Edgar Allan Poe:
THE PREMATURE BURIAL
There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but
which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction.
These the mere romanticist must eschew, if he do not wish to offend
or to disgust. They are with propriety handled only when the severity
and majesty of Truth sanctify and sustain them. We thrill, for example,
with the most intense of "pleasurable pain" over the accounts
of the Passage of the Beresina, of the Earthquake at Lisbon, of the
Plague at London, of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, or of the stifling
of the hundred and twenty-three prisoners in the Black Hole at Calcutta.
But in these accounts it is the fact - -- it is the reality - -- it
is the history which excites. As inventions, we should regard them
with simple abhorrence.
I have mentioned some few of the more prominent and august calamities
on record; but in these it is the extent, not less than the character
of the calamity, which so vividly impresses the fancy. I need not
remind the reader that, from the long and weird catalogue of human
miseries, I might have selected many individual instances more replete
with essential suffering than any of these vast generalities of disaster.
The true wretchedness, indeed -- the ultimate woe - -- is particular,
not diffuse. That the ghastly extremes of agony are endured by man
the unit, and never by man the mass - -- for this let us thank a merciful
To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of
these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.
That it has frequently, very frequently, so fallen will scarcely be
denied by those who think. The boundaries which divide Life from Death
are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and
where the other begins? We know that there are diseases in which occur
total cessations of all the apparent functions of vitality, and yet
in which these cessations are merely suspensions, properly so called.
They are only temporary pauses in the incomprehensible mechanism.
A certain period elapses, and some unseen mysterious principle again
sets in motion the magic pinions and the wizard wheels. The silver
cord was not for ever loosed, nor the golden bowl irreparably broken.
But where, meantime, was the soul?
Apart, however, from the inevitable conclusion, a priori that such
causes must produce such effects - -- that the well-known occurrence
of such cases of suspended animation must naturally give rise, now
and then, to premature interments -- apart from this consideration,
we have the direct testimony of medical and ordinary experience to
prove that a vast number of such interments have actually taken place.
I might refer at once, if necessary to a hundred well authenticated
instances. One of very remarkable character, and of which the circumstances
may be fresh in the memory of some of my readers, occurred, not very
long ago, in the neighboring city of Baltimore, where it occasioned
a painful, intense, and widely-extended excitement. The wife of one
of the most respectable citizens-a lawyer of eminence and a member
of Congress -- was seized with a sudden and unaccountable illness,
which completely baffled the skill of her physicians. After much suffering
she died, or was supposed to die. No one suspected, indeed, or had
reason to suspect, that she was not actually dead. She presented all
the ordinary appearances of death. The face assumed the usual pinched
and sunken outline. The lips were of the usual marble pallor. The
eyes were lustreless. There was no warmth. Pulsation had ceased. For
three days the body was preserved unburied, during which it had acquired
a stony rigidity. The funeral, in short, was hastened, on account
of the rapid advance of what was supposed to be decomposition.
The lady was deposited in her family vault, which, for three subsequent
years, was undisturbed. At the expiration of this term it was opened
for the reception of a sarcophagus; - -- but, alas! how fearful a
shock awaited the husband, who, personally, threw open the door! As
its portals swung outwardly back, some white-apparelled object fell
rattling within his arms. It was the skeleton of his wife in her yet
A careful investigation rendered it evident that she had revived within
two days after her entombment; that her struggles within the coffin
had caused it to fall from a ledge, or shelf to the floor, where it
was so broken as to permit her escape. A lamp which had been accidentally
left, full of oil, within the tomb, was found empty; it might have
been exhausted, however, by evaporation. On the uttermost of the steps
which led down into the dread chamber was a large fragment of the
coffin, with which, it seemed, that she had endeavored to arrest attention
by striking the iron door. While thus occupied, she probably swooned,
or possibly died, through sheer terror; and, in failing, her shroud
became entangled in some iron -- work which projected interiorly.
Thus she remained, and thus she rotted, erect.
In the year 1810, a case of living inhumation happened in France,
attended with circumstances which go far to warrant the assertion
that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. The heroine of the story
was a Mademoiselle Victorine Lafourcade, a young girl of illustrious
family, of wealth, and of great personal beauty. Among her numerous
suitors was Julien Bossuet, a poor litterateur, or journalist of Paris.
His talents and general amiability had recommended him to the notice
of the heiress, by whom he seems to have been truly beloved; but her
pride of birth decided her, finally, to reject him, and to wed a Monsieur
Renelle, a banker and a diplomatist of some eminence. After marriage,
however, this gentleman neglected, and, perhaps, even more positively
ill-treated her. Having passed with him some wretched years, she died,
- -- at least her condition so closely resembled death as to deceive
every one who saw her. She was buried - -- not in a vault, but in
an ordinary grave in the village of her nativity. Filled with despair,
and still inflamed by the memory of a profound attachment, the lover
journeys from the capital to the remote province in which the village
lies, with the romantic purpose of disinterring the corpse, and possessing
himself of its luxuriant tresses. He reaches the grave. At midnight
he unearths the coffin, opens it, and is in the act of detaching the
hair, when he is arrested by the unclosing of the beloved eyes. In
fact, the lady had been buried alive. Vitality had not altogether
departed, and she was aroused by the caresses of her lover from the
lethargy which had been mistaken for death. He bore her frantically
to his lodgings in the village. He employed certain powerful restoratives
suggested by no little medical learning. In fine, she revived. She
recognized her preserver. She remained with him until, by slow degrees,
she fully recovered her original health. Her woman's heart was not
adamant, and this last lesson of love sufficed to soften it. She bestowed
it upon Bossuet. She returned no more to her husband, but, concealing
from him her resurrection, fled with her lover to America. Twenty
years afterward, the two returned to France, in the persuasion that
time had so greatly altered the lady's appearance that her friends
would be unable to recognize her. They were mistaken, however, for,
at the first meeting, Monsieur Renelle did actually recognize and
make claim to his wife. This claim she resisted, and a judicial tribunal
sustained her in her resistance, deciding that the peculiar circumstances,
with the long lapse of years, had extinguished, not only equitably,
but legally, the authority of the husband.
The "Chirurgical Journal" of Leipsic -- a periodical of
high authority and merit, which some American bookseller would do
well to translate and republish, records in a late number a very distressing
event of the character in question.
An officer of artillery, a man of gigantic stature and of robust health,
being thrown from an unmanageable horse, received a very severe contusion
upon the head, which rendered him insensible at once; the skull was
slightly fractured, but no immediate danger was apprehended. Trepanning
was accomplished successfully. He was bled, and many other of the
ordinary means of relief were adopted. Gradually, however, he fell
into a more and more hopeless state of stupor, and, finally, it was
thought that he died.
The weather was warm, and he was buried with indecent haste in one
of the public cemeteries. His funeral took place on Thursday. On the
Sunday following, the grounds of the cemetery were, as usual, much
thronged with visiters, and about noon an intense excitement was created
by the declaration of a peasant that, while sitting upon the grave
of the officer, he had distinctly felt a commotion of the earth, as
if occasioned by some one struggling beneath. At first little attention
was paid to the man's asseveration; but his evident terror, and the
dogged obstinacy with which he persisted in his story, had at length
their natural effect upon the crowd. Spades were hurriedly procured,
and the grave, which was shamefully shallow, was in a few minutes
so far thrown open that the head of its occupant appeared. He was
then seemingly dead; but he sat nearly erect within his coffin, the
lid of which, in his furious struggles, he had partially uplifted.
He was forthwith conveyed to the nearest hospital, and there pronounced
to be still living, although in an asphytic condition. After some
hours he revived, recognized individuals of his acquaintance, and,
in broken sentences spoke of his agonies in the grave.
From what he related, it was clear that he must have been conscious
of life for more than an hour, while inhumed, before lapsing into
insensibility. The grave was carelessly and loosely filled with an
exceedingly porous soil; and thus some air was necessarily admitted.
He heard the footsteps of the crowd overhead, and endeavored to make
himself heard in turn. It was the tumult within the grounds of the
cemetery, he said, which appeared to awaken him from a deep sleep,
but no sooner was he awake than he became fully aware of the awful
horrors of his position.
This patient, it is recorded, was doing well and seemed to be in a
fair way of ultimate recovery, but fell a victim to the quackeries
of medical experiment. The galvanic battery was applied, and he suddenly
expired in one of those ecstatic paroxysms which, occasionally, it
The mention of the galvanic battery, nevertheless, recalls to my memory
a well known and very extraordinary case in point, where its action
proved the means of restoring to animation a young attorney of London,
who had been interred for two days. This occurred in 1831, and created,
at the time, a very profound sensation wherever it was made the subject
The patient, Mr. Edward Stapleton, had died, apparently of typhus
fever, accompanied with some anomalous symptoms which had excited
the curiosity of his medical attendants. Upon his seeming decease,
his friends were requested to sanction a post-mortem examination,
but declined to permit it. As often happens, when such refusals are
made, the practitioners resolved to disinter the body and dissect
it at leisure, in private. Arrangements were easily effected with
some of the numerous corps of body-snatchers, with which London abounds;
and, upon the third night after the funeral, the supposed corpse was
unearthed from a grave eight feet deep, and deposited in the opening
chamber of one of the private hospitals.
An incision of some extent had been actually made in the abdomen,
when the fresh and undecayed appearance of the subject suggested an
application of the battery. One experiment succeeded another, and
the customary effects supervened, with nothing to characterize them
in any respect, except, uponone or two occasions, a more than ordinary
degree of life-likeness in the convulsive action.
It grew late. The day was about to dawn; and it was thought expedient,
at length, to proceed at once to the dissection. A student, however,
was especially desirous of testing a theory of his own, and insisted
upon applying the battery to one of the pectoral muscles. A rough
gash was made, and a wire hastily brought in contact, when the patient,
with a hurried but quite unconvulsive movement, arose from the table,
stepped into the middle of the floor, gazed about him uneasily for
a few seconds, and then -- spoke. What he said was unintelligible,
but words were uttered; the syllabification was distinct. Having spoken,
he fell heavily to the floor.
For some moments all were paralyzed with awe -- but the urgency of
the case soon restored them their presence of mind. It was seen that
Mr. Stapletonwas alive, although in a swoon. Upon exhibition of ether
he revived and was rapidly restored to health, and to the society
of his friends -- from whom, however, all knowledge of his resuscitation
was withheld, until a relapse was no longer to be apprehended. Their
wonder -- their rapturous astonishment -- may be conceived.
The most thrilling peculiarity of this incident, nevertheless, is
involved in what Mr. S. himself asserts. He declares that at no period
was he altogether insensible -- that, dully and confusedly, he was
aware of everything which happened to him, from the moment in which
he was pronounced dead by his physicians, to that in which he fell
swooning to the floor of the hospital. "I am alive," were
the uncomprehended words which, upon recognizing the locality of the
dissecting-room, he had endeavored, in his extremity, to utter.
It were an easy matter to multiply such histories as these -- but
I forbear -- for, indeed, we have no need of such to establish the
fact that premature interments occur. When we reflect how very rarely,
from the nature of the case, we have it in our power to detect them,
we must admit that they may frequently occur without our cognizance.
Scarcely, in truth, is a graveyard ever encroached upon, for any purpose,
to any great extent, that skeletons are not found in postures which
suggest the most fearful of suspicions.
Fearful indeed the suspicion -- but more fearful the doom! It may
be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well
adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress,
as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs
-- the stifling fumes from the damp earth -- the clinging to the death
garments -- the rigid embrace of the narrow house -- the blackness
of the absolute Night -- the silence like a sea that overwhelms --
the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm -- these things,
with the thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear
friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and
with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed --
that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead -- these considerations,
I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling
and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must
recoil. We know of nothing so agonizing upon Earth -- we can dream
of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell. And
thus all narratives upon this topic have an interest profound; an
interest, nevertheless, which, through the sacred awe of the topic
itself, very properly and very peculiarly depends upon our conviction
of the truth of the matter narrated. What I have now to tell is of
my own actual knowledge -- of my own positive and personal experience.
For several years I had been subject to attacks of the singular disorder
which physicians have agreed to term catalepsy, in default of a more
definitive title. Although both the immediate and the predisposing
causes, and even the actual diagnosis, of this disease are still mysterious,
its obvious and apparent character is sufficiently well understood.
Its variations seem to be chiefly of degree. Sometimes the patient
lies, for a day only, or even for a shorter period, in a species of
exaggerated lethargy. He is senseless and externally motionless; but
the pulsation of the heart is still faintly perceptible; some traces
of warmth remain; a slight color lingers within the centre of the
cheek; and, upon application of a mirror to the lips, we can detect
a torpid, unequal, and vacillating action of the lungs. Then again
the duration of the trance is for weeks -- even for months; while
the closest scrutiny, and the most rigorous medical tests, fail to
establish any material distinction between the state of the sufferer
and what we conceive of absolute death. Very usually he is saved from
premature interment solely by the knowledge of his friends that he
has been previously subject to catalepsy, by the consequent suspicion
excited, and, above all, by the non-appearance of decay. The advances
of the malady are, luckily, gradual. The first manifestations, although
marked, are unequivocal. The fits grow successively more and more
distinctive, and endure each for a longer term than the preceding.
In this lies the principal security from inhumation. The unfortunate
whose first attack should be of the extreme character which is occasionally
seen, would almost inevitably be consigned alive to the tomb.
My own case differed in no important particular from those mentioned
in medical books. Sometimes, without any apparent cause, I sank, little
by little, into a condition of hemi-syncope, or half swoon; and, in
this condition, without pain, without ability to stir, or, strictly
speaking, to think, but with a dull lethargic consciousness of life
and of the presence of those who surrounded my bed, I remained, until
the crisis of the disease restored me, suddenly, to perfect sensation.
At other times I was quickly and impetuously smitten. I grew sick,
and numb, and chilly, and dizzy, and so fell prostrate at once. Then,
for weeks, all was void, and black, and silent, and Nothing became
the universe. Total annihilation could be no more. From these latter
attacks I awoke, however, with a gradation slow in proportion to the
suddenness of the seizure. Just as the day dawns to the friendless
and houseless beggar who roams the streets throughout the long desolate
winter night -- just so tardily -- just so wearily -- just so cheerily
came back the light of the Soul to me.
Apart from the tendency to trance, however, my general health appeared
to be good; nor could I perceive that it was at all affected by the
one prevalent malady -- unless, indeed, an idiosyncrasy in my ordinary
sleep may be looked upon as superinduced. Upon awaking from slumber,
I could never gain, at once, thorough possession of my senses, and
always remained, for many minutes, in much bewilderment and perplexity;
-- the mental faculties in general, but the memory in especial, being
in a condition of absolute abeyance.
In all that I endured there was no physical suffering but of moral
distress an infinitude. My fancy grew charnel, I talked "of worms,
of tombs, and epitaphs." I was lost in reveries of death, and
the idea of premature burial held continual possession of my brain.
The ghastly Danger to which I was subjected haunted me day and night.
In the former, the torture of meditation was excessive -- in the latter,
supreme. When the grim Darkness overspread the Earth, then, with every
horror of thought, I shook -- shook as the quivering plumes upon the
hearse. When Nature could endure wakefulness no longer, it was with
a struggle that I consented to sleep -- for I shuddered to reflect
that, upon awaking, I might find myself the tenant of a grave. And
when, finally, I sank into slumber, it was only to rush at once into
a world of phantasms, above which, with vast, sable, overshadowing
wing, hovered, predominant, the one sepulchral Idea.
From the innumerable images of gloom which thus oppressed me in dreams,
I select for record but a solitary vision. Methought I was immersed
in a cataleptic trance of more than usual duration and profundity.
Suddenly there came an icy hand upon my forehead, and an impatient,
gibbering voice whispered the word "Arise!" within my ear.
I sat erect. The darkness was total. I could not see the figure of
him who had aroused me. I could call to mind neither the period at
which I had fallen into the trance, nor the locality in which I then
lay. While I remained motionless, and busied in endeavors to collect
my thought, the cold hand grasped me fiercely by the wrist, shaking
it petulantly, while the gibbering voice said again:
"Arise! did I not bid thee arise?"
"And who," I demanded, "art thou?"
"I have no name in the regions which I inhabit," replied
the voice, mournfully; "I was mortal, but am fiend. I was merciless,
but am pitiful. Thou dost feel that I shudder. -- My teeth chatter
as I speak, yet it is not with the chilliness of the night -- of the
night without end. But this hideousness is insufferable. How canst
thou tranquilly sleep? I cannot rest for the cry of these great agonies.
These sights are more than I can bear. Get thee up! Come with me into
the outer Night, and let me unfold to thee the graves. Is not this
a spectacle of woe? -- Behold!"
I looked; and the unseen figure, which still grasped me by the wrist,
had caused to be thrown open the graves of all mankind, and from each
issued the faint phosphoric radiance of decay, so that I could see
into the innermost recesses, and there view the shrouded bodies in
their sad and solemn slumbers with the worm. But alas! the real sleepers
were fewer, by many millions, than those who slumbered not at all;
and there was a feeble struggling; and there was a general sad unrest;
and from out the depths of the countless pits there came a melancholy
rustling from the garments of the buried. And of those who seemed
tranquilly to repose, I saw that a vast number had changed, in a greater
or less degree, the rigid and uneasy position in which they had originally
been entombed. And the voice again said to me as I gazed:
"Is it not -- oh! is it not a pitiful sight?" -- but, before
I could find words to reply, the figure had ceased to grasp my wrist,
the phosphoric lights expired, and the graves were closed with a sudden
violence, while from out them arose a tumult of despairing cries,
saying again: "Is it not -- O, God, is it not a very pitiful
Phantasies such as these, presenting themselves at night, extended
their terrific influence far into my waking hours. My nerves became
thoroughly unstrung, and I fell a prey to perpetual horror. I hesitated
to ride, or to walk, or to indulge in any exercise that would carry
me from home. In fact, I no longer dared trust myself out of the immediate
presence of those who were aware of my proneness to catalepsy, lest,
falling into one of my usual fits, I should be buried before my real
condition could be ascertained. I doubted the care, the fidelity of
my dearest friends. I dreaded that, in some trance of more than customary
duration, they might be prevailed upon to regard me as irrecoverable.
I even went so far as to fear that, as I occasioned much trouble,
they might be glad to consider any very protracted attack as sufficient
excuse for getting rid of me altogether. It was in vain they endeavored
to reassure me by the most solemn promises. I exacted the most sacred
oaths, that under no circumstances they would bury me until decomposition
had so materially advanced as to render farther preservation impossible.
And, even then, my mortal terrors would listen to no reason -- would
accept no consolation. I entered into a series of elaborate precautions.
Among other things, I had the family vault so remodelled as to admit
of being readily opened from within. The slightest pressure upon a
long lever that extended far into the tomb would cause the iron portal
to fly back. There were arrangements also for the free admission of
air and light, and convenient receptacles for food and water, within
immediate reach of the coffin intended for my reception. This coffin
was warmly and softly padded, and was provided with a lid, fashioned
upon the principle of the vault-door, with the addition of springs
so contrived that the feeblest movement of the body would be sufficient
to set it at liberty. Besides all this, there was suspended from the
roof of the tomb, a large bell, the rope of which, it was designed,
should extend through a hole in the coffin, and so be fastened to
one of the hands of the corpse. But, alas? what avails the vigilance
against the Destiny of man? Not even these well-contrived securities
sufficed to save from the uttermost agonies of living inhumation,
a wretch to these agonies foredoomed!
There arrived an epoch -- as often before there had arrived -- in
which I found myself emerging from total unconsciousness into the
first feeble and indefinite sense of existence. Slowly -- with a tortoise
gradation -- approached the faint gray dawn of the psychal day. A
torpid uneasiness. An apathetic endurance of dull pain. No care --
no hope -- no effort. Then, after a long interval, a ringing in the
ears; then, after a lapse still longer, a prickling or tingling sensation
in the extremities; then a seemingly eternal period of pleasurable
quiescence, during which the awakening feelings are struggling into
thought; then a brief re-sinking into non-entity; then a sudden recovery.
At length the slight quivering of an eyelid, and immediately thereupon,
an electric shock of a terror, deadly and indefinite, which sends
the blood in torrents from the temples to the heart. And now the first
positive effort to think. And now the first endeavor to remember.
And now a partial and evanescent success. And now the memory has so
far regained its dominion, that, in some measure, I am cognizant of
my state. I feel that I am not awaking from ordinary sleep. I recollect
that I have been subject to catalepsy. And now, at last, as if by
the rush of an ocean, my shuddering spirit is overwhelmed by the one
grim Danger -- by the one spectral and ever-prevalent idea.
For some minutes after this fancy possessed me, I remained without
motion. And why? I could not summon courage to move. I dared not make
the effort which was to satisfy me of my fate -- and yet there was
something at my heart which whispered me it was sure. Despair -- such
as no other species of wretchedness ever calls into being -- despair
alone urged me, after long irresolution, to uplift the heavy lids
of my eyes. I uplifted them. It was dark -- all dark. I knew that
the fit was over. I knew that the crisis of my disorder had long passed.
I knew that I had now fully recovered the use of my visual faculties
-- and yet it was dark -- all dark -- the intense and utter raylessness
of the Night that endureth for evermore.
I endeavored to shriek-, and my lips and my parched tongue moved convulsively
together in the attempt -- but no voice issued from the cavernous
lungs,which oppressed as if by the weight of some incumbent mountain,
gasped and palpitated, with the heart, at every elaborate and struggling
The movement of the jaws, in this effort to cry aloud, showed me that
they were bound up, as is usual with the dead. I felt, too, that I
lay upon some hard substance, and by something similar my sides were,
also, closely compressed. So far, I had not ventured to stir any of
my limbs -- but now I violently threw up my arms, which had been lying
at length, with the wrists crossed. They struck a solid wooden substance,
which extended above my person at an elevation of not more than six
inches from my face. I could no longer doubt that I reposed within
a coffin at last.
And now, amid all my infinite miseries, came sweetly the cherub Hope
-- for I thought of my precautions. I writhed, and made spasmodic
exertions to force open the lid: it would not move. I felt my wrists
for the bell-rope: it was not to be found. And now the Comforter fled
for ever, and a still sterner Despair reigned triumphant; for I could
not help perceiving the absence of the paddings which I had so carefully
prepared -- and then, too, there came suddenly to my nostrils the
strong peculiar odor of moist earth. The conclusion was irresistible.
I was not within the vault. I had fallen into a trance while absent
from home-while among strangers -- when, or how, I could not remember
-- and it was they who had buried me as a dog -- nailed up in some
common coffin -- and thrust deep, deep, and for ever, into some ordinary
and nameless grave.
As this awful conviction forced itself, thus, into the innermost chambers
of my soul, I once again struggled to cry aloud. And in this second
endeavor I succeeded. A long, wild, and continuous shriek, or yell
of agony, resounded through the realms of the subterranean Night.
"Hillo! hillo, there!" said a gruff voice, in reply.
"What the devil's the matter now!" said a second.
"Get out o' that!" said a third.
"What do you mean by yowling in that ere kind of style, like
a cattymount?" said a fourth; and hereupon I was seized and shaken
without ceremony, for several minutes, by a junto of very rough-looking
individuals. They did not arouse me from my slumber -- for I was wide
awake when I screamed -- but they restored me to the full possession
of my memory.
This adventure occurred near Richmond, in Virginia. Accompanied by
a friend, I had proceeded, upon a gunning expedition, some miles down
the banks of the James River. Night approached, and we were overtaken
by a storm. The cabin of a small sloop lying at anchor in the stream,
and laden with garden mould, afforded us the only available shelter.
We made the best of it, and passed the night on board. I slept in
one of the only two berths in the vessel -- and the berths of a sloop
of sixty or twenty tons need scarcely be described. That which I occupied
had no bedding of any kind. Its extreme width was eighteen inches.
The distance of its bottom from the deck overhead was precisely the
same. I found it a matter of exceeding difficulty to squeeze myself
in. Nevertheless, I slept soundly, and the whole of my vision -- for
it was no dream, and no nightmare -- arose naturally from the circumstances
of my position -- from my ordinary bias of thought -- and from the
difficulty, to which I have alluded, of collecting my senses, and
especially of regaining my memory, for a long time after awaking from
slumber. The men who shook me were the crew of the sloop, and some
laborers engaged to unload it. From the load itself came the earthly
smell. The bandage about the jaws was a silk handkerchief in which
I had bound up my head, in default of my customary nightcap.
The tortures endured, however, were indubitably quite equal for the
time, to those of actual sepulture. They were fearfully -- they were
inconceivably hideous; but out of Evil proceeded Good; for their very
excess wrought in my spirit an inevitable revulsion. My soul acquired
tone -- acquired temper. I went abroad. I took vigorous exercise.
I breathed the free air of Heaven. I thought upon other subjects than
Death. I discarded my medical books. "Buchan" I burned.
I read no "Night Thoughts" -- no fustian about churchyards
-- no bugaboo tales -- such as this. In short, I became a new man,
and lived a man's life. From that memorable night, I dismissed forever
my charnel apprehensions, and with them vanished the cataleptic disorder,
of which, perhaps, they had been less the consequence than the cause.
There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world
of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell -- but the
imagination of man is no Carathis, to explore with impunity its every
cavern. Alas! the grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot be regarded
as altogether fanciful -- but, like the Demons in whose company Afrasiab
made his voyage down the Oxus, they must sleep, or they will devour
us -- they must be suffered to slumber, or we perish.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849):
Der Rabe -
Ein Traum in einem Traum -
A Dream Within a Dream
Die Maske des Roten Todes -
The Masque of the Red Death
Der Schwarze Kater -
The Black Cat
Lebendig Begraben -
The Premature Burial
The Works of Edgar Allan Poe
The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore