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Valdemar continued for seven months. Death was so far arrested. At the end of that time it was resolved to awaken him. Poe made the necessary passes, and then said—
“M. Valdemar, can you explain to us what are your feelings or wishes now * *
There was an instant return of the hectic circles on the cheeks; the tongue quivered, or rather rolled violently in the mouth, though the jaws and lips remained rigid as before. At length the same hideous voice which I have already described broke forth :—
‘For God's sake, quick quick 1–put me to sleep, or quick waken me!—quick —I say to you that I am dead!’
I was thoroughly unnerved, and for an instant remained undecided what to do. At first I made an endeavour to recompose the patient; but failing in this, I retraced my steps, and earnestly struggled to awaken him. In this attempt I soon saw that I should be successful, and I am sure that all in the room were prepared to see the patient awaken.
For what really occurred, however, it is quite impossible that any human being could have been prepared.
As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid ejaculations of “Dead dead l’ actually bursting from the tongue, and not from the lips, of the sufferer, his whole frame at once—within the space of a single minute, or even less—shrunk, crumbled, actually rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome—of detestable putrescence.
One of Poe's most striking tales is entitled A Descent into the Maelström. It is told, like most of his stories, in the first person. In company with an old Norwegian fisherman, the writer tells us he climbed to the top of an enormous crag upon the coast of Lofoden, commanding an extensive seaview:—
We had caught no glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing sound, like the moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an American prairie; and at the same moment I perceived that what seamen call the chopping character of the ocean beneath us was rapidly changing into a current which set to the eastward. Even while I gazed this current acquired a monstrous velocity. In five minutes the whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was lashed into ungovernable fury; but it was between Moskoe and the coast that the main uproar held its sway. Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into a frenzied convulsion—heaving, boiling, hissing—gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes, except in precipitous descents. In a few minutes more there came over the scene another radical alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the whirlpools one by one disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks at length, spreading out to a great distance and entering into combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more vast. Suddenly—very suddenly—this assumed a distinct and definite existence, in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray ; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining, and jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to heaven. The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw myself upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of nervous agitation. ‘This,” said I, at length, to the old man—“this can be nothing else than the great whirlpool of the Maelström.'
The old man goes on to tell how he himself, in a little schooner, with two of his brothers, had been sucked into this tremendous whirl, the description of which given by Poe is, we need hardly tell our readers, very greatly exaggerated. It appears that at the turn of the tide the whirl ceases for a few minutes, and venturesome fishermen run the risk, when the wind is fair and strong, of pushing right across the Maelström. A great round is thus saved, and the finest fish are taken in extraordinary quantity. The old man’s watch had upon one occasion run down, and miscalculating the time, he and his brothers steered their little craft right upon the whirlpool. A terrible storm had uprisen suddenly, and the ström was in its most fearful power.
After flying before the wind, the schooner, on reaching the belt of foam which surrounds the whirl, suddenly turned off to one side, and flew round with tremendous velocity.
How often we made the circuit of the belt it is impossible for me to say. We careered round and round for perhaps an hour, flying rather than floating, getting gradually more and more into the centre of the surge, and then nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge. At length we gave a wild lurch to starboard, and rushed headlong into the abyss. I muttered a hurried prayer to God, and thought all was over.
As I felt the sickening sweep of the descent I had instinctively tightened my hold upon the barrel, and closed my eyes. For some seconds I dared not open them—while I expected instant destruction, and wondered that I was not already in my death. struggles with the water. But moment after moment elapsed. I still lived. The sense of falling had ceased ; and the motion of the vessel seemed much as it had been before while in the
belt of foam, with the exception that she now lay more along. I took courage and looked once again upon the scene. Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration, with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun round, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance which they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from the circular rift among the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the innermost recesses of the abyss. The rays of the moon seemed to search out the very bottom of the profound gulf; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was . enveloped. This mist or spray was no doubt occasioned by the clashing of the great walls of the funnel, as they all met together at the bottom; but the yell that went up to the heavens out of that abyss I dare not venture to describe. Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony in which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I have already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. I now began to watch with a strange interest the numerous things that floated in our company. I must have been delirious, for I even sought amusement in speculating upon the relative velocities of their several descents to the foam below. “This fir-tree,” I found myself at one time saying, “will certainly be the next thing to plunge and disappear;' and then I was disappointed to find that the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship overtook it and went down before it.
While in this position the old fisherman began to observe that the lighter objects in the whirl, such as
casks, were much longer in sliding down the slope of the funnel than heavy objects, such as the schooner. This afforded him some hope of escape. He therefore lashed himself to a cask and threw himself into the water, hoping that he might not be plunged into the abyss below before the turn of the tide:–
The result was precisely what I had hoped it would be. It might have been an hour or thereabout, after my quitting the schooner, when, having descended to a vast distance below me, it made three or four wild gyrations in rapid succession, and, bearing my loved brother with it, plunged headlong, at once and for ever, into the chaos of foam below. The barrel to which I was attached sunk very little farther than half the distance between the bottom of the gulf and the place where I leaped overboard, when a great change took place in the character of the whirlpool. The slope of the sides of the vast funnel became momently less and less steep. The gyrations of the whirl grew, gradually, less and less violent. By degrees, the froth and the mist disappeared, and the bottom of the gulf seemed slowly to uprise. The sky was clear, the wind had gone down, and the full moon was setting radiantly in the west, when I found myself on the surface of the ocean, in full view of the shores of Lofoden, and above the spot where the pool of the Moskoeström had been.
Of all Poe's tales, the one which he himself esteemed most highly is that entitled Ligeia. It is one of several which stand distinguished from his other tales by a peculiar character. In it, as in all his more powerful writings, the effect left on the mind is a feeling of awe and horror; but this feeling is in Ligeia produced by metaphysical means. Instead of the physical terror of the story of M. Valdemar, or the circumstantial dread of such a tale as the Descent into the Maelström, we
find in Ligeia and several other pieces strange and