it seemed long before it attained full appreciation. In "Shadow" he also speaks of the "Hames of the seven lamps. 121 [Quatrain composed for the gates of a market to be erected upon the site of the [acobin Club House at Paris. long cherished a hatred of innocent blood. in Revelation 1:13. Then silence. responsible for the Reign of Terror (1793). The sentence--the dread sentence of death-was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears. in July of 1794. but just as my spirit came at length properly to feel and entertain it." note :25· . 2 3 2 The Spanish Inquisition was begun to discover and punish converted Jews (and later. where grim death has been. all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades. and I shuddered because no sound succeeded. with heads of flame. In Blackwood's. Yet in a second afterward. Else there is no immortality for man. Arousing from the most profound of slumbers. Now that the fatherland has been saved. life and health appear. 3 Compare with "MS. and the cave of death demolished. The [acobins were the political club of the French Revolution. I felt that my senses were leaving me. or even to describe. Sospite nunc patria. like that occasioned by the rapid revolution of a rnillwheel. And then there stole into my fancy. we break the gossamer web of some dream.The Pit and the Pendulum Impia tortorum longos hie turba furores Sanguinis innocui.") 5 See "Loss of Breath. hung round with black cloth. Yet. with a loud humming or vibrating sound. . aluit. and night were the universe. so that the place seemed . too. and certainly no inscription. all at once. and I was permitted to sit. were still issuing from those lips. I saw that the decrees of what to me was Fate. I saw. where the Inquisitor in attendance and the notary sat at a table." (Compare with the rooms of "Ligeia" and "Masque of the Red Death. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define. while the angel forms became meaninglesss spectres. Poe may have read: "This was a large apartment under ground. the great romantic French poet and author. July 1826. spinning down. 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. and stillness. This only for a brief period. Bobespierre. for a few moments of delirious horror. and around. (so frail may that web have been) we remember 1 "Here the wicked mob. unappeased. 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. but. their flames went out utterly. The notorious Inquisition of 1483 reputedly saw two thousand persons burned at the stake. for presently I heard no more. the Marche St. but with how terrible an exaggeration! I saw the lips of the black-robed judges.J 1 I was sick-sick unto death with that long agony. vaulted. but then. but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost. the tall candles sank into nothingness. there was an enclosed place. like a rich musical note. and seemed white slender angels who would save me. It conveyed to my soul the idea of revolution-perhaps from its association in fancy with the burr of a millwheel.
" (Psychology of C. of the sickness. On the other hand. So far." CCIX) Thus.. of the sentence. . and. and shuddering terror. secondly. like everything that happens in nature. while I strove to imagine where and what 6 " . the sound of its beating. Then a rushing revival of soul and a successful effort to move. amid earnest struggles to regather some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which my soul had lapsed. Then the mere consciousness of existence. J. in fact). [ung. it is the key to the subconscious." note :30). In the return to life from the SWOOn there are two stages. indistinctly. and touch-a tingling sensation pervading my frame. on account of that heart's unnatural stillness. Amid frequent and thoughtful endeavors to remember. Then comes a sense of sudden motionlessness throughout all things. I reached out my hand. in their descent. and paused from the wearisomeness of their toil. do they not come unbidden. 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. at will. After this I call to mind flatness and dampness. we could recall the impressions of the first. upon reaching the second stage. we should find these impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf beyond. the language of dreams is archaic. for Poe. a perilous state. is not he who beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view. and then all is madness--the madness of a memory which busies itself among forbidden 7 things. as if those who bore me (a ghastly train!) had outrun. There I suffered it to remain for many minutes. that of the sense of physical. thought. 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. It seems probable that if. Then entire forgetfulness of all that followed. is not he who find strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow. had death occurred.. of the intentions and conscious aims of the ego. Yale. Then. while we marvel whence they come? He who has never swooned. "Marginalia. of all that a later day and much earnestness of endeavor have enabled me vaguely to recall. Then a strong desire to lapse into insensibility. there is still sufficient strength for the person to recover.122 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe not that we have dreamed. 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. and prelogicalin other words. Then again sound. there have been brief. there have been moments when I have dreamed of success. annihilation would have followed. Then a pause in which all is blank." (Poe. It is a definite functioning which is independent of willing and wishing. the limits of the limitless. of the swoon. symbolic. yet. very suddenly. are not. because they stir up the "forbidden things" of the unconscious. 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. that of the sense of mental or spiritual. first. when the revival is attended with remembrance of visions (as is now and then the case. p. It is involuntary. But when some traces of consciousness are left. 194:3. existence. and earnest endeavor to conprehend my true state. unbound. after long interval. recalled. without thought-a condition which lasted long. These shadows of memory tell. and motion. Very suddenly there came back to my soul motion and sound-the tumultuous motion of the heart. I felt that I lay upon my back. 7 According to [ung. 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. as the narrator here clings to. a fall into utter unconsciousness would indicate that the soul itself was near death. 7:3) Thus the narrator does not understand his dreams and wonders why he has them. in my ears. They tell also of a vague horror at my heart. of the judges. of the sable draperies. 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. Note the parallel with astral projection-the idea that the soul can leave the body during unconsciousness (see "William 'Nilson. And now a full memory of the trial. I had not opened my eyes. "The dream cannot be explained with a psychology taken from consciousness. and it fell heavily upon something damp and hard.
and it appeared to me that a very long interval of time had since elapsed. to be buried alive. Perspiration burst from every pore. I dreaded the first glance at objects around me. although there was one in Mexico as late as 1815. Arthur Mervyn (1800) chronicles a case of mistaken identity wrapped around a yellow-fever epidemic. and Gothic fiction in general. Hawthorne. as well as all the condemned cells at Toledo. His most immediate importance." as he phrased it. sentences were read and the convicted person executed. and Van Wyck Brooks calls him a precurser of both Melville and Henry James. Was I left to perish of starvation in this subterranean world of darkness. I proceeded for many paces. The mode and the hour were all that occupied or distracted me. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. Of the dungeons there had been strange things narrated-fables I had always deemed them-but yet strange. Actually. and I cautiously moved forward. Edgar Huntly may be the best. Yet not for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. It was not that I feared to look upon things horrible.The Pit and the Pendulum I could be. Those sentenced to death were handed over to the civil authorities for execution within five days. Upon recovering.. is that he led the way away from "puerile superstitions. lest I should be impeded by the walls of a tomb. Ormond (1799) tells of a woman who murders the man who tried to rape her. and my eyes straining from their sockets. Gothic castles and chimeras. It seemed evident that mine was not. Hawthorne. This process. The Church itself did not execute anyone. I thrust my arms wildly above and around me in all directions. lance more relapsed into insensibility. and for a brief period. Keats. it declined in the sixteenth century but gained as the spiritual capital of Spanish Catholicism. were confirmed. especially among the readers of Poe. afforded me no means 123 8 9 8 Auto-da-fe is often translated as "act offaith. however. Most of the great autos-da-fe took place when Tomas de Torquemada was head of the Inquisition. in central Spain. and they wore a yellow miter. I quickly unclosed my eyes. then. in the hope of catching some faint ray of light. and stood in cold big beads upon my forehead. At length. slimy. I still lay quietly. Cooper. The intensity . but still all was blackness and vacancy. I breathed more freely. after a procession. and made effort to exercise my reason. or what fate. Had I been remanded to my dungeon.e. if necessary) and to save his or her soul by the purification of death by fire. I followed it up. and details his sensations as he attempts to find his way out. yet dreaded to move a step. spontaneous combustion.character of my judges to doubt. to await the next sacrifice. yet dared not to employ my vision. And now. but that I grew aghast lest there should be nothing to see. and too ghastly to repeat. and attempted from that point to deduce my real condition. Mass. as I still continued to step cautiously onward. involving a hero who walks in his sleep. awaited me? That the result would be death. perished usually at the autos-da-fe. my dungeon. and one of these had been held on the very night of the day of my trial. Such a supposition. save in a whisper. and cold. My outstretched hands at length encountered some solid obstruction. the hero finds himself in a pitch-black cave. The sentence had passed. Scott. seemingly of stone masonry-very smooth. The last in Spain was at Seville in 1781. usually by burning. there came thronging upon my recollection a thousand vague rumors of the horrors of Toledo. My worst thoughts. and a death of more than customary bitterness." Although the word originated in Lisbon. Shelley. and a murdering religious fanatic. His Wieland (1798) deals with hypnotism. and a sermon. translating the European Gothic tradition into American terms. 11 . I struggled for breath. however. had stone floors. I brought to mind the inquisitorial proceedings. is altogether inconsistent with real existence. and some effective Gothic touches all Brown's own. so that a better translation would be "A public ceremony offaith. An important commercial center for centuries. with a wild desperation at heart. of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. and stands on a granite hill surrounded on three sides by a gorge. between 1483 and 1498. it is most often applied to the ceremony of the Spanish Inquisition at which. with my arms extended. marauding Indians. But in Portuguese auto means a public ceremony. I longed. at least. Victims had been in immediate demand. I at once started to my feet. I knew. I knew too well the . the most hideous of fates. Brown (1771-1810) is one American writer who should be better known than he is. notwithstanding what we read in fiction. and light was not altogether excluded. perhaps even more fearful. and Poe all admired Brown's work. a yellow penitential garment with a red cross on the front and back (grotesquely embroidered for the unrepentant). the Inquisition was involved in only two major tasks: to force an admission of heresy or sin from the accused (by torture.-but where and in what state was I? The condemned to death. It was a wall. A fearful idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heart. The atmosphere was intolerably close." perhaps referring to the age-old demonstration of faith or truthfulness in which one places a hand in a fire. trembling convulsively in every fibre. which would not take place for many months? This I at once saw could not be. Heretics were dressed in the ceremonial San Benito. Moreover. 10 I. The agony of suspense grew at length intolerable. stepping with all the careful distrust with which certain antique narratives had inspired me. I felt nothing. 10 11 In Chapter 16 of Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly (1799). 9 Toledo is the capital of Toledo province.
12 but a vague curiosity prompted me to continue them. with many angles in the wall. as in a moment!" These lines are also part of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. I staggered onward for some time. Upon awaking. as I might make its' circuit. While Poe was an alien to the New England tradition. there is a strong parallel between "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. in the disorder of my fancy. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall. I resolved to cross the area of the enclosure." that remarkable tract by Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). for centuries. and with much toil. and did not hesitate to step firmly. arrested my attention. but it was gone. I resumed my tour around the prison. so perfectly uniform seemed the wall. and sleep SOon overtook me as I lay. endeavoring to cross in as direct a line as possible. The difficulty. my clothes had ben exchanged for a wrapper of coarss serge. and while I still lay prostrate. At first I proceeded with extreme caution. although. been connected with Hell and destruction. the last apostle of New England Puritanism. I put forward my arm. as does the narrator of "A Descent into the Maelstrom. admitting two paces to the yard. for vault I could not help supposing it to be. for the floor. I had counted forty-eight more. I could not fail to encounter this rag upon completing the' circuit. ' In the confusion attending my fall. So." According to Edwards. or upon my own weakness. In groping my way around the prison. of course. . which yet. I took courage. so as to identify my point of departure. whose survival in a hostile environment is based on their willingness to forgo old assumptions and meet a new world on its own terms. I had thought of forcing the blade in Some minute crevice of the masonry. however. I was too much exhausted to reflect upon this circumstance. for it shows he has both brains and imagination. but my lips and the upper portion of my head. I did not immediately apprehend a somewhat startling circumstance. was but trivial. Up to the period when I fell I had counted fifty-two paces. I tore a part of the hem from the robe and placed the fragment at fun length. and . and. Shortly afterward. when I stumbled and fell. it seemed at first insuperable. the quotation from Psalms implies that sinners "were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. although seemingly of solid material. nevertheless. I presumed the dungeon to be fifty yards in circuit. whose extent. and shuddered to find that I had fallen at the very brink of a circular pit. as in Psalms 73:18-19: "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places. and fell Violently on my face. touched nothing. I therefore sought the knife which had been in my pocket. was treacherous with slime. and at right angles to the wall. This is important. and upon resuming my walk. It was this-my chin rested upon the floor of the prison. a hundred paces.124 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe of ascertaining the dimensions of my dungeon. I stepped on it. when led into the inquisitorial chamber. then. and stretching forth an arm." He is an example of Poe's "passive" narrators. and the peculiar smell of decayed fungus arose to my nostrils. I had met. at least I thought: but I had not counted upon the extent of the dungeon. QUitting the wall.-when I arrived at the rag. he can't foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next.and that he can combine "trivial" discoveries with creative thought and come up with solutions to his predicament. in a few seconds afterward. when the remnant of the torn hem of my robe became entangled between my legs. I found beside me a loaf and a pitcher with water. however. thou castedst them down into destruction. but ate and drank with avidity. I had little object-certainly no hope-in these researches. and thus I could form no guess at the shape of the vault. At the same time my forehead seemed bathed in a clammy vapor. I had no means of ascertaining at the 12 The narrator has literally circumscribed his world. 13 The image of the pit has. How are they brought into desolation. My excessive fatigue induced me to remain prostrate. There were in all. At length. came at last upon the fragment of the serge. I had advanced some ten or twelve paces in this manner. The ground was moist and slippery. although seemingly at a less elevation than the chin. and return to the point whence I set out without being aware of the fact.
I was enabled to see the extent and aspect of the prison. but if we substitute "fate" for "God"-or even Poe's concept of the Godhead-the similarities become clearer. without being thrown down by the hand of another. "An immense river of oblivion is sweeping us away into a nameless abyss. In its size I had been greatly mistaken. and upon awaking. Upon arousing. and he awakens in something very much like Hell. as before.The Pit and the Pendulum moment. . or death with its most hideous moral horrors. In my first attempt at exploration I had counted fifty-two paces. 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. and I busied myself in endeavors to account for the error I had committed in my measurement. psychological 15 The abyss is associated with nothingness." says Daniel B. for scarcely had I drunk. their foot shall slide . By "wild. For some minutes this fact occasioned me a world of vain trouble. His words could just as easily refer to Poe. Groping about the masonry just below the margin. when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost. 200). By long suffering my nerves had been unstrung. and had become in every respect a fitting subject for the species of torture which awaited me. at that very instant. let no man of peace and freedom despair." writes Ernest Renan in a memorable passage from Souvenirs d'enfance et de jeunesse (1883). That the reason why they are not fallen already." it is this "wild interest in trifles" that saves him. "However close we sometimes seem to that dark and final abyss. is only that God's appointed time is not come. It must havebeen drugged. like Edwards. both writers say. I must then have been within a pace or two of the fragment of serge. needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down . he falls at once. To the victims of its tyranny.. Agitation of spirit kept me awake for many long hours." Poe. Shea. Another step before my fall. resolving there to perish rather than risk the terrors of the wells. the objects around me were visible. under the terrible circumstances which environed me. and I emptied the vessel at a draught. p. suggests that there is an appointed time. The observation from the words that I would not insist upon is this. . . I know not. until I trembled at the sound of my own voice. I then slept. 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. . but now I was the veriest of cowards. than the mere dimensions of my dungeon? But my soul took a wild interest in trifles. and let it fall into the abyss. as there is for the narrator of "MS. For it is said. and don't fall now. Writers after Poe have continued to use it in this manner." Despite his Puritan theology. I groped my way back to the wall. once again.. was of that very character which I had regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the tales respecting the Inquisition. but the mere pleasure of God. . I must have returned upon my 125 13 when he does fall. [r. and the world had seen me no more. while a faint gleam of light flashed suddenly through the gloom. in Major Writers of Early American Literature (Wisconsin. . vain indeed! for what could be of less importance. 17 17 Like the narrator of "A Descent into the Maelstrom. The truth at length flashed upon me.. as he that stands in such slippery declining ground on the edge of a pit that he can't stand alone. without warning . I found by my side. is a passive element in the universe. and President Kennedy in 1962 said. The whole circuit of its walls did not exceed twenty-five yards. and as rapid closing of a door overhead. is no Puritan. As he that stands or walks on slippery ground. I unclosed my eyes. 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 narrator alludes to the burning of sulfur (brimstone).. a loaf and a pitcher of water. Found in a Bottle. succeeded by loud echoes. God won't hold them up in these slippery places any longer. in fact. For many seconds I hearkened to its reverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent. Edwards was a highly original thinker who moved "out from an intense and sometimes fatalistic subjectivity to construct a vast." 14 15 16 16 His sleep "like that of death" ends. the origin of which I could not at first determine. out of Hell. A burning thirst consumed me. metaphysically ambitious correlative of the soul. I saw clearly the doom which had been prepared for me. chaos. I had nearly performed the circuit of the vault. 14 Mental. there was the choice of death with its direst physical agonies. at length there was a sullen plunge into water. although that flame is usually blue and yellow. but at length I again slumbered. The narrator escapes the pit-this time. of course. At the same moment there came a sound resembling the quick opening. By a wild sulphurous lustre. . or appinted time comes. Shaking in every limb. Another thing implied is that they are liable to fall of themselves. they shall fall into destruction. not the red that one would expect of hellfire. I had been reserved for the latter. before I became irresistibly drowsy. kept from destruction only by the whim of God/Fate. of which my imagination now pictured many in various positions about the dungeon. up to the period when I fell. How long it lasted of course. and annihilation. 1972. but will let them go. sulphurous lustre. and as suddenly faded away. In other conditions of mind I might have had courage to end my misery at once by a plunge into one of the abysses. that when that due time. And the death just avoided. Man. "There is nothing that keeps wicked men. I succeeded in dislodging a small fragment. and then. at anyone moment. but when. But Poe.
. My confusion of mind prevented me from observing that I began my tour with the wall to the left. What I touched was cold . The general shape of the prison was square.. as we now know it.D. In an instant afterward the fancy was confirmed. I had been deceived. I saw." Poe mentions Melmoth in a letter of July 1836 and in a review in Graham's of January 1842. What I had taken for masonry seemed now to be iron. but also the girdle. I say to my horror. looking to the floor. There was something. This. for I was consumed. is actually that of Saturn. I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. It may be doubted if the holy office in its mercy ever invented a more humane and rapid method of exterminating heresy. but more in wonder. but it was the only one in the dungeon. steady marking off of one's lifetime. It was some thirty or forty feet overhead. April 1827= "One of these prisoners had been condemned. Poe no doubt borrowed the idea from the preface to Llorente's History of the Inquisition (1826). The wretch sees this implement of destruction swing to and fro above him. 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 turned my eyes upon the other objects in the cell. and of course slow. . which hangs over our heads. and every moment the keen edge approaching nearer and nearer: at length it cuts the skin of his nose. let it be remembered. and at full length. and gradually cuts on. at a casual glance. which was of stone. carries an hourglass and a scythe. however. 20 The figure of Time. by Charles Robert Maturin: "I started up with horror . somewhat in fear. His punishment was to be death by the Pendulum. In the centre yawned the circular pit from whose jaws I had escaped. It was the painted picture of Time as he is commonly represented save that. supply myself with food from an earthen dish which lay by my side on the floor. Its sweep was brief. reprinted in a review in the Philadelphia Museum. who. Looking upward. The method of thus destroying the victim is as follows:-the condemned is fastened in a groove. A slight noise attracted my notice. who. he held what. and it is so constructed as to become longer with every movement. I supposed to be the pictured 20 image of a huge pendulum such as we see on antique clocks. I watched it for some minutes. In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It passed in many convolutions about my limbs and body. in huge plates.. All this I saw indistinctly and by much effort: for my personal condition had been greatly changed during slumber. overspread and disfigured the walls. and. was a punishment of the Secret Tribunal. Here the scythe is a pendulum. . and other more really fearful 18 images. according to tradition. to my horror. in respect to the shape of the enclosure. 19 A belt or girth around the body of a horse to keep a saddle or pack on the animal's back. suspended above him is a Pendulum. Time can also be seen as a sort of sword of Damocles. In feeling my way I had found many angles." Poe may have also been inspired by a description in Chapter Six of Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). upon a table. so that two symbols of Time are combined. or niches. but that the colors seemed faded and blurred. with skeleton forms. While I gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own) I fancied that I saw it in motion. for a priest's cassock. 1820!!!" . This thirst it appeared to be the design of my persecutors to stimulate: for the food in the dish was meat pungently seasoned. and thus deduced an idea of great irregularity.. The figures of fiends in aspects of menace. I now noticed the floor. at odd intervals. I now lay upon my back. by dint of much exertion. or cincture. 18 Compare with the bedchamber of "Ligeia. as if from the effects of a damp atmosphere. with the pendulum adding the idea of slow. whose sutures or joints occasioned the depression. and was to have suffered on the following day. too. To this I was securely bound by a long 19 strap resembling a surcingle. and ended it with the wall to the right. forth clouds of it around me. the edge of which is sharp. with intolerable thirst. and I comprehended that these were hideous figures scrawled in phosphorous to terrify me. until life is extinct.The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe steps-thus supposing the circuit nearly double what it actually was. on his back. leaving at liberty only my head. on a species of low framework of wood. too.. in lieu of a scythe. that the pitcher had been removed. and constructed much as the side walls. A. in the appearance of this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. Wearied at length with observing its dull movement. on perceiving myself surrounded by demons. and my left arm to such extent that I could. or ensuring confiscation. The scythe is the instrument by which Time "cuts down" all things according to their allotted span. The entire surface of this metallic enclosure was rudely daubed in all the hideous and repulsive devices to which the charnel superstition of the monks has given rise. I observed that the outlines of these monstrosities were sufficiently distinct. clothed in fire were breathing. or some other metal.
and regarded by rumor as the Ultima Thule of all their punishments. as a child at some rare bauble. At the same time. Even amid the agonies 25 of that period. 24 He seems to be mesmerized by the moving. still more appalling. and struggled to force myself upward against the sweep of the fearful . no doubt. The plunge into this pit I had 21 avoided by the merest of accidents. allured by the scent of the meat. which glare down on him "with terrifying frowns. while I gazed. with ravenous eyes. (for I could take but imperfect note of time) before I again cast my eyes upward. it was brief. Upon my recovery. and the whole hissed as it swung through the air. 24 There was another interval of utter insensibility. and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor." not uncommon in previous centuries. too. tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. it was no part of the demon plan to hurl me into the abyss. and lay smiling at the 23 glittering death. perhaps even an hour. or with grinning mockery. scimitar. At last the devil himself. but it could be the Gothic Tiule. as if through long inanition. accoutred." Poe mentions it again in his poem Dream-Land. I could no longer doubt the doom prepared for me by monkish ingenuity in torture. With painful effort I outstretched my left arm as far as my bonds permitted." the narrator tells how "Every moment I saw the bell sweep within an inch of my face. which Poe pokes fun at in "How to Write a Blackwood Article. the last extremity. Milder! I half smiled in my agony as I thought of such application of such a term. for I knew there were demons who took note of my swoon. meaning "the most remote land. inexpressibly sick and weak. and thus (there being no alternative) a different and a milder destruction awaited me. 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. Solinus." but he cannot keep his eyes from it. and eyes ofinfernal lustre. typical of hell. Like a razor also. As a natural consequence. I prayed-I wearied heaven with my prayer for its more speedy descent. hurriedly. formed an important portion of all the grotesquerie of these dungeon deaths. consider it to be Shetland. It might have been half an hour. they came up in troops. and who could have arrested the vibration at pleasure. The odor of the sharp steel forced itself into my nostrils. Bochart says it is a Syrian word and that the Phoenician merchants who traded to the group called it Gezirat Thule. upon again lapsing into life there had been no perceptible descent in the pendulum. with hoof. From this it required much effort and attention to scare them away. long hours of horror more 22 than mortal. "The bell pealing above and opening its jaws with a hideous clamor" seems to be "a ravening monster raging to devour" him. for. as in the common description of the evil spirit. horn. where it is to be pronounced "Thuly. it seemed massy and heavy. or Isles of Darkness. like Camden. 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. the cavern in which he is trapped seems to be full of hideous faces. Having failed to fall. Thule was the most northern point known to the ancient Romans. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly descended. and I knew that surprise. the horns upward. I grew frantically mad. I now observed-with what horror it is needless to say-that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel. or entrapment into torment." "To look at the object was bitter as death. by lack of food and water . the human nature craved food. Its etymology is unclear. "end. and took possession of the small remnant which had been 127 21 The end of the world. and Mela take it for Iceland. The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. And then Hell suddenly calm. But it might have been long. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass. while others. made his appearance. What I then saw confounded and amazed me. 22 Avails or profits (obsolete usage) 23 Compare with Thomas Mann's (a pseudonym for William Maginn) "The Man in the Bell" (1821). and . Pliny. about a foot in length from hom to hom. which lay just within view to my right. its velocity was also much greater. What boots it to tell of the long. Even then. 25 Lethargy caused. I felt very-oh. They had issued from the well. In that tale.~il. glittering object." and connected with the Greek telos.The Pit and the Pendulum I saw several enormous rats traversing it.
relentlessly down! It yibrated within three inches of my bosom! I struggled violently. I shrunk convulsively at its every sweep.128 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe spared me by the rats. To the right-to the left-far and wide--with the shriek of a damned spirit. it would accomplish. in so dwelling. I would have seized and attempted to arrest the pendulum. My eyes followed its outward or upward whirls with the eagerness of the most unmeaning despair. 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. collected calmness of despair. I dwelt upon it with a pertinacity of attention-as if. I was an imbecile-s-an idiot. In vain I struggled to perfect-to regain it.to my mouth. I saw that the crescent was designed to cross the region of the heart. this paradox suggests that while Poe ordinarily remained true to his conception of the torture of the disordered personality. and with this observation there suddenly came over my spirit all the keen. Vol. as I say. Notwithstanding its terrifically wide sweep (some thirty feet or more) and the hissing vigor of its descent. 1969. p. I dared not go farther than this reflection. I saw that some ten or twelve vibrations would bring the steel in actual contact with my robe. It would fray the serge of my robe-it would return and repeat its operation-again-and again. 25). every act of balance or sanity only leads to a worsening of his situation. to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled as the one or the other idea grew predominant. Long suffering had nearly annihilated all my ordinary powers of mind. I pondered upon all this frivolity until my teeth were on edge. . I could arrest here the descent of the steel. As I put a portion ofit within my lips. to free my left arm. from the platter beside me. For the first time during many hoursor perhaps days-I thought. The vibration of the pendulum was at right angles to my length. Could I have broken the fastenings above the elbow. . but no farther. for several minutes. they closed themselves spasmodically at the descent. sufficient to sunder these very walls of iron. Yet what business had I with hope? It was. but I felt also that it had perished in its formation. This was free only from the elbow to the hand. oh! how unspeakable! Still I quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keen. It was hope that prompted the nerve to quiver-the frame to shrink. I might as well have attempted to arrest an avalanche! Down-still unceasingly-still inevitably down! Ivgasped and struggled at each vibration. a half formed thought-man has many such which are never completed. 2. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral velocity. Poe Newsletter. still the fraying of my robe would be all that. And at this thought I paused. It was hope-the hope that triumphs on the rackthat: whispers to the death-condemned even in the dungeon 26 of the Inquisition. furiously. there rushed to my mind a half formed thought of joy-of hope. Down-steadily down it crept. with great effort. I could reach the latter. Down-certainly. glistening axe upon my bosom. although death would have been a relief. It now occurred to me that the 26 "Because of the limitations imposed upon him by an inquisitionary force. I felt that it was of joy-of hope. he did not overlook the possibility that sanity can be more terrifying than madness" (James Lundquist.
as it seemed. 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. moreover.The Pit and the Pendulum bandage. or surcingle. 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. was unique. which enveloped me. 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. my last hope frustrated. the proximity of the steel! The result of the slightest struggle how deadly! Was it likely. The surcingle enveloped my limbs and body close in all directions-save in the path of the destroying 27 All in one piece (archaic) 129 crescent. Illustration by Jules Descartes Ferat. and of which a moiety only floated indeterminately through my brain when 28 I raised food to my burning lips. and. glistening axe upon my bosom. would so detach it that it might be unwound from my person by means of my left hand. Scarcely had I dropped my head back into its original position. I so far elevated my head as to obtain a distinct view of my breast. But how fearful. in that case. nineteenth century . The first stroke of the razor-like crescent athwart any portion of the band. I 27 was tied by no separate cord.
" I thought. The surcingle hung in ribands from my body. had been literally swarming with rats. with the nervous energy of despair. They clung to the wood-they overran it. . 31 and a sharp sense of pain shot through every nerve. But the stroke of the pendulum already pressed upon my bosom. With a steady movement--cautious. Avoiding its strokes they busied themselves with the anointed bandage. I had fallen into an habitual see-saw. Forth from the well they hurried in fresh troops. then. raising my hand from the floor. my heart. with a heavy clamminess. andappropriately here-the underworld. Observing that I remained without motion. With the particles of the oily and spicy viand which now remained. Poe may have had this in mind. swelled 30 my bosom. At a wave of my hand my deliverers hurried tumultuously away. Nor had I erred in my calculations-nor had I endured in vain. the unconscious uniformity of the movement deprived it of effect. I lay breathlessly still. decay. scarcely sane. at least. and chilled. But this was only for a moment. I had not counted in vain upon their voracity. by some invisible force. I proceeded at once. The measured movement of the pendulum disturbed them not at all. at length. . "have they been 29 accustomed in the well?" They had devoured. I at length felt that I was free. and smelt at the surcingle. scarcely definite. "To what food.-but still entire. For many hours the immediate vicinity of the low framework upon which I lay. sidelong. The animal also represents plague. and slow-I slid from the embrace of the bandage and beyond the reach of the scimitar. 30 Rats are traditional symbols of infirmity ad death. 31 The narrator does not escape unscythed. 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. in spite of all my efforts to prevent them. their cold lips sought my own. and I felt that the struggle would be over. In their voracity the vermin frequently fastened their sharp fangs in my fingers. At first the ravenous animals were startled and terrified at the change-at the cessation of movement. Plainly I perceived the loosening of the bandage. I thoroughly rubbed the bandage wherever I could reach it. ravenous. one or two of the boldest leaped upon the framework. I knew that in more than one place it must be already severed. I was free. They pressed-they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps. Yet one minute. But the moment of escape had arrived. to attempt its execution. I was half stifled by their thronging pressure. 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. when the motion of the hellish machine ceased and I beheld it drawn up. all but a small remnant of the contents of the dish. bold. They were wild. who was supposedly eaten by mice in the tower he had built as a refuge. for which the world has no name. or wave of the hand about the platter: and. This seemed the signal for a general rush. It had divided the serge of the robe.The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe present-feeble. disgust. many sought the well." . With a more than human resolution I lay still. their red eyes glaring upon me as if they waited but for motionlessness on my part to make me their prey. as well as Robert Southey's verses "God's Judgment on a Wicked Bishop. Twice again it swung. shrinking. through the ceiling. and so the rat's kiss is horrifying beyond mere sanitary reasons. It had cut through the linen beneath. They writhed upon my throat. For the moment. and leaped in hundreds upon my person. They shrank alarmedly back.
completely separated from the floor. to be delivered unto worse than death in some other. glared upon me in a thousand directions. I threw my straining vision below. Free!-I had but escaped death in one form of agony. the idea of the coolness of the well came over my soul like balm.The Pit and the Pendulum heart. 131 32 He apparently sees the light from' the furnace that heats the iron. The room had been square. 33 The room has truly taken on the aspect of Hell. As before. which thus appeared. fires the thing up. There had been a second change in the cell-and now the change was obviously in the form. for the first time. Yet. for a wild moment. had taken place in the apartment. and once again I looked up. This torture device is not only elaborate but fantastic. of a wild and ghastly vivacity. at first. It proceeded from a fissure. Amid the thought of the fiery destruction that impended. yet the colors seemed blurred and indefinite. I rushed from the margin. extending entirely around the prison at the base of the walls. I could not appreciate distinctly-it was obvious. and gleamed with the lurid lustre of a fire that I could not force my imagination to regard as unreal. but of course in vain. These colors had now assumed. but what he . With that thought I rolled my eyes nervously around on the barriers of iron that hemmed me in. During this period. "How to Write a Blackwood Article" mentions a tale entitled "The Involuntary Experimentalist. the mystery of the alteration in the chamber broke at once upon my understanding. and there was to be no more dallying with the King of Terrors. unconnected conjecture. that gave to the spectral and fiendish portraitures an aspect that might have thrilled even firmer nerves than my own. comprehends is annihilation. shuddering as with a fit of the ague.-Oh! for a voice to speak!-oh! horror!oh! any horror but this! With a shriek. a startling and most intense brilliancy. For many minutes of a dreamy and trembling abstraction. it was in vain that I. not knowing of his presence. did my spirit refuse to comprehend the meaning of what I saw. The Inquisitorial vengeance had been hurried by my two-fold escape. 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. The heat rapidly increased." about a man working inside a boiler who is trapped when someone. Demon eyes.34 it wrestled its way into my soul-it burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. since heat would have to be provided on all four sides and somehow not interfere with the movement of the walls. I endeavored. to look through the aperture. I busied myself in vain. although the outlines of the figures upon the walls were sufficiently distinct. I became aware. The glare from the enkindled roof illumined its inmost recesses. My every motion was undoubtedly watched. At length it forced. 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 course. and were. I saw that two of its iron angles were now acute-two. 32 As I· arose from the attempt. I rushed to its deadly brink. Something unusual-some change which. But not long was I left in doubt. at first. endeavored to appreciate or understand what was taking place. about half an inch in width. where none had been visible before. I had observed that. only a pit. and buried my face in my hands-weeping bitterly. 34 What he sees is. and were momentarily assuming.
and of course. if even that. and an unjustified condemnation. fainting. 153-54) Marie Bonaparte sees Poe as heing caught between the male force (the pendulum) and the female (the pit). could I withstand its pressure? And now. His climactic adventure." (The Power of Blackness. . in effect. . Its centre. nor is he less contemporary in an epoch which has so vastly multiplied the sentence of political imprisonment. entered Toledo during the Peninsular War of 1808. 2. 35 Griswold. The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.. Comte de Lasalle. At length for my seared and writhing body there was no longer an inch offoothold on the firm floor of the prison. Harry Levin sees the tale as an existential parable: "The hero is not less heroic because he suffers rather than acts." by William Mudford (Blackuiood's. the pit or hole is seen as symbolic of the passage from temporal to nontemporal existence. for. seem worse than their alternatives: the pit or the pendulum. His previous escapes have worsened his condition to the point where he gives up hope and yields at last. surrounded by watchful rats. isolated and immobilized. within the context of the tale.. he was always to be tossed between these poles of his bisexuality with never a hope of escape. obtuse. 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. 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. is indicativeof Poe's suppressed homosexual nature. to lose once and for all his sole claim to existence. and impelled toward a gaping abyss.' abandons him to the existential dilemma: the agony of the prostrate individual. and for Poe that is frightening merely because we do not 35 36 37 38 ." and he cannot enter the pit-the female sexual organ--either. However. I struggled no more. for no adjustment of the faculties can help him. the frying-pan versus the fire .132 The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe consequently. accuses Poe of plagiarism. into the abyss. in his memoir of Poe (1850). "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. its greatest width. 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). she says." I said.. " (James Lundquist. threatened by an encroaching mechanism. he comprehends the predicament and wants to escape. long. Through his feeling." (P." The man who wants to enter Heaven must first go through Hell (or at least Purgatory) . 38 General Antoine Chevalier Louis Colbert. and which has visualized the ordeal of life itself-through the apprehensive eyes of Franz Kafkaas an arbitrary trial. It was that of General Lasalle. Vintage. and the hero escapes the pendulum-but he escapes into a more restricted and horrible situation. upon confrontation. He cannot let the scimitar "enter and split his heart-the scimitar replacing the phallus. The fearful difference quickly increased with a low rumbling or moaning sound. flatter and flatter grew the lozenge. and recoiling from both. however. and his will. 36 The narrator would rather die by the red-hot walls than be cast into oblivion. pp. But the alteration stopped not h~re-I neither hoped nor desired it to stop. Poe Newsletter. 'I had but escaped death in one form of agony. His escape is "the supreme wishphantasy of Poe. "Death. but there is no alternative left. There. In an instant the apartment had shifted its form into that of a lozenge. I could have clasped the red walls to my bosom as a garment of eternal peace. This. He is completely limited in time. pp. but the agony of my soul found vent in one loud. "Feeling. For Poe the will is constrained to choose between evils which. his intellect. swift retreat of the walls-just in time to save the narrator-is impossible. The French army had entered Toledo. 1969. to be delivered into worse than death in some other. 'The Pit and the Pendulum. came just over the yawning gulf. August 1830). with a rapidity that left me no time for contemplation. the room is huilt of blocks that are removed a few at a time. charging that the moving walls are stolen from "The Iron Shroud. 1958. 592) In Jungian analysis. 25-26) 37 It is only when we think about it afterward that we realize that the sudden. quite unlike Poe's. an unjust imprisonment. intellect. it works beautifully. and final scream of despair.' he says as he enters the third and most horrible crisis. I shrank back-but the closing walls pressed me resistlessly onward. and will function together. sanity can no longer help the hero..
the death of the self. von Franz. While physical death by the pendulum is terrifying. is even more so. 234) Still another interpretation can be stated in purely Christian terms: only when the narrator admits that his predicament is beyond his power to escape. The ego will then find an inner power that contains all the possibilities of renewal. as symbolized by the pit. Man and his Symbols. . or as Christian allegory. can he be saved. Poe seems to offer something for everyone.-L. and surrenders himself completely to God. but by following the expressions of his own objective nature such as dreams and genuine fantasies-then sooner or later the Self emerges. a representation of the emergence of the self. and tries to know himself-not by ruminating about his subjective thoughts and feelings.The Pit and the Pendulum 133 know what lies beyond. an unconscious reworking of Poe's ambivalent sexuality. a parable of man's existence. p. Yet the Jungian self does at least have a hope of saving itself: "Whenever a human being genuinely turns to the inner world." (M. Thus "The Pit and the Pendulum" can be read as a simple tale of terror.
Notes. lnc. and a Bibliography by STEPHEN PEITHMAN Doubleday & Company. New York 1981 ..he nnotated Talesof LL Edited with an Introduction. Garden City.
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