A Descent into the Maelström
We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some
minutes the old man seemed too much exhausted to speak. "Not long
ago," said he at length, "and I could have guided you on this route
as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about three years past,
there happened to me an event such as never happened before to
mortal man --- or at least such as no man ever survived to tell of
--- and the six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have
broken me up body and soul. You suppose me a very old man --- but I
am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a
jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my
nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened
at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff
without getting giddy?"
The "little cliff," upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown
himself down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung
over it, while he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his
elbow on its extreme and slippery edge --- this "little cliff"
arose, a sheer unobstructed precipice of black shining rock, some
fifteen or sixteen hundred feet from the world of crags beneath us.
Nothing would have tempted me to be within half a dozen yards of
its brink. In truth so deeply was I excited by the perilous
position of my companion, that I fell at full length upon the
ground, clung to the shrubs around me, and dared not even glance
upward at the sky --- while I struggled in vain to divest myself of
the idea that the very foundations of the mountain were in danger
from the fury of the winds. It was long before I could reason
myself into sufficient courage to sit up and look out into the
"You must get over these fancies," said the guide, "for I have
brought you here that you might have the best possible view of the
scene of that event I mentioned --- and to tell you the whole story
with the spot just under your eye."
"We are now," he continued, in that particularizing manner which
distinguished him --- "we are now close upon the Norwegian coast
--- in the sixty-eighth degree of latitude --- in the great
province of Nordland --- and in the dreary district of Lofoden. The
mountain upon whose top we sit is Helseggen, the Cloudy. Now raise
yourself up a little higher --- hold on to the grass if you feel
giddy --- so --- and look out, beyond the belt of vapor beneath us,
into the sea."
I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose
waters wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian
geographer's account of the Mare Tenebrarum. A panorama more
deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right
and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched,
like ramparts of the world, lines of horridly black and beetling
cliff, whose character of gloom was but the more forcibly
illustrated by the surf which reared high up against its white and
ghastly crest, howling and shrieking for ever. Just opposite the
promontory upon whose apex we were placed, and at a distance of
some five or six miles out at sea, there was visible a small,
bleak-looking island; or, more properly, its position was
discernible through the wilderness of surge in which it was
enveloped. About two miles nearer the land, arose another of
smaller size, hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed at
various intervals by a cluster of dark rocks.
The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more
distant island and the shore, had something very unusual about it.
Although, at the time, so strong a gale was blowing landward that a
brig in the remote offing lay to under a double-reefed trysail, and
constantly plunged her whole hull out of sight, still there was
here nothing like a regular swell, but only a short, quick, angry
cross dashing of water in every direction --- as well in the teeth
of the wind as otherwise. Of foam there was little except in the
immediate vicinity of the rocks.
"The island in the distance," resumed the old man, "is called by
the Norwegians Vurrgh. The one midway is Moskoe. That a mile to the
northward is Ambaaren. Yonder are Islesen, Hotholm, Keildhelm,
Suarven, and Buckholm. Farther off --- between Moskoe and Vurrgh
--- are Otterholm, Flimen, Sandflesen, and Stockholm. These are the
true names of the places --- but why it has been thought necessary
to name them at all, is more than either you or I can understand.
Do you hear any thing? Do you see any change in the water?"
We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, to
which we had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we had
caught no glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the
summit. As the old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and
gradually increasing sound, like the moaning of a vast herd of
buffaloes upon an American prairie; and at the same moment I
perceived that what seamen term the chopping character of the ocean
beneath us, was rapidly changing into a current which set to the
eastward. Even while I gazed, this current acquired a monstrous
velocity. Each moment added to its speed --- to its headlong
impetuosity. In five minutes the whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was
lashed into ungovernable fury; but it was between Moskoe and the
coast that the main uproar held its sway. Here the vast bed of the
waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels,
burst suddenly into phrensied convulsion --- heaving, boiling,
hissing --- gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all
whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which
water never elsewhere assumes except in precipitous descents.
Excerpted from IN THE SHADOW OF THE MASTER: Classic Tales by
Edgar Allan Poe © Copyright 2011 by Michael Connelly.
Reprinted with permission by William Morrow. All rights