"The Tell-Tale Heart"
By Edgar Allan Poe

Transcription, correction, editorial commentary, and markup by by Students and Staff of Marymount University, Hawa Sheikh-Adam, Austin Benson.
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Sources

Boston : J. R. Lowell and R. Carter, 1843Text for this digital edition drawn from The University of Virginia's etext center and checked against the first edition text using The Internet Archive. Page images are drawn from The Internet Archive's facsimile copy off The Pioneer: A Literary and Critical Magazine.

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Citation

Edgar Allan Poe. "The Tell-Tale Heart". The Pioneer, J. R. Lowell and R. Carter, 1843 , Volume I pp 29-31 . Literature in Context: An Open Anthology. http://anthology.lib.virginia.edu/work/Poe/poe-tell-tale. Accessed: 2024-06-23T09:18:27.14Z

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29 THE TELL-TALE HEART.

BY EDGAR A. POE
Art is long and Time is fleeting, And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still, like muffled drums, are beating Funeral marches to the grave. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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? Hearkenhearken and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

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! He had the eye 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 forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded — with what caution — with what foresight — with what dissimulationdissimulation 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, 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 just at midnight — but I found the eye always closed; and so it 30was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eyeevil_eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into his chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profoundprofound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers — of my sagacitysagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and the old man not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps the old man heard me; for he moved in the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back — but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had got my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out — "Who's there?"

I kept quite still and said nothing. For another hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear the old man lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; — just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death-watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortalmortal 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. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been, ever since, growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself — "It is nothing but the wind in the chimney — it is only a mouse crossing the floor," or "It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositionssupposition; but he had found all in vain. All in vain: because death, in approaching the old man, had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel — although he neither saw nor heard — to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little — a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it — you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily — until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open — wide, wide open — and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness — all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man's face or person; for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And now — have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses? — now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment: — do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: — so I am. And now, at the dead hour of the night, and amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable wrath. Yet, for some minutes longer, I refrained and kept still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst! And now a new anxiety seized me — the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once — once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vexvex me; it would not be heard through the walls. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsationpulsation. The old man was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If, still, you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.31 I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye — not even his — could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out — no stain of any kind — no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all — ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o'clock — still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, — for what had Inow to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavitysuavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police-office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, — for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search —search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them hereto rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacityaudacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling; but it continued and gained definiteness — until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; — but I talked more fluentlyfluently, 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. I talked more quickly — more vehementlyvehemently; — but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violentgesticulationsgesticulation; — but the noise steadily increased. Whywould they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro, with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men — but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed — I raved — I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had sat, and grated it upon the boards; — but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder — louder — louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! — no, no! They heard! — they suspected! — theyknew! — they were making a mockery of my horror! — this I thought, and this I think. But anything 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, "dissembledissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!!!"

hearkenTo hear with attention, give ear to; to listen to; to have regard to, heed; to understand, learn by hearing. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [HAS] dissimulationThe action of dissimulating or dissembling; concealment of what really is, under a feigned semblance of something different; feigning, hypocrisy. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.. - [HAS] evil_eye The Evil Eye is a ubiquitious cultural phenomenon referring to a glance "believed to have the ability to cause injury or death to those on whom it falls." - [AJB] profound Having great insight into or knowledge of something. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [AJB] sagacityAcuteness of mental discernment; aptitude for investigation or discovery; keenness and soundness of judgement in the estimation of persons and conditions, and in the adaptation of means to ends; penetration, shrewdness. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [HAS] mortal Of pain, grief, fear, or the like: such as might cause death; deadly in its effects. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [AJB] supposition An assumption (without reference to its truth or falsehood) used as a basis of argument, or for the purpose of tracing the consequences; a premise from which a conclusion is drawn. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [AJB] vexTo trouble, afflict, or harass (a person, etc.) by aggression, encroachment, or other interference with peace and quiet; to cause damage, detriment, or difficulty to. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [HAS] pulsationThe beating or throbbing of the pulse; rhythmical expansion and contraction of the heart, an artery, etc. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [HAS] suavityGracious; sweet; agreeable. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [HAS] audacity Boldness, daring, intrepidity; confidence. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [AJB] fluently With easy and ready flow of words. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [AJB] vehemently In a manner expressive of strong feeling, perturbation, or excitement; with strong or forceful language. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [AJB] gesticulationThe action or process of gesticulating; to make lively or energetic motions with the limbs or body; esp. as an accompaniment or in lieu of speech. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [HAS] dissemble To alter or disguise the semblance of (one's character, a feeling, design, or action) so as to conceal, or deceive as to, its real nature; to give a false or feigned semblance to; to cloak or disguise by a feigned appearance. Source: Oxford English Dictionary. - [HAS]

Footnotes

hearken_To hear with attention, give ear to; to listen to; to have regard to, heed; to understand, learn by hearing. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
dissimulation_The action of dissimulating or dissembling; concealment of what really is, under a feigned semblance of something different; feigning, hypocrisy. Source: Oxford English Dictionary..
evil_eye_ The Evil Eye is a ubiquitious cultural phenomenon referring to a glance "believed to have the ability to cause injury or death to those on whom it falls."
profound_ Having great insight into or knowledge of something. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
sagacity_Acuteness of mental discernment; aptitude for investigation or discovery; keenness and soundness of judgement in the estimation of persons and conditions, and in the adaptation of means to ends; penetration, shrewdness. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
mortal_ Of pain, grief, fear, or the like: such as might cause death; deadly in its effects. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
supposition_ An assumption (without reference to its truth or falsehood) used as a basis of argument, or for the purpose of tracing the consequences; a premise from which a conclusion is drawn. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
vex_To trouble, afflict, or harass (a person, etc.) by aggression, encroachment, or other interference with peace and quiet; to cause damage, detriment, or difficulty to. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
pulsation_The beating or throbbing of the pulse; rhythmical expansion and contraction of the heart, an artery, etc. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
suavity_Gracious; sweet; agreeable. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
audacity_ Boldness, daring, intrepidity; confidence. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
fluently_ With easy and ready flow of words. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
vehemently_ In a manner expressive of strong feeling, perturbation, or excitement; with strong or forceful language. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
gesticulation_The action or process of gesticulating; to make lively or energetic motions with the limbs or body; esp. as an accompaniment or in lieu of speech. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.
dissemble_ To alter or disguise the semblance of (one's character, a feeling, design, or action) so as to conceal, or deceive as to, its real nature; to give a false or feigned semblance to; to cloak or disguise by a feigned appearance. Source: Oxford English Dictionary.