The Fall Of The House Of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

by Edgar Allan Poe

Son coeur est un luth suspendu;
Sitot qu’on le touche il resonne.
De Beranger.

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of
the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, had
been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of
country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew
on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it
was –but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of
insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the
feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because

poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the
sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the
scene before me –upon the mere house, and the simple landscape
features of the domain –upon the bleak walls –upon the vacant
eye-like windows –upon a few rank sedges –and upon a few white
trunks of decayed trees –with an utter depression of soul which I can
compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the
after-dream of the reveller upon opium –the bitter lapse into
everyday life-the hideous dropping off of the reveller upon opium
–the bitter lapse into everyday life –the hideous dropping off of
the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart
–an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the
imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it –I
paused to think –what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation
of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I
grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I
was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that
while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural
objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the
analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth.
It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the
particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be
sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for
sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to
the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in
unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down –but with a
shudder even more thrilling than before –upon the remodelled and
inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the
vacant and eye-like windows.
Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a
sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one of
my boon companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our
last meeting. A letter, however, had lately reached me in a distant
part of the country –a letter from him –which, in its wildly
importunate nature, had admitted of no other than a personal reply.
The MS. gave evidence of nervous agitation. The writer spoke of
acute bodily illness –of a mental disorder which oppressed him
–and of an earnest desire to see me, as his best, and indeed his only
personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness of
my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in which
all this, and much more, was said –it the apparent heart that went
with his request –which allowed me no room for hesitation; and I
accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still considered a very singular
Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet
really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive
and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had
been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of
temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of
exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of
munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate
devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the orthodox
and easily recognisable beauties, of musical science. I had learned,
too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all
time-honoured as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring
branch; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct
line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary
variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while
running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the
premises with the accredited character of the people, and while
speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long
lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other –it was
this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent
undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with
the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge
the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal
appellation of the “House of Usher” –an appellation which seemed to
include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family
and the family mansion.
I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish
experiment –that of looking down within the tarn –had been to deepen
the first singular impression. There can be no doubt that the
consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition –for why
should I not so term it? –served mainly to accelerate the increase
itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all
sentiments having terror as a basis. And it might have been for this
reason only, that, when I again uplifted my eyes to the house
itself, from its image in the pool, there grew in my mind a strange
fancy –a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I but mention it to show
the vivid force of the sensations which oppressed me. I had so
worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about the whole
mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and
their immediate vicinity-an atmosphere which had no affinity with
the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and
the gray wall, and the silent tarn –a pestilent and mystic vapour,
dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.
Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned
more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature
seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages
had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in
a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from
any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had
fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its
still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of
the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of
the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years
in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the
external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however,
the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a
scrutinising observer might have discovered a barely perceptible
fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made
its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in
the sullen waters of the tarn.
Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house.
A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway
of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in
silence, through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to
the studio of his master. Much that I encountered on the way
contributed, I know not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which
I have already spoken. While the objects around me –while the
carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon
blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies
which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as
which, I had been accustomed from my infancy –while I hesitated not
to acknowledge how familiar was all this –I still wondered to find
how unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images were stirring
up. On one of the staircases, I met the physician of the family. His
countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression of low cunning and
perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation and passed on. The valet
now threw open a door and ushered me into the presence of his master.
The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The
windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from
the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within.
Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the
trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more
prominent objects around the eye, however, struggled in vain to
reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the
vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The
general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered.
Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed
to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an
atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom
hung over and pervaded all.
Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been lying
at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had
much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality –of the
constrained effort of the ennuye man of the world. A glance,
however, at his countenance, convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We
sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him
with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before
so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It
was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit the identity of
the wan being before me with the companion of my early boyhood. Yet
the character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A
cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous
beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a
surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but
with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely
moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of
moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity; these
features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the
temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten.
And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of
these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so
much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly
pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eve, above
all things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been
suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture,
it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with
effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple
In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an
incoherence –an inconsistency; and I soon found this to arise from
a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome an habitual
trepidancy –an excessive nervous agitation. For something of this
nature I had indeed been prepared, no less by his letter, than by
reminiscences of certain boyish traits, and by conclusions deduced
from his peculiar physical conformation and temperament. His action
was alternately vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from
a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in
abeyance) to that species of energetic concision –that abrupt,
weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation –that leaden,
self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be
observed in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium,
during the periods of his most intense excitement.
It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his
earnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to afford
him. He entered, at some length, into what he conceived to be the
nature of his malady. It was, he said, a constitutional and a family
evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy –a mere nervous
affection, he immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon pass
off. It displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations. Some of
these, as he detailed them, interested and bewildered me; although,
perhaps, the terms, and the general manner of the narration had
their weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the
senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear
only garments of certain texture; the odours of all flowers were
oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there
were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which
did not inspire him with horror.
To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. “I
shall perish,” said he, “I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus,
thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the
future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the
thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate
upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence
of danger, except in its absolute effect –in terror. In this
unnerved-in this pitiable condition –I feel that the period will
sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together,
in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.”
I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and
equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental condition.
He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the
dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never
ventured forth –in regard to an influence whose supposititious
force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated –an
influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of
his family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained
over his spirit-an effect which the physique of the gray walls and
turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had,
at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.
He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the
peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more
natural and far more palpable origin –to the severe and
long-continued illness –indeed to the evidently approaching
dissolution-of a tenderly beloved sister –his sole companion for long
years –his last and only relative on earth. “Her decease,” he said,
with a bitterness which I can never forget, “would leave him (him
the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of the
Ushers.” While he spoke, the lady Madeline (for so was she called)
passed slowly through a remote portion of the apartment, and,
without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I regarded her with
an utter astonishment not unmingled with dread –and yet I found it
impossible to account for such feelings. A sensation of stupor
oppressed me, as my eyes followed her retreating steps. When a door,
at length, closed upon her, my glance sought instinctively and eagerly
the countenance of the brother –but he had buried his face in his
hands, and I could only perceive that a far more than ordinary wanness
had overspread the emaciated fingers through which trickled many
passionate tears.
The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of her
physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person,
and frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptical
character, were the unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had steadily borne
up against the pressure of her malady, and had not betaken herself
finally to bed; but, on the closing in of the evening of my arrival at
the house, she succumbed (as her brother told me at night with
inexpressible agitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer;
and I learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thus
probably be the last I should obtain –that the lady, at least while
living, would be seen by me no more.
For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either Usher
or myself: and during this period I was busied in earnest endeavours
to alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted and read
together; or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild
improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer and still
intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses of his
spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt
at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive
quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical
universe, in one unceasing radiation of gloom.
I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours I
thus spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I should
fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the
studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved me, or led me the
way. An excited and highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous
lustre over all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my
cars. Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain
singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last
waltz of Von Weber. From the paintings over which his elaborate
fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vaguenesses at
which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered knowing
not why; –from these paintings (vivid as their images now are
before me) I would in vain endeavour to educe more than a small
portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words.
By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, he
arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea,
that mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least –in the circumstances
then surrounding me –there arose out of the pure abstractions which
the hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvas, an intensity
of intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the
contemplation of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of
One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so
rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth,
although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of
an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls,
smooth, white, and without interruption or device. Certain accessory
points of the design served well to convey the idea that this
excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the surface of the earth.
No outlet was observed in any portion of its vast extent, and no
torch, or other artificial source of light was discernible; yet a
flood of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a
ghastly and inappropriate splendour.
I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory nerve
which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, with the
exception of certain effects of stringed instruments. It was, perhaps,
the narrow limits to which he thus confined himself upon the guitar,
which gave birth, in great measure, to the fantastic character of
his performances. But the fervid facility of his impromptus could
not be so accounted for. They must have been, and were, in the
notes, as well as in the words of his wild fantasias (for he not
unfrequently accompanied himself with rhymed verbal improvisations),
the result of that intense mental collectedness and concentration to
which I have previously alluded as observable only in particular
moments of the highest artificial excitement. The words of one of
these rhapsodies I have easily remembered. I was, perhaps, the more
forcibly impressed with it, as he gave it, because, in the under or
mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I perceived, and for the
first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher, of the
tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne. The verses, which
were entitled “The Haunted Palace,” ran very nearly, if not
accurately, thus:

In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once fair and stately palace —
Radiant palace –reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion —
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This –all this –was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odour went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh –but smile no more.

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad led us
into a train of thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of
Usher’s which I mention not so much on account of its novelty, (for
other men have thought thus,) as on account of the pertinacity with
which he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was that of
the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy,
the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under
certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words
to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his
persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously
hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The
conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in
the method of collocation of these stones –in the order of their
arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread
them, and of the decayed trees which stood around –above all, in
the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its
reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence –the
evidence of the sentience –was to be seen, he said, (and I here
started as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain condensation of an
atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result was
discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet importunate and terrible
influence which for centuries had moulded the destinies of his family,
and which made him what I now saw him –what he was. Such opinions
need no comment, and I will make none.
Our books –the books which, for years, had formed no small
portion of the mental existence of the invalid –were, as might be
supposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm. We
pored together over such works as the Ververt et Chartreuse of
Gresset; the Belphegor of Machiavelli; the Heaven and Hell of
Swedenborg; the Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm by Holberg;
the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean D’Indagine, and of De la
Chambre; the Journey into the Blue Distance of Tieck; and the City
of the Sun of Campanella. One favourite volume was a small octavo
edition of the Directorium Inquisitorum, by the Dominican Eymeric de
Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about the old
African Satyrs and AEgipans, over which Usher would sit dreaming for
hours. His chief delight, however, was found in the perusal of an
exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic –the manual of a
forgotten church –the Vigilae Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae
I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work, and of
its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when, one evening,
having informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline was no more, he
stated his intention of preserving her corpse for a fortnight,
(previously to its final interment,) in one of the numerous vaults
within the main walls of the building. The worldly reason, however,
assigned for this singular proceeding, was one which I did not feel at
liberty to dispute. The brother had been led to his resolution (so
he told me) by consideration of the unusual character of the malady of
the deceased, of certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part
of her medical men, and of the remote and exposed situation of the
burial-ground of the family. I will not deny that when I called to
mind the sinister countenance of the person whom I met upon the
stair case, on the day of my arrival at the house, I had no desire
to oppose what I regarded as at best but a harmless, and by no means
an unnatural, precaution.
At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the
arrangements for the temporary entombment. The body having been
encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in which we
placed it (and which had been so long unopened that our torches,
half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave us little
opportunity for investigation) was small, damp, and entirely without
means of admission for light; lying, at great depth, immediately
beneath that portion of the building in which was my own sleeping
apartment. It had been used, apparently, in remote feudal times, for
the worst purposes of a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a place of
deposit for powder, or some other highly combustible substance, as a
portion of its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through
which we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of
massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its immense
weight caused an unusually sharp grating sound, as it moved upon its
Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within this
region of horror, we partially turned aside the yet unscrewed lid of
the coffin, and looked upon the face of the tenant. A striking
similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my
attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out
some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself
had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible
nature had always existed between them. Our glances, however, rested
not long upon the dead –for we could not regard her unawed. The
disease which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity of youth, had
left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character,
the mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and that
suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in
death. We replaced and screwed down the lid, and, having secured the
door of iron, made our way, with toll, into the scarcely less gloomy
apartments of the upper portion of the house.
And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an observable
change came over the features of the mental disorder of my friend. His
ordinary manner had vanished. His ordinary occupations were
neglected or forgotten. He roamed from chamber to chamber with
hurried, unequal, and objectless step. The pallor of his countenance
had assumed, if possible, a more ghastly hue –but the luminousness of
his eye had utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of his
tone was heard no more; and a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme
terror, habitually characterized his utterance. There were times,
indeed, when I thought his unceasingly agitated mind was labouring
with some oppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for the
necessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged to resolve all
into the mere inexplicable vagaries of madness, for I beheld him
gazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the
profoundest attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound. It was
no wonder that his condition terrified-that it infected me. I felt
creeping upon me, by slow yet certain degrees, the wild influences
of his own fantastic yet impressive superstitions.
It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of the
seventh or eighth day after the placing of the lady Madeline within
the donjon, that I experienced the full power of such feelings.
Sleep came not near my couch –while the hours waned and waned away. I
struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me.
I endeavoured to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due
to the bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room
–of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by
the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the
walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed. But my
efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremour gradually pervaded my
frame; and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus of
utterly causeless alarm. Shaking this off with a gasp and a
struggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows, and, peering earnestly
within the intense darkness of the chamber, hearkened –I know not
why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted me –to certain low
and indefinite sounds which came, through the pauses of the storm,
at long intervals, I knew not whence. Overpowered by an intense
sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on my
clothes with haste (for I felt that I should sleep no more during
the night), and endeavoured to arouse myself from the pitiable
condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro
through the apartment.
I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light step on an
adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I presently recognised it
as that of Usher. In an instant afterward he rapped, with a gentle
touch, at my door, and entered, bearing a lamp. His countenance was,
as usual, cadaverously wan –but, moreover, there was a species of mad
hilarity in his eyes –an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole
demeanour. His air appalled me –but anything was preferable to the
solitude which I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his presence
as a relief.
“And you have not seen it?” he said abruptly, after having stared
about him for some moments in silence –“you have not then seen it?
–but, stay! you shall.” Thus speaking, and having carefully shaded
his lamp, he hurried to one of the casements, and threw it freely open
to the storm.
The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from our
feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and
one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty. A whirlwind had
apparently collected its force in our vicinity; for there were
frequent and violent alterations in the direction of the wind; and the
exceeding density of the clouds (which hung so low as to press upon
the turrets of the house) did not prevent our perceiving the life-like
velocity with which they flew careering from all points against each
other, without passing away into the distance. I say that even their
exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this –yet we had
no glimpse of the moon or stars –nor was there any flashing forth
of the lightning. But the under surfaces of the huge masses of
agitated vapour, as well as all terrestrial objects immediately around
us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly luminous and
distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and
enshrouded the mansion.
“You must not –you shall not behold this!” said I, shudderingly, to
Usher, as I led him, with a gentle violence, from the window to a
seat. “These appearances, which bewilder you, are merely electrical
phenomena not uncommon –or it may be that they have their ghastly
origin in the rank miasma of the tarn. Let us close this casement;
–the air is chilling and dangerous to your frame. Here is one of your
favourite romances. I will read, and you shall listen; –and so we
will pass away this terrible night together.”
The antique volume which I had taken up was the “Mad Trist” of Sir
Launcelot Canning; but I had called it a favourite of Usher’s more
in sad jest than in earnest; for, in truth, there is little in its
uncouth and unimaginative prolixity which could have had interest
for the lofty and spiritual ideality of my friend. It was, however,
the only book immediately at hand; and I indulged a vague hope that
the excitement which now agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief
(for the history of mental disorder is full of similar anomalies) even
in the extremeness of the folly which I should read. Could I have
judged, indeed, by the wild over-strained air of vivacity with which
he hearkened, or apparently hearkened, to the words of the tale, I
might well have congratulated myself upon the success of my design.
I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where
Ethelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain for peaceable
admission into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds to make good an
entrance by force. Here, it will be remembered, the words of the
narrative run thus:
“And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who was now
mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the wine which he had
drunken, waited no longer to hold parley with the hermit, who, in
sooth, was of an obstinate and maliceful turn, but, feeling the rain
upon his shoulders, and fearing the rising of the tempest, uplifted
his mace outright, and, with blows, made quickly room in the plankings
of the door for his gauntleted hand; and now pulling there-with
sturdily, he so cracked, and ripped, and tore all asunder, that the
noise of the dry and hollow-sounding wood alarumed and reverberated
throughout the forest.
At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a moment,
paused; for it appeared to me (although I at once concluded that my
excited fancy had deceived me) –it appeared to me that, from some
very remote portion of the mansion, there came, indistinctly, to my
ears, what might have been, in its exact similarity of character,
the echo (but a stifled and dull one certainly) of the very cracking
and ripping sound which Sir Launcelot had so particularly described.
It was, beyond doubt, the coincidence alone which had arrested my
attention; for, amid the rattling of the sashes of the casements,
and the ordinary commingled noises of the still increasing storm,
the sound, in itself, had nothing, surely, which should have
interested or disturbed me. I continued the story:
“But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door, was
sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful hermit;
but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly and prodigious
demeanour, and of a fiery tongue, which sate in guard before a
palace of gold, with a floor of silver; and upon the wall there hung a
shield of shining brass with this legend enwritten —

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;

And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of the
dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with a
shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, that Ethelred
had fain to close his ears with his hands against the dreadful noise
of it, the like whereof was never before heard.”
Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild
amazement –for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this
instance, I did actually hear (although from what direction it
proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently
distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or
grating sound –the exact counterpart of what my fancy had already
conjured up for the dragon’s unnatural shriek as described by the
Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of the second and
most extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand conflicting
sensations, in which wonder and extreme terror were predominant, I
still retained sufficient presence of mind to avoid exciting, by any
observation, the sensitive nervousness of my companion. I was by no
means certain that he had noticed the sounds in question; although,
assuredly, a strange alteration had, during the last few minutes,
taken place in his demeanour. From a position fronting my own, he
had gradually brought round his chair, so as to sit with his face to
the door of the chamber; and thus I could but partially perceive his
features, although I saw that his lips trembled as if he were
murmuring inaudibly. His head had dropped upon his breast –yet I knew
that he was not asleep, from the wide and rigid opening of the eye
as I caught a glance of it in profile. The motion of his body, too,
was at variance with this idea –for he rocked from side to side
with a gentle yet constant and uniform sway. Having rapidly taken
notice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir Launcelot, which
thus proceeded:
“And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury of the
dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of the breaking
up of the enchantment which was upon it, removed the carcass from
out of the way before him, and approached valorously over the silver
pavement of the castle to where the shield was upon the wall; which in
sooth tarried not for his full coming, but fell down at his feet
upon the silver floor, with a mighty great and terrible ringing
No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than –as if a
shield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon a floor
of silver became aware of a distinct, hollow, metallic, and
clangorous, yet apparently muffled reverberation. Completely unnerved,
I leaped to my feet; but the measured rocking movement of Usher was
undisturbed. I rushed to the chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent
fixedly before him, and throughout his whole countenance there reigned
a stony rigidity. But, as I placed my hand upon his shoulder, there
came a strong shudder over his whole person; a sickly smile quivered
about his lips; and I saw that he spoke in a low, hurried, and
gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my presence. Bending closely
over him, I at length drank in the hideous import of his words.
“Not hear it? –yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long –long
–long –many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it –yet
I dared not –oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am! –I dared not
–I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb! Said I not
that my senses were acute? I now tell you that I heard her first
feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them –many, many
days ago –yet I dared not –I dared not speak! And now –to-night
–Ethelred –ha! ha! –the breaking of the hermit’s door, and the
death-cry of the dragon, and the clangour of the shield! –say,
rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the iron
hinges of her prison, and her struggles within the coppered archway of
the vault! Oh whither shall I fly? Will she not be here anon? Is she
not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste? Have I not heard her footstep
on the stair? Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating
of her heart? MADMAN!” here he sprang furiously to his feet, and
shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up
As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been found
the potency of a spell –the huge antique panels to which the
speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant, ponderous and
ebony jaws. It was the work of the rushing gust –but then without
those doors there DID stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the
lady Madeline of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes, and
the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her
emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to
and fro upon the threshold, then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily
inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now
final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to
the terrors he had anticipated.
From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm
was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old
causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I
turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could wi have issued; for
the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance
was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon which now shone
vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure of which I have
before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a
zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly
widened –there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind –the entire orb
of the satellite burst at once upon my sight –my brain reeled as I
saw the mighty walls rushing asunder –there was a long tumultuous
shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters –and the deep
and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the
fragments of the “HOUSE OF USHER.”

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