The combined talents of Edgar Allan Poe and Harry Clarke produce a work of “flesh-creeping, brain haunting, illusions of horror, terror and the unspeakable”.

1827: Poe’s literary career begins with the publication of Tamerlane and he becomes one of the worlds most famous storytellers.

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe, Boston Massachusetts. (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849)

Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, poet and literary critic. Today he still is one of the world’s most famous storytellers, and he has been the inspiration for many great horror films. His stories spanned multiple genres including science fiction, detective stories and tragic romance. His stories, such as The Masque of the Red Death, are a part of pop culture mostly due to a series of films that were made of his work in the 1960’s. He is also credited wtih being the pioneer of the detective story because of his tale The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Of course most of us know him for his tragically romantic poem The Raven which made him an international celebrity when it was first published in 1845. His chilling short stories of horror have never lost their popularity and still inspire artists, film makers and musicians today, but it was back in the early 1900’s—around 70 years after his death—that an anthology of his short tales of terror, when paired with the gorgeous illustrations of Irish artist Harry Clarke, that Poe became an international sensation.

1889-1931: Harry Clarke is credited as the finest Irish illustrator and stained glass artist of all time.

Harry Clarke

Harry Clarke

Harry Clarke, Dublin Ireland. (17 March 1889 – 6 January 1931)

Harry Clarke was an Irish stained glass artist and illustrator. Like Poe, he was a master of his craft and was credited as the finest Irish Illustrator and stained glass artist of all time. He was heavily inspired by Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement in Dublin during his time. Art Nouveau is an ornamental style of art characterized by its use of a long, elongated forms, organic shapes and decorative patterns, often combined with erotic imagery.This style is evident in the delicate beauty of Clarke’s work. He was known for his religious stained glass windows for churches and private commissions, for which he created some gorgeous works. A supreme example is The Eve of Saint Agnes stained glass window, which can be seen in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. His stained glass work for churches can be seen as far away as Australia, The US, Great Britain, and of course, here in Ireland. Two of these windows are in my own parish church in Balbriggan, North County Dublin.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination - front cover

Tales of Mystery and Imagination – front cover

Detail from The Eve of Saint Agnes by Harry Clarke

Detail from The Eve of Saint Agnes by Harry Clarke

Details from The Visitation, stained glass window in Balbriggan parish church

Details from The Visitation, stained glass window in Balbriggan parish church

Though he is famous for being a stained glass artist, he was equally talented as an illustrator and had a real penchant for the macabre, which can be seen in wonderful little grotesque images he adds to much of his work. So in 1919 when publishers George G. Harrap, London, printed a collection of 29 of Poe’s short stories titled “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”, Harry Clarke was hired to do the illustrations.

Many famous artists have illustrated Poe’s work, but it was Clarke’s unique ability to add so much style and delicate beauty to the grotesque themes that made him the greatest and most well-known illustrator of the dark tales of Edgar Allan Poe. It was a partnership of two geniuses. Along with Poe’s 29 stories, Tales of Mystery and Imagination featured 24 full page drawings and 8 full colour plates by Clarke. When it was published, it created such a sensation that, everyone wanted a copy  of the delux version, which was so gorgeous that it sold for the equivalent of about $300 in today’s money.  Clarke turned this anthology of stories into a work of art that became a sensation due to his dark but stylish and truly elegant illustrations. So much so that in 1919 a London critic wrote “Never before…have these marvelous tales been visually interpreted with such flesh-creeping, brain haunting, illusions of horror, terror and the unspeakable”

1919: Tales of Mystery and Imagination published with stories by Edgar Allan Poe and illustrations by Harry Clarke

 “Down - steadily down it crept.”

“Down – steadily down it crept.”


“They pressed – they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps. They writhed upon my throat”

In the Pit and the Pendulum the Narrator is condemned to death by the Spanish Inquisition for an unknown crime. He is incarcerated in a Toledo dungeon and is subjected to a series of tortures. This image depicts the Narrator on a damp hard slab in the oppressive darkness of a dungeon, bound in straps and surrounded by rats. The pendulum swings back and forth above him. He is helpless as the pendulum descends closer and closer to his chest, and the rats, becoming more and more bold, cover his body looking for food.The rats have surrounded the narrators face and his wretched look with his dark hair stuck to his temple and his black hooded eyes show his terror as he stares straight at the viewer.The pendulum swings just above him. It is only a matter of time before the pendulum slices into his abdomen and the rats devour his body. Clarke’s style was characterized by his use of a long, sinuous, lines and elongated elegant forms. Due to his amazing talent a gruesome subject became visually gorgeous. This is evident by the long body of the Narrator and the swirling straps around his body. Instead of presenting the narrator lying flat on the slab, Clarke displays him stretched diagonally across the image, extending from his bare toes on the bottom left to his tortured face towards the top right. I think this allows Clarke to show the flow of the delicate lines of the straps curving down from the body like a cape, as they bind the narrator to the slab. And the rats! Ugh! The poor Narrator is engulfed around his body and head, but look closely at the details. Clarke was adept at adding interesting little details to his work. Here you can see that the Narrator is holding back a rat in his hand. Even here we see Clarke’s characteristic style of slim, delicate, elongated fingers holding that evil creature hungrily trying to move upwards. Closer to the Narrators head you can also see some swirls coming towards his face. They also show little rat-like heads flying in to attack the desperate victim. All this while the pendulum’s gleaming blade swings back and forth above him.

“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death”


“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all”.

The Masque of the Red Death is about a terrible plague sweeping the land, causing the peasants to bleed from their pores and suffer an agonizing death. Prince Prospero ignores the plight of the peasants and selfishly tries to escape the epidemic along with his noble friends by throwing a decadent masquerade ball in his luxurious abbey. Then a mysterious guest arrives, moving through the abbey from one room to the next, ending at the ebony clock.

In this story Clark has created a gorgeous scene of revellers in this opulent abbey. He has shown this in the lovely flowered and ornate clock with it’s 3 elegantly carved pendulums. The heavy drapes in the background and the walls are also detailed with flowers. You can see the revelers adorned in their beautiful costumes. So much detail has gone into even the smallest elements. In the story each room has its own unique colour – blue purple green orange white and violet. The seventh room with the ebony clock is black with red windows. Each room also has its own stained glass pattern. In Clarkes image you can see this stained glass window to the left of the curtains. This is interesting, because Harry Clarke was himself a famous stained glass artist.

Slender, elongated figures are unmistakable examples of Clarke’s technique, and true to Clarkes style, even the mysterious and terrifying guest is elegant and slender. The delicate shoes and some of the robes in his body indicate that he is a nobleman. He may be noble, but his face shows the terrifying ravages of the Red Death. We can see the shock and fear on the faces of the other people as he removes his mask to show the effects of the plague. Prince Prospero has ignored the ravages of the plague on the land, but there is no escaping the Red Death. The plague has come to him like a thief in the night killing everyone in it’s path.

Is it not-O God! is it not a very pitiful sight?

Is it not-O God! is it not a very pitiful sight?


“The grave was carelessly and loosely filled with an exceedingly porous soil; and thus some air was necessarily admitted. He heard the footsteps of the crowd overhead, and endeavoured to make himself heard in turn. It was the tumult within the grounds of the cemetery, he said, which appeared to awaken him from a deep sleep-but no sooner was he awake than he became fully aware of the awful horrors of his position”.

I think everyone can relate to the fear of being buried alive. Today we don’t think this can really happen, but it was a reasonable fear in the 19th century and many cases were reported of doctors mistakenly pronouncing people dead. At this time coffins were sometimes occasionally were equipped with emergency devices to allow the entombed to call for help. In fact I was told about this on a cemetery tour in New Orleans once. In this tale a man who suffers from seizures and sometimes falls into a death-like trance is afraid he will be taken for dead and be buried alive. He becomes obsessed with the fear which happens to come true when at one stage he wakes up confined in pitch darkness, but he is not actually buried but on a boat. This event ended up helping him become a new man who dismissed his phobia and began “living a mans life”.

I love Harry Clarke’s illustration for this story. In typical Clarke style, the roots of the tree stretching eerily down to the coffin are creepy but also very slim and elegant. They provide a link between the buried Narrator and the world above, but it is so sinuous that it seems more like he is being taunted than a serious connection that may save him. The entombed Narrator in his coffin stretches along the end of the image. Adding to the macabre theme are the decaying bodies beneath him, showing the inevitable fate of being buried alive.The image is horrifying but still gorgeous. The lovely tree and detailed elements of the earth above in contrast with the horror going on below and the large black space in the middle showing just how far down the Narrator is buried with this awfully large space between the earth above and his coffin. There is no room around his body and he looks directly at the view in abject terror.


1809 – Edgar Allan Poe birth
1827 – Poe’s literary career begins with the publication of Tamerlane and Other Poems credited only to “a Bostonian”
1841 – The Murders in the Rue Morgue published earning Poe the title of the “Father of the Detective Story”
1839 – 1843 – Some of Poe’s most well known tales of terror published
1845 – Poe’s famous romantically tragic poem The Raven published
1849 – Edgar Allan Poe death
1889 – Harry Clarke birth
1919 – Tales of Mystery and Imagination illustrated by Harry Clarke published by publishers George G. Harrap, London
1923 – Tales of Mystery and Imagination reprinted with an additional 8 full colour plates by Clarke
1931 – Harry Clarke death


The pit and the pendulum by Otis Jiry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3awLJes2WNI

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