‘The Pit And The Pendulum’ by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe, Edgar Allan 1842

The Pit And The Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe, 1842

The magic trick:

The beautifully written section between sentencing and the narrator’s awakening in the pit

You can take or leave the story. Maybe you don’t care to read Poe go on and on and on about his narrator’s relentless realizations about the torture chamber in which he finds himself. That’s fine. I won’t blame you if it’s simply too much for your tastes.


There is no denying the transition passages early in the story in which the narrator is first sentenced by the Inquisition board and then awakens in his pit. It is utterly beautiful. His topics might seem deranged; his outlook morose; his way with a plot not, shall we say, speedy. But holy cow the man was a poet. And that’s quite a trick on Poe’s part.

The selection:

I had swooned; but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define, or even to describe; yet all was not lost. In the deepest slumber–no! In delirium–no! In a swoon–no! In death–no! Even in the grave all was not lost. Else there is no immortality for man. Arousing from the most profound of slumbers, we break the gossamer web of some dream. Yet in a second afterwards (so frail may that web have been) we remember not that we have dreamed. In the return to life from the swoon there are two stages; first, that of the sense of mental or spiritual; secondly, that of the sense of physical existence. It seems probable that if, upon reaching the second stage, we could recall the impressions of the first, we should find these impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf beyond. And that gulf is, what? How at least shall we distinguish its shadows from those of the tomb? But if the impressions of what I have termed the first stage are not at will recalled, yet, after long interval, do they not come unbidden, while we marvel whence they come? He who has never swooned is not he who finds strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow; is not he who beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view; 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 which has never before arrested his attention.



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