THE TELL-TALE HEART A MURDERER’S CONFESSION
By Edgar Allan Poe
THE TELL-TALE HEART, by Edgar Allen Poe, in his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,1840, and reprinted in Robert I. Fulton’s Standard Selections, pp. 426-431.
Edgar Allen Poe （1808-1849）, American author. He is one of the world’s greatest writers of short stories; his stories have always had special appreciation in France.
True! —nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? Hearken! 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! 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 my life of him 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 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 the 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 was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his evil eye.
Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on 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 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 the bed crying out—“Who’s there?”
I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down.
Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal 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. 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.
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 single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell 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 spot.
Now, 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 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, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst.
And now a new anxiety seized me—the sound could be heard by a neighbour! 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 vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.
If you still 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 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.
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 I now to fear? Then entered three men who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and 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 here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity 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. 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; it continued and gained definitiveness—until at length I found that the noise was not within my ears.
No doubt I grew very pale; but I talked more fluently 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 vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. Why would 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. O God! what could I do? I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, 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?
They heard! —they suspected! —they knew! —they were making a mockery of my horror! this I thought and this I think. But anything was 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 I louder! louder! louder! louder!
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed—tear up the planks! here! here! it is the beating of his hideous heart!”
healthily, sanely, not madly; like a sane, healthy person.
haunted, remained with me to bother me.
object, ulterior motive for killing the old man; something that he had hoped to get from the killing of the old man.
passion, strong emotion, like an outburst of anger, or hatred.
gold, money or riches.
vulture, large bird allied to hawks, eagles, falcons, but having weaker claws, and the head usually naked. Vultures live largely on carrion, the dead or putrefying body or flesh of animals.
film, dull, transparent layer or cover.
my blood ran cold, within me was the feeling of fear.
take the llfe, killed.
caution, care; watchfulness.
foresight, prudent care for the future, looking ahead.
dissimulation, hiding of his true feelings under a false front; feigning.
latch, the catch which holds the door closed; the moveable piece which holds the door in place, though it be not bolted.
cautiously, guardedly, carefully so as to avoid danger.
hinges, the joint on which the door turns or swings.
creaked, make a sharp, prolonged squeaking sound.
chuckled, laughed in a suppressed manner, as from inward satisfaction.
startled, moved suddenly as in surprise, fear, or alarm.
black as pitch. Pitch, which occurs naturally as asphalt, is a black, thick, sticky substance.
shutters, the moveable covers or screens of windows.
stifled, suppressed; smothered; choked.
overcharged, filled too full.
causeless, as not caused by anything.
crevice, a narrow opening resulting from a crack or split.
chilled the very marrow in my bones, put me in the greatest fear. Marrow is the soft tissue which fills the cavities of most bones.
enveloped, wrapped; covered completely.
stimulates, excites; spurs on.
refrained, held back; curbed myself.
tattoo, beating sound.
muffled, deadened, as if something had been wrapped around it.
vex, annoy; disturb.
corpse, dead body.
pulsation, beat; throb.
stone dead, very much dead; as lifeless as a stone.
waned, grew diminished; decreased; drew to a close.
dismembered, tore apart, limb from limb; cut limb from limb.
planks, heavy thick boards.
scantlings, the small beams that support the planks.
detected, discovered; found out.
light heart, a happy heart, a heart not burdened by care or worry ; the opposite of a heavy heart.
perfect suavity, faultless, complete agreeableness; very pleasing politeness; great courtesy of manners.
foul play, dishonorable conduct, especially implying murder.
lodged, given to; placed.
deputed, sent; ordered.
premises, the building.
heightened voice, louder, more excited voice.
grated, moved the chair across the boards so as to make a harsh and rasping sound.
mockery, derision or sport or jest of his horror.
agony, extreme pain.
derision, ridicule, insult, scorn.
hypocritical, false, deceiving, dissembling.
villains, scoundrels; rascals.
dissemble, pretend; disguise ; feign; conceal.
- What causes the murderer to kill the old man?
- How does he plan the murder?
- What sound finally incites him to the deed?
- How does he hide the corpse?
- How does he meet the police?
- Why does he betray himself? Was he mad?