The Tell-Tale Heart  
by Edgar Allen Poe                             Back to Ghost Stories

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! He had the
eye 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 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 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 has 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 bed, crying out — "Who's

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 had 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 [[the crevice]] and
fell 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 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
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. 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 neighbour 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
definiteness — 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 observations 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 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! 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!"
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