The Tell-tale Heart

By Edgar Poe

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? 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 myself of the eye for ever.

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
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 was impossible to do the work; for it
was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And
every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the
chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by
name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the
night. So you see he would have been a very profound 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 sagacity. I could scarcely
contain my feelings of triumph. 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. 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 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. 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 has been trying to comfort himself with these
suppositions; but he had found all in vain. All in vain;
because Death, in approaching him, 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 single
dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the
crevice and 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 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 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 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. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. 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 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.

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 any thing 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 I now to fear?
There 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 they (the officers) had been deputed to search the

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. 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:—it
continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to
get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained
definitiveness—until, at length, I found that the noise was
not within my ears.

No doubt I now 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. I arose and argued about trifles,
in a high key and with violent gesticulations, 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 observation 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 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? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they
suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of
my horror!—this I thought, and this I think. But any thing
was better than this agony! Any thing 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, “dissemble no more! I admit the
deed!—tear up the planks!—here, here!—it is the beating of
his hideous heart!”