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The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Raven Edition Volume 4
LOSS OF BREATH
page 1 of 6 | Table of Contents
O Breathe not, etc. -- Moore's Melodies
THE MOST notorious ill-fortune must in the end yield to the untiring courage of philosophy -- as the most stubborn city to the ceaseless vigilance of an enemy. Shalmanezer, as we have it in holy writings, lay three years before Samaria; yet it fell. Sardanapalus -- see Diodorus -- maintained himself seven in Nineveh; but to no purpose. Troy expired at the close of the second lustrum; and Azoth, as Aristaeus declares upon his honour as a gentleman, opened at last her gates to Psammetichus, after having barred them for the fifth part of a century....
"Thou wretch! -- thou vixen! -- thou shrew!" said I to my wife on the morning after our wedding; "thou witch! -- thou hag! -- thou whippersnapper -- thou sink of iniquity! -- thou fiery-faced quintessence of all that is abominable! -- thou -- thou-" here standing upon tiptoe, seizing her by the throat, and placing my mouth close to her ear, I was preparing to launch forth a new and more decided epithet of opprobrium, which should not fail, if ejaculated, to convince her of her insignificance, when to my extreme horror and astonishment I discovered that I had lost my breath.
The phrases "I am out of breath," "I have lost my breath," etc., are often enough repeated in common conversation; but it had never occurred to me that the terrible accident of which I speak could bona fide and actually happen! Imagine -- that is if you have a fanciful turn -- imagine, I say, my wonder -- my consternation -- my despair!
There is a good genius, however, which has never entirely deserted me. In my most ungovernable moods I still retain a sense of propriety, et le chemin des passions me conduit -- as Lord Edouard in the "Julie" says it did him -- a la philosophie veritable.
Although I could not at first precisely ascertain to what degree the occurence had affected me, I determined at all events to conceal the matter from my wife, until further experience should discover to me the extent of this my unheard of calamity. Altering my countenance, therefore, in a moment, from its bepuffed and distorted appearance, to an expression of arch and coquettish benignity, I gave my lady a pat on the one cheek, and a kiss on the other, and without saying one syllable (Furies! I could not), left her astonished at my drollery, as I pirouetted out of the room in a Pas de Zephyr.
Behold me then safely ensconced in my private boudoir, a fearful instance of the ill consequences attending upon irascibility -- alive, with the qualifications of the dead -- dead, with the propensities of the living -- an anomaly on the face of the earth -- being very calm, yet breathless.
Yes! breathless. I am serious in asserting that my breath was entirely gone. I could not have stirred with it a feather if my life had been at issue, or sullied even the delicacy of a mirror. Hard fate! -- yet there was some alleviation to the first overwhelming paroxysm of my sorrow. I found, upon trial, that the powers of utterance which, upon my inability to proceed in the conversation with my wife, I then concluded to be totally destroyed, were in fact only partially impeded, and I discovered that had I, at that interesting crisis, dropped my voice to a singularly deep guttural, I might still have continued to her the communication of my sentiments; this pitch of voice (the guttural) depending, I find, not upon the current of the breath, but upon a certain spasmodic action of the muscles of the throat.
Throwing myself upon a chair, I remained for some time absorbed in meditation. My reflections, be sure, were of no consolatory kind. A thousand vague and lachrymatory fancies took possesion of my soul -- and even the idea of suicide flitted across my brain; but it is a trait in the perversity of human nature to reject the obvious and the ready, for the far-distant and equivocal. Thus I shuddered at self-murder as the most decided of atrocities while the tabby cat purred strenuously upon the rug, and the very water dog wheezed assiduously under the table, each taking to itself much merit for the strength of its lungs, and all obviously done in derision of my own pulmonary incapacity.
Oppressed with a tumult of vague hopes and fears, I at length heard the footsteps of my wife descending the staircase. Being now assured of her absence, I returned with a palpitating heart to the scene of my disaster.