© by Edgar Allen Poe 

Dicebant mihi sodales, si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas 

aliquantulum fore levatas. --EBN ZAIAT

     Misery is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform.  Overreaching the wide horizon as the rainbow, its hues are as  various as the hues of the arch,--as distinct too, yet as  intimately blended. Overreaching the wide horizon as the  rainbow. How is it that from beauty I have derived a type of  unloveliness?--from the covenant of peace a simile of sorrow?  But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact,  out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is  the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which <i are> have their  origin in the ecstasies which <i might have been>.    My baptismal name is Egaeus; that of my family I will not  mention. Yet there are no towers in the land more time-honoured  than my gloomy, grey, hereditary halls. Our line has been called  a race of visionaries; and in many striking particulars--in the  character of the family mansion--in the frescoes of the chief  saloon--in the tapestries of the dormitories--in the chiselling  of some buttresses in the armory--but more especially in the  gallery of antique paintings--in the fashion of the library  chamber--and, lastly, in the very peculiar nature of the  library's contents, there is more than sufficient evidence to  warrant the belief. 

   The recollections of my earliest years are connected with  that chamber, and with its volumes--of which latter I will say no  more. Here died my mother. Herein was I born. But it is mere  idleness to say that I had not lived before--that the soul has no  previous existence. You deny it?--let us not argue the matter.  Convinced myself, I seek not to convince. There is however, a  remembrance of aerial forms--of spiritual and meaning eyes--of  sounds, musical yet sad--a remembrance which will not be  excluded; a memory like a shadow, vague, variable, indefinite,  unsteady; and like a shadow, too, in the impossibility of my  getting rid of it while the sunlight of my reason shall exist.  In that chamber was I born. Thus awaking from the long  night of what seemed, but was not, nonentity, at once into the  very regions of fairy-land--into a palace of imagination--into  the wild dominions of monastic thought and erudition--it is not  singular that I gazed around me with a startled and ardent eye--  that I loitered away my boyhood in books, and dissipated my youth  in reverie; but it <i is> singular that as years rolled away, and  the noon of manhood found me still in the mansion of my fathers--  it is wonderful what stagnation there fell upon the springs of my  life--wonderful how total an inversion took place in the  character of my commonest thought. The realities of the world  affected me as visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas  of the land of dreams became, in turn,--not the material of my  every-day existence--but in very deed that existence utterly and  solely in itself. 


   Berenice and I were cousins, and we grew up together in my  paternal halls. Yet differently we grew--I ill of health, and  buried in gloom--she agile, graceful, and overflowing with  energy; hers the ramble on the hill-side--mine the studies of the  cloister--I living within my own heart, and addicted body and  soul to the most intense and painful meditation--she roaming  carelessly through life with no thought of the shadows in her  path, or the silent flight of the raven-winged hours. Berenice!-  -I call upon her name--Berenice!--and from the grey ruins of  memory a thousand tumultuous recollections are startled at the  sound! Ah! vividly is her image before me now, as in the early  days of her light-heartedness and joy! Oh! gorgeous yet  fantastic beauty! Oh! sylph amid the shrubberies of Arnheim!  Oh! Naiad among its fountains!--and then--then all is mystery and  terror, and a tale which should not be told. Disease--a fatal  disease--fell like the simoom upon her frame, and, even while I  gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept over her, pervading  her mind, her habits, and her character, and, in a manner the  most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the identity of her  person! Alas! the destroyer came and went, and the victim--where  was she? I knew her not--or knew her no longer as Berenice.  Among the numerous train of maladies superinduced by that  fatal and primary one which effected a revolution of so horrible  a kind in the moral and physical being of my cousin, may be  mentioned as the most distressing and obstinate in its nature, a  species of epilepsy not unfrequently terminating in <i trance>  itself--trance very nearly resembling positive dissolution, and  from which her manner of recovery was, in most instances,  startlingly abrupt. In the meantime my own disease--for I have  been told that I should call it by no other appellation--my own  disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and assumed finally a  monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form--hourly  and momently gaining vigour--and at length obtaining over me the  most incomprehensible ascendancy. This monomania, if I must so  term it, consisted in a morbid irritability of those properties  of the mind in metaphysical science termed the <i attentive>. It  is more than probable that I am not understood; but I fear,  indeed, that it is in no manner possible to convey to the mind of  the merely general reader, an adequate idea of that nervous <i  intensity of interest> with which, in my case, the powers of  meditation (not to speak technically) busied and buried  themselves, in the contemplation of even the most ordinary  objects of the universe. 

   To muse for long unwearied hours with my attention riveted  to some frivolous device on the margin, or in the typography of a  book; to become absorbed for the better part of a summer's day,  in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry, or upon the  door; to lose myself for an entire night in watching the steady  flame of a lamp, or the embers of a fire; to dream away whole  days over the perfume of a flower; to repeat monotonously some  common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition,  ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind; to lose all sense  of motion or physical existence, by means of absolute bodily  quiescence long and obstinately persevered in;--such were a few  of the most common and least pernicious vagaries induced by a  condition of the mental faculties, not, indeed, altogether  unparalleled, but certainly bidding defiance to anything like  analysis or explanation. 

   Yet let me not be misapprehended.-- The undue, earnest, and  morbid attention thus excited by objects in their own nature  frivolous, must not be confounded in character with that  ruminating propensity common to all mankind, and more especially  indulged in by persons of ardent imagination. It was not even,  as might at first be supposed, an extreme condition, or  exaggeration of such propensity, but primarily and essentially  distinct and different. In the one instance, the dreamer, or  enthusiast, being interested by an object usually <i not>  frivolous, imperceptibly loses sight of this object in a  wilderness of deductions and suggestions issuing therefrom,  until, at the conclusion of a day-dream <i often replete with  luxury>, he finds the <i incitamentum> or first cause of his  musings entirely vanished and forgotten. In my case the primary  object was <i invariably frivolous>, although assuming, through  the medium of my distempered vision, a refracted and unreal  importance. Few deductions, if any, were made; and those few  pertinaciously returning in upon the original object as a centre.  The meditations were <i never> pleasurable; and, at the  termination of the reverie, the first cause, so far from being  out of sight, had attained that supernaturally exaggerated  interest which was the prevailing feature of the disease. In a  word, the powers of mind more particularly exercised were, with  me, as I have said before, the <i attentive>, and are, with the  day-dreamer, the <i speculative>. 

   My books, at this epoch, if they did not actually serve to  irritate the disorder, partook, it will be perceived, largely, in  their imaginative and inconsequential nature, of the  characteristic qualities of the disorder itself. I well  remember, among others, the treatise of the noble Italian Coelius  Secundus Curio, <i De Amplitudine Beati Regni Dei>; St Austin's  great work, <i The City of God>; and Tertullian, <i De Carne  Christi>, in which the paradoxical sentence, '<i Mortuus est Dei  filius; credibile est quia ineptum est: et sepultus resurrexit;  certum est quia impossibile est>', occupied my undivided time,  for many weeks of laborious and fruitless investigation.  Thus it will appear that, shaken from its balance only by  trivial things, my reason bore resemblance to that ocean-crag  spoken of by Ptolemy Hephestion, which, steadily resisting the  attacks of human violence, and the fiercer fury of the waters and  the winds, trembled only to the touch of the flower called  Asphodel. And although, to a careless thinker, it might appear a  matter beyond doubt, that the alteration produced by her unhappy  malady, in the <i moral> condition of Berenice, would afford me  many objects for the exercise of that intense and abnormal  meditation whose nature I have been at some trouble in  explaining, yet such was not in any degree the case. In the  lucid intervals of my infirmity, her calamity, indeed, gave me  pain, and, taking deeply to heart that total wreck of her fair  and gentle life, I did not fail to ponder frequently and bitterly  upon the wonder-working means by which so strange a revolution  had been so suddenly brought to pass. But these reflections  partook not of the idiosyncrasy of my disease, and were such as  would have occurred, under similar circumstances, to the ordinary  mass of mankind. True to its own character, my disorder revelled  in the less important but more startling changes wrought in the  <i physical> frame of Berenice--in the singular and most  appalling distortion of her personal identity. 

   During the brightest days of her unparalleled beauty, most  surely I had never loved her. In the strange anomaly of my  existence, feelings with me <i had never been> of the heart, and  my passions <i always were> of the mind. Through the grey of the  early morning--among the trellised shadows of the forest at  noonday--and in the silence of my library at night, she had  flitted by my eyes, and I had seen her--not as the living and  breathing Berenice, but as the Berenice of a dream--not as a  being of the earth, earthy, but as the abstraction of such a  being--not as a thing to admire, but to analyse--not as an object  of love, but as the theme of the most abstruse although desultory  speculation. And <i now>--now I shuddered in her presence, and  grew pale at her approach; yet bitterly lamenting her fallen and  desolate condition, I called to mind that she had loved me long,  and, in an evil moment, I spoke to her of marriage.  And at length the period of our nuptials was approaching,  when, upon an afternoon in the winter of the year,--one of those  unseasonably warm, calm, and misty days which are the nurse of  the beautiful Halcyon,<1>--I sat (and sat, as I thought, alone)  in the 

   <1> For as Jove, during the winter season, gives twice seven  days of warmth, men have called this clement and temperate time  the nurse of the beautiful Halcyon. --SIMONIDES.  inner apartment of the library. But uplifting my eyes I saw that  Berenice stood before me. 

   Was it my own excited imagination--or the misty influence of  the atmosphere--or the uncertain twilight of the chamber--or the  grey draperies which fell around her figure--that caused in it so  vacillating and indistinct an outline? I could not tell. She  spoke no word, and I--not for worlds could I have uttered a  syllable. An icy chill ran through my frame; a sense of  insufferable anxiety oppressed me; a consuming curiosity pervaded  my soul; and sinking back upon the chair, I remained for some  time breathless and motionless, with my eyes riveted upon her  person. Alas! its emaciation was excessive, and not one vestige  of the former being lurked in any single line of the contour. My  burning glances at length fell upon the face. 

   The forehead was high, and very pale, and singularly placid;  and the once jetty hair fell partially over it, and overshadowed  the hollow temples with innumerable ringlets now of a vivid  yellow, and jarring discordantly, in their fantastic character,  with the reigning melancholy of the countenance. The eyes were  lifeless, and lustreless, and seemingly pupil-less, and I shrank  involuntarily from their glassy stare to the contemplation of the  thin and shrunken lips. They parted; and in a smile of peculiar  meaning, <i the teeth> of the changed Berenice disclosed  themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never  beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died! 


   The shutting of a door disturbed me, and, looking up, I found  that my cousin had departed from the chamber. But from the  disordered chamber of my brain, had not, alas! departed, and  would not be driven away, the white and ghastly <i spectrum> of  the teeth. Not a speck on their surface--not a shade on their  enamel--not an indenture in their edges--but what that period of  her smile had sufficed to brand in upon my memory. I saw them <i  now> even more unequivocally than I beheld them <i then>. The  teeth!--the teeth!--they were here, and there, and everywhere,  and visibly and palpably before me; long, narrow, and excessively  white, with the pale lips writhing about them, as in the very  moment of their first terrible development. Then came the full  fury of my <i monomania>, and I struggled in vain against its  strange and irresistible influence. In the multiplied objects of  the external world I had no thoughts but for the teeth. For  these I longed with a phrenzied desire. All other matters and  all different interests became absorbed in their single  contemplation. They--they alone were present to the mental eye,  and they, in their sole individuality, became the essence of my  mental life. I held them in every light. I turned them in every  attitude. I surveyed their characteristics. I dwelt upon their  peculiarities. I pondered upon their conformation. I mused upon  the alteration in their nature. I shuddered as I assigned to  them in imagination a sensitive and sentient power, and even when  unassisted by the lips, a capability of moral expression. Of  Mad'selle Salle it has been well said, '<i que tous ses pas  etaient des sentiments>', and of Berenice I more seriously  believed <i que toutes ses dents etaient des idees. Des idees!>-  -ah here was the idiotic thought that destroyed me! <i Des  idees!>--ah <i therefore> it was that I coveted them so madly! I  felt that their possession could alone ever restore me to peace,  in giving me back to reason. 

   And the evening closed in upon me thus--and then the  darkness came, and tarried, and went--and the day again dawned--  and the mists of a second night were now gathering around--and  still I sat motionless in that solitary room; and still I sat  buried in meditation, and still the <i phantasma> of the teeth  maintained its terrible ascendancy as, with the most vivid and  hideous distinctness, it floated about amid the changing lights  and shadows of the chamber. At length there broke in upon my  dreams a cry as of horror and dismay; and thereunto, after a  pause, succeeded the sound of troubled voices, intermingled with  many low moanings of sorrow, or of pain. I arose from my seat  and, throwing open one of the doors of the library, saw standing  out in the antechamber a servant maiden, all in tears, who told  me that Berenice was--no more. She had been seized with epilepsy  in the early morning, and now, at the closing in of the night,  the grave was ready for its tenant, and all the preparations for  the burial were completed. 

   I found myself sitting in the library, and again sitting there  alone. It seemed that I had newly awakened from a confused and  exciting dream. I knew that it was now midnight, and I was well  aware that since the setting of the sun Berenice had been  interred. But of that dreary period which intervened I had no  positive--at least no definite comprehension. Yet its memory was  replete with horror--horror more horrible from being vague, and  terror more terrible from ambiguity. It was a fearful page in  the record of my existence, written all over with dim, and  hideous, and unintelligible recollections. I strived to decipher  them, but in vain; while ever and anon, like the spirit of a  departed sound, the shrill and piercing shriek of a female voice  seemed to be ringing in my ears. I had done a deed--what was it?  I asked myself the question aloud, and the whispering echoes of  the chamber answered me, '<i what was it>?' 

   On the table beside me burned a lamp, and near it lay a  little box. It was of no remarkable character, and I had seen it  frequently before, for it was the property of the family  physician; but how came it <i there>, upon my table, and why did  I shudder in regarding it? These things were in no manner to be  accounted for, and my eyes at length dropped to the open pages of  a book, and to a sentence underscored therein. The words were  the singular but simple ones of the poet Ebn Zaiat, '<i Dicebant  mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas  aliquantulum fore levatas>.' Why then, as I perused them, did  the hairs of my head erect themselves on end, and the blood of my  body become congealed within my veins? 

   There came a light tap at the library door, and pale as the  tenant of a tomb, a menial entered upon tiptoe. His looks were  wild with terror, and he spoke to me in a voice tremulous, husky,  and very low. What said he?--some broken sentences I heard. He  told of a wild cry disturbing the silence of the night--of the  gathering together of the household--of a search in the direction  of the sound;--and then his tones grew thrillingly distinct as he  whispered me of a violated grave--of a disfigured body  enshrouded, yet still breathing, still palpitating, still <i  alive>! 

   He pointed to my garments;--they were muddy and clotted with  gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand;--it was  indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my  attention to some object against the wall;--I looked at it for  some minutes;--it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the  table, and grasped the box that lay upon it. But I could not  force it open; and in my tremor it slipped from my hands, and  fell heavily, and burst into pieces; and from it, with a rattling  sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery,  intermingled with thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking  substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor. 

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