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).

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

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

however. 9 Toledo is the capital of Toledo province. or what fate. marauding Indians. and too ghastly to repeat. and made effort to exercise my reason. involving a hero who walks in his sleep. Most of the great autos-da-fe took place when Tomas de Torquemada was head of the Inquisition. then. At length. sentences were read and the convicted person executed. Moreover. as I still continued to step cautiously onward. and a murdering religious fanatic. The Church itself did not execute anyone. is that he led the way away from "puerile superstitions. I knew too well the . I proceeded for many paces. Such a supposition. It seemed evident that mine was not. I quickly unclosed my eyes. stepping with all the careful distrust with which certain antique narratives had inspired me. My worst thoughts.The Pit and the Pendulum I could be. awaited me? That the result would be death.-but where and in what state was I? The condemned to death. but still all was blackness and vacancy. Scott." perhaps referring to the age-old demonstration of faith or truthfulness in which one places a hand in a fire. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me.. of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. lest I should be impeded by the walls of a tomb. it is most often applied to the ceremony of the Spanish Inquisition at which. seemingly of stone masonry-very smooth. Mass. and I cautiously moved forward. and a sermon. Gothic castles and chimeras. I breathed more freely. The intensity . in central Spain. His most immediate importance. and details his sensations as he attempts to find his way out. Victims had been in immediate demand. trembling convulsively in every fibre. and cold. I brought to mind the inquisitorial proceedings. the most hideous of fates. This process. and for a brief period. Brown (1771-1810) is one American writer who should be better known than he is. notwithstanding what we read in fiction. Cooper. and a death of more than customary bitterness. Yet not for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. Heretics were dressed in the ceremonial San Benito. and my eyes straining from their sockets. An important commercial center for centuries. slimy. 10 11 In Chapter 16 of Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly (1799). however. Those sentenced to death were handed over to the civil authorities for execution within five days. so that a better translation would be "A public ceremony offaith. 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. And now. as well as all the condemned cells at Toledo. after a procession. 11 . Of the dungeons there had been strange things narrated-fables I had always deemed them-but yet strange. I felt nothing. if necessary) and to save his or her soul by the purification of death by fire. The sentence had passed. Was I left to perish of starvation in this subterranean world of darkness. my dungeon. I thrust my arms wildly above and around me in all directions. translating the European Gothic tradition into American terms.character of my judges to doubt. at least. yet dreaded to move a step.e. Hawthorne. there came thronging upon my recollection a thousand vague rumors of the horrors of Toledo. and it appeared to me that a very long interval of time had since elapsed. and some effective Gothic touches all Brown's own. perhaps even more fearful. and Gothic fiction in general. which would not take place for many months? This I at once saw could not be. I followed it up. yet dared not to employ my vision. to be buried alive. His Wieland (1798) deals with hypnotism. with a wild desperation at heart. perished usually at the autos-da-fe. although there was one in Mexico as late as 1815. I longed. The atmosphere was intolerably close. and they wore a yellow miter. Edgar Huntly may be the best. Hawthorne. it declined in the sixteenth century but gained as the spiritual capital of Spanish Catholicism. but that I grew aghast lest there should be nothing to see. in the hope of catching some faint ray of light. Ormond (1799) tells of a woman who murders the man who tried to rape her. I knew. and stood in cold big beads upon my forehead. the Inquisition was involved in only two major tasks: to force an admission of heresy or sin from the accused (by torture. had stone floors. I dreaded the first glance at objects around me. to await the next sacrifice. Had I been remanded to my dungeon. a yellow penitential garment with a red cross on the front and back (grotesquely embroidered for the unrepentant). Arthur Mervyn (1800) chronicles a case of mistaken identity wrapped around a yellow-fever epidemic. It was not that I feared to look upon things horrible. Perspiration burst from every pore. and attempted from that point to deduce my real condition." as he phrased it. Keats. The last in Spain was at Seville in 1781. were confirmed. Upon recovering. with my arms extended. lance more relapsed into insensibility. The mode and the hour were all that occupied or distracted me." Although the word originated in Lisbon. My outstretched hands at length encountered some solid obstruction. 10 I. Shelley. I struggled for breath. save in a whisper. A fearful idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heart. and stands on a granite hill surrounded on three sides by a gorge. usually by burning. and Van Wyck Brooks calls him a precurser of both Melville and Henry James. is altogether inconsistent with real existence. But in Portuguese auto means a public ceremony. between 1483 and 1498. especially among the readers of Poe. spontaneous combustion. and light was not altogether excluded. and Poe all admired Brown's work. and one of these had been held on the very night of the day of my trial. I at once started to my feet. It was a wall. I still lay quietly. The agony of suspense grew at length intolerable. Actually.

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

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

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

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

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

as it seemed. 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. and of which a moiety only floated indeterminately through my brain when 28 I raised food to my burning lips. 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. Scarcely had I dropped my head back into its original position. nineteenth century . Illustration by Jules Descartes Ferat. or surcingle. I 27 was tied by no separate cord.The Pit and the Pendulum bandage. I so far elevated my head as to obtain a distinct view of my breast. The first stroke of the razor-like crescent athwart any portion of the band. glistening axe upon my bosom. 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. the proximity of the steel! The result of the slightest struggle how deadly! Was it likely. moreover. which enveloped me. in that case. was unique. But how fearful. would so detach it that it might be unwound from my person by means of my left hand. that the minions of the torturer had not foreseen and provided for this possibility? Was it probable that the bandage crossed my bosom in the track of the pendulum? Dreading to find my faint. my last hope frustrated. and.

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

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

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

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

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

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