Review: Horror: "The Premature Burial" by Edgar Allan Poe
May 1, 2017 9:12am CST
This gruesome little piece begins by noting there are some topics not fit subjects for fiction: the “Passage of Beresina” (a reference to a river the retreating French army had to cross in Russia on finding the Russians had destroyed the bridge. It was particularly hard in the horses, but not exactly easy for the humans.) “Earthquake at Lisbon” (1755 killed between 10,000 and 100,000 people. I know, a big difference) and the “Plague at London” (1665-1666 killed about 100,000 people). Well, where to go after that little pick-me-up? Talking about burying people alive, naturally. And Poe gives some examples he claims are true and well known. I’ve been unable to find out whether any of these terrible things actually happened. Given Poe’s nodding acquaintance with the truth, I’d take these thing with a grain a salt. The narrator of this tale is deathly afraid of being buried alive. He is subject to fits of “catalepsy.” In modern usage, the term is associated with schizophrenia and has to do with muscle rigidity, lack of sensation and fixed posture and often loss of contact with the environment. The narrator describes his affliction: Sometimes the patient lies, for day only, or even for a shorter period, in a species of exaggerated lethargy. He is senseless and externally motionless; but the pulsation of the heart is still faintly perceptible; some traces of warmth remain; a slight color still lingers within the centre of the cheek; and, upon application of a mirror to the lips, we can detect a torpid, unequal, and vacillating action of the lungs. Not surprisingly, only the knowledge of friends that people with this sort of tendency had been in this state before saved them from being buried prematurely. The narrator, aside from his cataleptic fits (why do I hear catalytic converter?) is in good overall health. Nevertheless, he gives himself up to the morose, worrying about death and dying constantly. And then one day, he realizes he’s coming out a cataleptic fit slowly. He can’t move, though. He’s in a restrained space—Oh, no! Yeah, but it’s not what you think. Poe, the practical joker. This is actually quite funny, after all the doom and gloom, Napoleon’s ruined army, thousands dead in a natural disaster, and by disease—but hey, there’s a cure for an attitude problem after all. The first time I tried to read this as a kid, I couldn’t finish it. Give me a break. I was about ten. I probably should have, though. The story is available from Project Gutenberg: Happy reading. _____ Title: “The Premature Burial” Author: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) First published: Dollar Newspaper, July 31, 1844 Source: ISFDB
4 people like this
3 May 17
During the Victorian period there were coffins with bells which the entombed person could ring in case they were accidentally buried alive (hence the saying "save by the bell"). Some coffins were also found with markings on their lid as if the person was desperately trying to claw their way out.
1 May 17
This is something I am not going to read, my worst fear is to be buried alive. I feel sick every time that there is something like this in movies. Everybody knows I want to be cremated, at 2,000 degrees Celsius the agony is surely a lot shorter.
• United States
1 May 17
I am sorry that I touched on this, Anna. I understand the desire to be cremated. This story would not be appropriate for you. Even though it ends in humor (the narrator is in a berth aboard a ship and quite safe), there are several of sad tales, true or not, or people who were buried alive before it gets to the end. My worst fear—and I realize it is irrational—is to drown in a car wreck. I know how unlikely such a thing is, but nevertheless, I fear it. I can't watch scenes depicting people in cars underwater. During floods, when there is swift water rescue, I'm nearly in tears, even though I know (usually) the people have made it out okay. Where did this come from? I have no idea.