What is the meaning of the quote from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" listed below?"But if the impressions ... are not, at will, recalled, yet, after long interval, do they not come...

What is the meaning of the quote from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" listed below?

"But if the impressions ... are not, at will, recalled, yet, after long interval, do they not come unbidden, while we marvel whence they come?"

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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But if the impressions of what I have termed the first stage, are not, at will, recalled, yet, after long interval, do they not come unbidden while we marvel whence they come?

This quote is spoken by the narrator in the beginning paragraphs of Poe's Gothic horror "The Pit and Pendulum." The narrator explains he had just swooned. He has commenced to tell his epiphanies about the state of consciousness resulting from (or confirmed by) his swoon.

He explains that when returning to consciousness from a swoon--a state, he claims, in which some small shred of conscious awareness still remains--there are two stages to go through. The first stage is that in which mental or spiritual awareness returns: you regain awareness of your perceptual capacities, thoughts, impressions, humanity, etc. The second stage is that in which physical awareness returns: you regain awareness of your bodily existence and physical parts and capabilities.

The narrator suggests that in the first stage of recovery to consciousness from a swoon impressions are retained of what exists on the far side of conscious experience, in what he calls "the gulf beyond" consciousness, the gulf that is unconsciousness, as one might retain the memory of a dream while rousing from sleep. Impressions of the gulf can exist, as he asserts, because some small bit consciousness awareness always remains, "even in the grave."

He suggests that in the second stage of recovery to consciousness it might be possible to access the impressions held in the first stage, just as one fully awakened can sometimes recall the dreams of sleep. Then he suggests that if these impressions fade away in the second stage with the coming of physical awareness, as dreams fade away, they might return to conscious thought at some time in the future and that if they were to do so, one wouldn't know their origin: one wouldn't have a way to associate the rising impression about the gulf of unconsciousness with one's previous swoon. Therefore, one would be puzzled as to the origins and meaning of these seemingly random and inexplicable thoughts.

Quote: "But if the impressions ... are not, at will, recalled, yet, after long interval, do they not come unbidden, while we marvel whence they come?"

Paraphrase: But if the impressions are not intentionally recalled but at some remote future time voluntarily resurface to consciousness, aren't the impressions revived without being called forth, and will we not wonder at where these thoughts have come from?

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