Friday, October 30, 2009

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

"TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story."

And so begins one of the most bone-chilling stories in literature, The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe. It's the tale of a man's descent into madness and the subsequent murder of an old man whose only sin was that he had become the focus of that madness.

"It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture -- a pale blue eye with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever. "

Ooo, gives me chills every time I read it! I discovered Poe when I was very young, and I have yet to read anyone who can creep me out the way he can. In this story, he not only murders the old man, but he takes great joy and pleasure in terrifying him first, merely by lying in wait for him in the darkness as the old man lies helpless in his bed:

"I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief -- oh, no! It was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me."

After he murders the old man and hides his body, the police arrive, alerted by the neighbors, who heard the old man's death scream. At first the murderer talks to them calmly, allaying their suspicions, until he begins to hear something... a rhythmic, muffled sound that gets louder and louder...

"No doubt I now grew VERY pale; but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased -- and what could I do? It was A LOW, DULL, QUICK SOUND -- MUCH SUCH A SOUND AS A WATCH MAKES WHEN ENVELOPED IN COTTON. I gasped for breath, and yet the officers heard it not."

Until finally, the madman cracks, and confesses all:

"Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! -- no, no? They heard! -- they suspected! -- they KNEW! -- they were making a mockery of my horror! -- this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! -- and now -- again -- hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER! --

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear up the planks! -- here, here! -- it is the beating of his hideous heart!"

Happy Halloween from Edgar and me... :-)

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