Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Poe was born at Boston in 1809, and left an orphan while still in his infancy. He was adopted by a tobacco merchant and taken to Virginia. As a child he was sent to England for his early education, returning to Richmond in 1820. He attended the University of Virginia, but was forced to leave because of his weakness for drink and gambling. He engaged in editorial work for some time, wrote verses, criticism, and short stories.
The stories of Poe are justly regarded as among the world’s very finest examples of the form. He was influenced to a certain extent by the fantastic tales of the German, Hoffmann, and in turn he influenced nearly every writer, especially the Europeans, since his day. He brought the short story to a point of technical perfection which has never been surpassed.
The Tell-Tale Heart first appeared in a magazine in 1843, and is reprinted from the Collected Works.
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 sharp- rued 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.
It is impossible to tell how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none.
I passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me.
I 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 brever.
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. Hut you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work!
I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it—oh, so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly very, very slowly, so that I might-not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha!—would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously oh, so cautiously cautiously (for the hinges creaked) I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights every night jSst at midnight—but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.