This is a great story to read for Halloween. It’s dark, creepy, and the topic is one that gives the chills. For as Poe states early in the tale: “To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.”
He goes on to describe the feeling of being buried alive, of awakening to find oneself trapped within a tomb. He even makes a nice allusion to his poem, “The Conqueror Worm.”
Fearful indeed the suspicion — but more fearful the doom! It may be asserted, without hesitation, that no event is so terribly well adapted to inspire the supremeness of bodily and of mental distress, as is burial before death. The unendurable oppression of the lungs — the stifling fumes of the damp earth — the clinging to the death garments — the rigid embrace of the narrow house — the blackness of the absolute Night — the silence like a sea that overwhelms — the unseen but palpable presence of the Conqueror Worm — these things, with thoughts of the air and grass above, with memory of dear friends who would fly to save us if but informed of our fate, and with consciousness that of this fate they can never be informed — that our hopeless portion is that of the really dead — these considerations, I say, carry into the heart, which still palpitates, a degree of appalling and intolerable horror from which the most daring imagination must recoil. We know of nothing so agonizing upon Earth — we can dream of nothing half so hideous in the realms of the nethermost Hell. And thus all narratives upon this topic have an interest profound; an interest, nevertheless, which, through the sacred awe of the topic itself, very properly and very peculiarly depends upon our conviction of the truth of the matter narrated. What I have now to tell, is of my own actual knowledge — of my own positive and personal experience.
As with so many of Poe’s tales, there are often parables or symbolism woven into the macabre stories, and this one is no different. The following passage describes the protagonist’s vision of the sheer number of people who were buried prematurely.
I looked; and the unseen figure, which still grasped me by the wrist, had caused to be thrown open the graves of all mankind; and from each issued the faint phosphoric radiance of decay; so that I could see into the innermost recesses, and there view the shrouded bodies in their sad and solemn slumbers with the worm. But, alas! the real sleepers were fewer, by many millions, than those who slumbered not at all; and there was a feeble struggling; and there was a general sad unrest; and from out the depths of the countless pits there came a melancholy rustling from the garments of the buried. And, of those who seemed tranquilly to repose, I saw that a vast number had changed, in a greater or less degree, the rigid and uneasy position in which they had originally been entombed.
I see this passage as an allegory for the general state of humanity. Many of us die having never fulfilled our life’s purpose, or never doing the things we long to do, or without expressing to another how we truly feel. In essence, we are buried prematurely, with unrealized life still within us. I see this as Poe’s way of telling us to live now, don’t put things off, because soon, you will be food for the Conqueror Worm.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. I hope you have a blessed Samhain.
10 responses to “Thoughts on “The Premature Burial” by Edgar Allan Poe”
I’d be interested in reading an analysis of Christina Rosetti’s Goblin’s Market
Thanks for the suggestion. Not familiar with Rosetti, but I will certainly check it out. Cheers!
Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. I’ve been following your blog since before I even started mine. I was reading Poe’s “A Valentine” and I couldn’t solve the puzzle. I looked it up online, found your explanation, and have been coming back ever since. Always glad to see more Poe! Great analysis.
Hey Chris. Thanks for following the blog, and glad that you find the posts informative. Have a great weekend!
Thanks for this, Jeff. I haven’t read The Premature Burial. I’ll definitely check it out. Hope you had a good Halloween 🙂
I did, thanks! How was yours?
It was good – many of our street’s trick or treaters have grown up and gone to college, but we had a nice stream of little cuties in costume!
We had some cute trick or treaters too. More than I expected.
Good review. One of my favorite Poe stories -the ultimate horror.
Thanks man! Glad you liked it. Hope all is well. Cheers.