The Pit and the Pendulum

Oded Wolkstein On:

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Pit and the Pendulum” is Edgar Allan Poe’s definitive horror story. A pendulum – on which a blade is steadily dangling from its edge, down from the ceiling and toward the narrator’s bare chest – summarizes with a single spine-tingling image the great horror which seeps through Poe’s tales: it is the terror that creeps by acknowledging a clock with no hands; a monotonous ticking of a blind mechanism. It is the course of empty time, glancing with endless indifference at the desperate human trials in distinguishing one moment from the next, finding a meaning, telling a story.

Poe’s narrator surrenders to the movement of the pendulum, as a believer kneeling before his maker, while at the same time he is enchanted, as a child by a shiny new toy. Nevertheless, he struggles.

In one of his essays, Poe claims that poetry is the history of human struggle in monotony. An attentive reading of “The Pit and the Pendulum” would reveal this narrator’s own song, which is a pendulum in motion. He captures it with the exchange of images, and with the rhythm of his sentences. Poe believes that it is a losing battle; monotony will prevail. However, each trial – to have monotony put away – creates a measure of horrifying beauty, as the one in this story.