Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart

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. Mad-men 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 

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 out from 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 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 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 

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.

I 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. There 
was nothing to wash out -- no stain of any kind -- no blood-spot whatever. I had 
been too wary for that.

When I had made an end of these labours, 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 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. 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: 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 
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. 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? 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!"