THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM

First published in The Gift, 1842, this has always been one of Poe's most-read tales, a skillful exercise in suspense with. an undercurrent of something much more complex than most readers fully understand, although they may sense it. Poe's source was probably a paragraph in Thomas Dick's Philosophy of Religion (1825): "On the entry of the French into Toledo during the late Peninsular War, General Lasalle visited the palace of the Inquisition. The great number of instruments of torture, especially the instruments to stretch the limbs, and the drop-baths, which cause a lingering .death, excited horror, even in the minds of soldiers hardened in the fields of battle." Other background, as well as some of the incidents found here, was probably drawn from Anales de la Inquisici6n de Espana, written by Juan Antonio Llorente (1756-1823) in 1812 and published in English in 1826. The Spanish Inquisition was independent of the medieval Inquisition, which began in 1233, when Pope Gregory IX commissioned Dominicans to investigate heresy among the Albigenses, in southern France. Established by Ferdinand V and Isabella in 1478 with the reluctant approval of Pope Sixtus IV, the later Inquisition was entirely controlled by the Spanish kings, and the popes were never reconciled to the institution, which they regarded as usurping a church prerogative. Like the Commti.nist hysteria in the American fifties, the original purpose of the Inquisition was soon overshadowed by political witch-hunting, so that even St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Theresa of Avila were investigated for heresy. The Spanish Inquisition was not abolished until 1820. Films include Le Puds et le Pendule (1910), directed by Henri Desfontaines (1910), a 1913 English version directed by Alice Guy Blanche, and a Roger Corman production in 1961. The latter film, with Vincent Price, John Kerr, and Barbara Steele, stretches the story by adding a wholly new framework about an Englishman (Kerr) who arrives at a Spanish castle to investigate the mysterious death of his sister. The acting is atrocious, but the shocks are good, especially the final shot of Steele locked in the Iron Maiden as Price unknowingly seals her inside the Inquisitional torture chamber forever. Plot elements from Poe's story also have made their way into Avenging Conscience, a 1914 D. W. Griffith film with Henry B. Walthall, Dorothy Gish, Donald Crisp, Blanche Sweet, and Mae Marsh; as well as The Raven (1912), Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) (the title speaks for itself), and The Snake Pit (Blood Demon), a 1967 West German film with Christopher Lee. Basil Rathbone narrates a superb recorded version (Caedmon lll5); Martin Donegan also reads one (CMS 652).

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

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

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

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

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

but also the girdle. In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. too. for I was consumed. In an instant afterward the fancy was confirmed. for a priest's cassock. . A. let it be remembered. in huge plates. There was something. My confusion of mind prevented me from observing that I began my tour with the wall to the left.. I now noticed the floor. or cincture. and every moment the keen edge approaching nearer and nearer: at length it cuts the skin of his nose. I watched it for some minutes. The method of thus destroying the victim is as follows:-the condemned is fastened in a groove. too. who. . 1820!!!" . or niches.. the edge of which is sharp. with skeleton forms. at odd intervals. whose sutures or joints occasioned the depression.The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe steps-thus supposing the circuit nearly double what it actually was. I had been deceived. Time can also be seen as a sort of sword of Damocles. It passed in many convolutions about my limbs and body. His punishment was to be death by the Pendulum.D. on perceiving myself surrounded by demons. in lieu of a scythe. 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). and it is so constructed as to become longer with every movement. in the appearance of this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. What I touched was cold . I saw. at a casual glance. clothed in fire were breathing. but more in wonder. on his back. The scythe is the instrument by which Time "cuts down" all things according to their allotted span. and my left arm to such extent that I could. and thus deduced an idea of great irregularity. Its sweep was brief. Here the scythe is a pendulum. was a punishment of the Secret Tribunal. To this I was securely bound by a long 19 strap resembling a surcingle. or ensuring confiscation. and at full length. supply myself with food from an earthen dish which lay by my side on the floor. suspended above him is a Pendulum. which hangs over our heads. In the centre yawned the circular pit from whose jaws I had escaped. and was to have suffered on the following day." Poe mentions Melmoth in a letter of July 1836 and in a review in Graham's of January 1842. In feeling my way I had found many angles. however. Looking upward. What I had taken for masonry seemed now to be iron. I supposed to be the pictured 20 image of a huge pendulum such as we see on antique clocks. leaving at liberty only my head. who. somewhat in fear. but it was the only one in the dungeon. upon a table. carries an hourglass and a scythe. and of course slow. I turned my eyes upon the other objects in the cell.. with intolerable thirst. on a species of low framework of wood. It was the painted picture of Time as he is commonly represented save that. as we now know it. in respect to the shape of the enclosure. looking to the floor. according to tradition. so that two symbols of Time are combined. is actually that of Saturn. reprinted in a review in the Philadelphia Museum. but that the colors seemed faded and blurred." Poe may have also been inspired by a description in Chapter Six of Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). until life is extinct. he held what. A slight noise attracted my notice. that the pitcher had been removed. by Charles Robert Maturin: "I started up with horror . and constructed much as the side walls. steady marking off of one's lifetime. as if from the effects of a damp atmosphere. and gradually cuts on. The wretch sees this implement of destruction swing to and fro above him. It was some thirty or forty feet overhead. and. The figures of fiends in aspects of menace. or some other metal. 19 A belt or girth around the body of a horse to keep a saddle or pack on the animal's back. 20 The figure of Time. Wearied at length with observing its dull movement. This thirst it appeared to be the design of my persecutors to stimulate: for the food in the dish was meat pungently seasoned. All this I saw indistinctly and by much effort: for my personal condition had been greatly changed during slumber. 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. forth clouds of it around me. 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. While I gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own) I fancied that I saw it in motion. and other more really fearful 18 images. . and I comprehended that these were hideous figures scrawled in phosphorous to terrify me. to my horror. with the pendulum adding the idea of slow. 18 Compare with the bedchamber of "Ligeia. I now lay upon my back.. It may be doubted if the holy office in its mercy ever invented a more humane and rapid method of exterminating heresy. I say to my horror. and ended it with the wall to the right. overspread and disfigured the walls. I observed that the outlines of these monstrosities were sufficiently distinct. I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. This. which was of stone. The general shape of the prison was square. by dint of much exertion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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