Poe, A descent...(II)
........ "Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down,
upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the
bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the
clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.
"At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately. The general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. [page 96:] When I recovered myself
a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively downward. In this direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view, from the manner in which the smack hung on the
inclined surface of the pool. She was quite upon an even keel that is to say, her deck lay in a plane parallel with that of the water but this latter sloped at an
angle of more than forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying upon our beam-ends. I could not help observing, nevertheless, that I had scarcely more difficulty
in maintaining my hold and footing in this situation, than if we had been upon a dead level ; and this, I suppose, was owing to the speed at which we revolved.
"The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf ; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which
everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Mussulmen say is the only pathway
between Time and Eternity. This mist, or spray, was no doubt occasioned by the clashing of the great walls of the funnel, as they all met together at the bottom but
the yell that went up to the Heavens from out of that mist, I dare not attempt to describe.
"Our first slide into the abyss itself, from the belt of foam above, had carried us a great distance down the slope ; but our farther descent was by no means
proportionate. Round and round we swept not with any uniform movement but in dizzying swings and jerks, that sent us sometimes only a few hundred yards
sometimes nearly the complete circuit of the whirl. Our progress downward, at each revolution, was slow, but very perceptible.
"Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl.
Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house
furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I have already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon
me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to [page 97:] watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company. I
must have been delirious for I even sought amusement in speculating upon the relative velocities of their several descents toward the foam below. 'This fir tree,' I
found myself at one time saying, 'will certainly be the next thing that takes the awful plunge and disappears,' and then I was disappointed to find that the wreck of a
Dutch merchant ship overtook it and went down before. At length, after making several guesses of this nature, and being deceived in all this fact the fact of my
invariable miscalculation set me upon a train of reflection that made my limbs again tremble, and my heart beat heavily once more.
"It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more exciting hope. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from present observation. I
called to mind the great variety of buoyant matter that strewed the coast of Lofoden, having been absorbed and then thrown forth by the Moskoe-strφm. By far the
greater number of the articles were shattered in the most extraordinary way so chafed and roughened as to have the appearance of being stuck full of splinters
but then I distinctly recollected that there were some of them which were not disfigured at all. Now I could not account for this difference except by supposing that the
roughened fragments were the only ones which had been completely absorbed that the others had entered the whirl at so late a period of the tide, or, for some
reason, had descended so slowly after entering, that they did not reach the bottom before the turn of the flood came, or of the ebb, as the case might be. I conceived it
possible, in either instance, that they might thus be whirled up again to the level of the ocean, without undergoing the fate of those which had been drawn in more early,
or absorbed more rapidly. I made, also, three important observations. The first was, that, as a general rule, the larger the bodies were, the more rapid their descent
the second, that, between two masses of equal extent, the one spherical, and the other of any other shape, the superiority in speed of descent was with the sphere
the third, that, between two masses of equal size, the one cylindrical, and the other of any other shape, the cylinder was absorbed the more slowly. [page 98:] Since
my escape, I have had several conversations on this subject with an old school-master of the district ; and it was from him that I learned the use of the words
'cylinder' and 'sphere.' He explained to me although I have forgotten the explanation how what I observed was, in fact, the natural consequence of the forms of
the floating fragments and showed me how it happened that a cylinder, swimming in a vortex, offered more resistance to its suction, and was drawn in with greater
difficulty than an equally bulky body, of any form whatever.*
* See Archimedes, »De Incidentibus in Fluido.« lib. 2. [[In the original, this footnote appears at the bottom of page 98.]]
"There was one startling circumstance which went a great way in enforcing these observations, and rendering me anxious to turn them to account, and this was
that, at every revolution, we passed something like a barrel, or else the yard or the mast of a vessel, while many of these things, which had been on our level when I
first opened my eyes upon the wonders of the whirlpool, were now high up above us, and seemed to have moved but little from their original station.
"I no longer hesitated what to do. I resolved to lash myself securely to the water cask upon which I now held, to cut it loose from the counter, and to throw myself
with it into the water. I attracted my brother's attention by signs, pointed to the floating barrels that came near us, and did everything in my power to make him
understand what I was about to do. I thought at length that he comprehended my design but, whether this was the case or not, he shook his head despairingly, and
refused to move from his station by the ring-bolt. It was impossible to reach him; the emergency admitted of no delay ; and so, with a bitter struggle, I resigned him to
his fate, fastened myself to the cask by means of the lashings which secured it to the counter, and precipitated myself with it into the sea, without another moment's
"The result was precisely what I had hoped it might be. As it is myself who now tell you this tale as you see that I did escape and as you are already in
possession of the mode in which this escape was effected, and must therefore anticipate all that I have farther to say I will bring my story quickly to conclusion. It
might have been an hour, or thereabout, after my [page 99:] quitting the smack, when, having descended to a vast distance beneath me, it made three or four wild
gyrations in rapid succession, and, bearing my loved brother with it, plunged headlong, at once and forever, into the chaos of foam below. The barrel to which I was
attached sunk very little farther than half the distance between the bottom of the gulf and the spot at which I leaped overboard, before a great change took place in the
character of the whirlpool. The slope of the sides of the vast funnel became momently less and less steep. The gyrations of the whirl grew, gradually, less and less
violent. By degrees, the froth and the rainbow disappeared, and the bottom of the gulf seemed slowly to uprise. The sky was clear, the winds had gone down, and the
full moon was setting radiantly in the west, when I found myself on the surface of the ocean, in full view of the shores of Lofoden, and above the spot where the pool
of the Moskoe-strφm had been. It was the hour of the slack but the sea still heaved in mountainous waves from the effects of the hurricane. I was borne violently
into the channel of the Strφm, and in a few minutes was hurried down the coast into the 'grounds' of the fishermen. A boat picked me up exhausted from fatigue
and (now that the danger was removed) speechless from the memory of its horror. Those who drew me on board were my old mates and daily companions but
they knew me no more than they would have known a traveller from the spirit-land. My hair which had been raven-black the day before, was as white as you see it
now. They say too that the whole expression of my countenance had changed. I told them my story they did not believe it. I now tell it to you and I can scarcely
expect you to put more faith in it than did the merry fishermen of Lofoden."
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