Classics Translated

The Tell-Tale Heart

Edgar Allen Poe, originally published January 1843; translated to Modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

Who’s ready to hear another phenomenal narration by my amazing friend, Danie Dreadful? YouTube
Illustration by Harry Clarke

It is true! I had been – and am – very, dreadfully nervous, but why would you say that I am crazy? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed or dulled them. Above all was the acute hearing; I heard all things in the heavens and on the earth, and I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I crazy? Listen! and observe how sanely – how calmly – I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how the idea first entered my mind, but once it was there – it haunted me day and night. It was not because of an objective or hatred; I loved the old man. He had never wronged or insulted me; I had no desire for his gold. I think it was his eye! Yes, that was it! One of his eyes was like a vulture’s; it was pale blue and covered with film. Whenever it fell on me, my blood ran cold; very gradually, I made up my mind to take his life and be rid of the eye forever.

Now, this is the point where you think I am crazy. Madmen know nothing, but you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded with caution and foresight; no one could have guessed my intentions when I went to work! I had never been kinder to the old man than the week before I killed him. Every night – around midnight – I turned his doorknob and opened it very gently! When I had an opening big enough, I put in a dark, closed lantern before sticking in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I stuck it in! I moved very, very slowly, so the old man would not wake. It took an hour to place my head in far enough to see him lying on his bed. Ha! Would a madman have been this smart? Then, when my head was in the room, I opened the lantern with extreme caution to avoid the creaking hinges; I did it just enough for a single, thin ray to fall upon the vulture’s eye. I did this for seven long nights, but the eye was always closed, making it impossible to do the job; it was not the old man who irritated me but his Evil Eye. Every morning, I went into his room with confidence and spoke to him fearlessly – calling him by name in a friendly tone, and asking how his night was. He would have been very insightful to suspect that every night – just at twelve – I watched him sleep.

On the eighth night, I was even more cautious than usual when opening the door. A clock’s minute hand moves faster than mine did. Never before had I felt the extent of my own power and wisdom. I could hardly contain my feelings of victory. There I was, opening the door little by little, and he had no clue of my secret actions or thoughts. I laughed at the idea, and he may have heard me; he moved suddenly, as if startled. You may think that I withdrew – but no. His room was pitch black; the shutters were closed for fear of robbers, and – knowing he could not see the open door – I kept pushing on it steadily.

My head was in, and I was about to open the lantern when my thumb slipped on the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up, crying out. “Who’s there?”

I stayed quite still and said nothing. I did not move a muscle for a whole hour, and I did not hear him lie down. He was sitting up in the bed, listening – exactly as I have done night after night – listening to the signs of imminent death.

Then, I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief – oh, no! It was the low, muffled sound that comes from the bottom of the soul when it is filled with anguish; I knew the sound well. Many nights – at midnight – when all the world slept, it came from my own chest; it deepened with dreadful echoes and distracting fears. I knew what the old man felt and pitied him, although I laughed in my heart. He had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise when he rolled in the bed, and his fear had been growing ever since. He tried to convince himself it was nothing, but he could not; he tried thinking, “It is only the wind in the chimney, or a mouse crossing the floor, or a cricket chirping.”

He tried to comfort himself with these thoughts, but his efforts were in vain. All in vain, because Death’s black shadow had already consumed its victim, and it was the sorrowful influence of the unseen shadow that caused him to feel my presence in the room.

When I had waited patiently for a long time without hearing him lie down, I decided to open a very thin slit in the lantern. You cannot imagine how stealthily I opened it until a single, dim ray – like a spider’s web – shot out from the crack and fell upon the vulture eye.

It was wide open, and I grew furious at the sight. I saw it perfectly – a dull blue, covered with a hideous film that chilled me to be bone; I could see nothing else of the old man since the ray of light fell directly on that damned spot.

Did I not say that you would mistake acute senses for madness? Then, I heard a low, quick sound – like a watch makes when wrapped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the old man’s heart beating. It increased my fury just as the beating of a drum inspired a soldier’s courage.

Even then, I remained motionless, scarcely breathing. I held the lantern steady, keeping the ray of light trained on the eye. Meanwhile, the hellish beating of his heart increased, growing quicker and louder every second. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder every moment! Do you understand? I have told you that I am nervous, and I am. At that late hour of the night – among the dreadful silence in that old house – this noise drove me to complete terror. I stood still for several more minutes, but the beating grew louder! I thought his heart would burst, and a new worry gripped me; the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s time had come; with a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leapt into the room! He only shrieked once; in an instant, I dragged him to the floor and pulled the heavy bed over him. Then I smiled happily, glad the deed was done, but – for many minutes – the heart continued its muffled beat. This, however, did not bother me; it would not be heard through the wall. Eventually, it stopped; the old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, cold dead. I placed my hand on the heart and held it there for several minutes. There was no pulse; he was dead, and his eye would no longer trouble me.

If you still believe I am crazy, you will not think so after I describe the wise precautions I took when hiding the body. As the night wore on, I worked hastily but in silence. First of all, I dismembered the corpse by cutting off the head, arms, and legs.

Then, I removed three planks from the living room floor and deposited everything between the joists. Next, I replaced the boards so perfectly that no human eye – not even his – could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash – no stains or blood whatsoever. I had been too cautious for that; all was done in the tub – haha!

When I finished these chores, it was four o ‘clock and still dark as midnight. As the bell announced the hour, there was a knock at the door. I went down to open it with a light heart – after all, what was there to fear now? Three men entered and introduced themselves as police officers. During the night, a shriek was heard by a neighbor, and there was suspicion of foul play. A report was filed at the police station, and the officers were sent to search the premises.

I smiled; what was there to worry about? I welcomed the gentlemen, saying the shriek had been my own – caused by a dream – and I mentioned the old man was visiting the countryside. I took my visitors all over the house, telling them to search well. I led them to his chamber and showed them his valuables – secure and undisturbed. In the excitement of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room – inviting them to rest – and placed my own seat directly above the hidden corpse.

The officers were satisfied; my demeanor had convinced them, and I was completely at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerfully, they chatted about familiar things. Though, before long, I felt myself getting pale and wished they would leave. My head ached, and there was a ringing in my ears, but still they remained. The ringing became more distinct as it continued – and I talked more to be rid of the feeling – but it persisted and grew louder. Finally, I realized the noise was not in my mind.

There is no doubt I grew very pale, but I talked faster with a louder voice. Still, the sound increased – and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound – very close to the sound a watch makes when wrapped in cotton. I gasped for breath, yet the officers did not hear it. I talked faster – more intensely, but the noise steadily increased. I stood, arguing insignificant matters in a high voice with wild gestures, but the noise increased. Why would they not leave? I paced with heavy strides – as if infuriated by the men’s observations, but the noise continued increasing. Oh God! What could I do? I ranted, raved, and swore! I threw my chair, and it struck the boards, but the noise rose above it all and still increased. It grew louder, louder, and louder, but still the men chatted – smiling pleasantly. Was it possible they did not hear it?… Almighty God!… No, no!… They heard!… They suspected!… They knew!… They were mocking my terror!… This is what I thought, and what I still think, but anything was better than that agony! Anything was more tolerable than their ridicule! I could not bear those hypocritical smiles any longer! It felt like I must scream or die! Now – again!… Listen! Louder, louder, louder!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “mock me no more! I admit it! Tear up the planks! Here, here! It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

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