Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

  Symptoms Consistent with CO Poisoning
in the Stories of Edgar Allan Poe



From Poisoned Poe by Albert Donnay, presented at the International Edgar Allan Poe Conference, 9 October 1999


1834: A Decided Loss, renamed Loss of Breath

"I will endeavor to depict my sensations upon the gallows. ... Every writer should confine himself to matters of experience. ... I heard my heart beating with violence--the veins in my hands and wrists swelled to nearly bursting--my tempestuously--and I felt that my eyes were starting from their sockets. Yet when I say that in spite of all this my sensations were not absolutely intolerable, I will not be believed. There were noises in my ears--first like the tolling of huge bells--then like the beating of a thousand drums--then, lastly, like the low, sullen murmurs of the sea. ...

Although, too, the powers of my mind were confused and distorted, yet I was--strange to say!--well aware of such confusion and distortions. Memory, which, of all other faculties, should have first taken its departure, seemed on the contrary to have been endowed with quadrupled power. ... A rapid change was now taking place in my sensations. The last shadows of concentration flitted away from my meditations. A storm--a tempest of ideas, vast, novel, and soul-stirring, bore my spirit like a feather afar off. Confusion crowded upon confusion like a wave upon a wave. ...

During the brief passage to the cemetery [i.e. outdoors, in fresh air] my sensations, which for some time had been lethargic and dull, assumed, all at once, a degree of intense and unnatural vivacity for which I can in no manner account. I could distinctly hear the rustling of the plumes--the whispers of the attendants--the solemn breathings of the horses of death. ... I could distinguish the peculiar odor of the coffin--the sharp acid smell of the steel screws. I could see the texture of the shroud as it lay close against my face..."


1839: The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion

Charmion: "It is now ten earthly years since I underwent what you have undergone." [Poe probably first lived with gas lighting in 1829, while rooming for a few months at his foster father's expense with his cousin Edward Mosher in Beltzhoover's Hotel in downtown Baltimore. Formerly the Indian Queen Hotel, it was remodeled in 1826.]

Eiros: "The wild sickness and the terrible darkness have left me, and I hear no longer that mad, rushing, horrible sound, like the 'voice of many waters.' Yet my senses are bewildered Charmion, with the keenness of their perception of the new. ... The first sense of pain lay in a rigorous constriction of the breast and lungs, and an insufferable dryness of the skin. ... We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium possessed all men ..."  

1839: The Fall of the House of Usher **

** People with chronic CO poisoning report having an average 27 of these 30 symptoms in the last month; healthy people report an average of just 2.

  1. "ghastly pallor of the skin... a cadaverousness of complexion"

  2. "miraculous luster of the eye"

  3. "gossamer texture" [of hair]

  4. "nervous agitation"
  6. "alternately vivacious and sullen"
  8. "voiced varied from tremulous indecision to ..."
  10. "...that species of energetic concision--abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation--that leaden, self-balanced, and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard"
  12. "it was, he said, a constitutional and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy--a mere nervous affection, he immediately added, which would soon pass off"
  14. "it displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations"
  16. "he suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses"
  18. "insipid food was alone endurable"
  20. "could wear only garments of certain texture"
  22. "the odors of all flowers were oppressive"
  24. "eyes were tortured by even a faint light"
  26. "there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror"
  28. "phantasmagoric conceptions ... wild fantasies"
  30. "fear"
  32. "without having noticed my presence" [oblivious to comings and goings of others around you]
  34. "he arrested and overawed attention ... an intensity of intolerable awe"
  36. "radiation of gloom"
  38. "painted an idea...pure abstractions"
  40. "intense mental collectedness and concentration ...observable only in particular moments"
  42. "roamed from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless step"
  44. "sleep came not near my couch"
  46. "gazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the profoundest attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound"
  48. "hysteria in his whole demeanor"
  50. "struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me"
  52. "irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame"
  54. "there sat upon my heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm"
  56. "overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable"

1840: The Philosophy of Furniture

[illuminating gas is] "totally inadmissible within doors. Its harsh and unsteady light is positively offensive. No man having both brains and eyes will use it."


1843: The Tell-Tale Heart

"And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but overacuteness of the senses?"


1844: The Premature Burial

"Sometimes, without any apparent cause, I sank, little by little, into a condition of hemi-syncope, or half swoon; and, in this condition, without pain, without ability to stir, or strictly speaking, to think, but with a dull lethargic consciousness of life and of those who surrounded my bed, I remained, until the crisis of the disease restored me, suddenly, to perfect sensation. At other times I was quickly and impetuously smitten. I grew sick, and numb, and chilly, and dizzy, and so fell prostrate at once."

Return to Poe Page




[Home] [Referrals] [Resources] [Links] [Contact Us]

Last Modified: 10/24/06