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“Intervals of Tranquillity”: The Language of Health in Antebellum America

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2009

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Hurled into the vortex of a whirlpool, Edgar Allan Poe's protagonist in “A Descent into the Maelström” hangs suspended on a wall of water. A deafening roar like that of Niagara Falls and a haunting moan like a “vast herd of buffaloes” resound as the fisherman and his brother watch pieces of society and nature float by: “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.” In the midst of this swirling rubble, Poe's hero survives on luck; clutching at a water cask, he hangs on the rim of the maelstrom until the cask's buoyancy lifts him from the water's depths. Punctuated by mere “intervals of tranquillity,” this chaotic landscape emanates violence and danger.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1987

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67. Ibid., p. 196.

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69. Ibid., p. 206.

70. Ibid., p. 208.

71. Ibid., p. 224.

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