the noble South Sea war-wood, are frequently met with in the forecastles
of American whalers. Some of them are done with much accuracy.
At some old gable-roofed country houses you will see brass whales hung
by the tail for knockers to the road-side door. When the porter is
sleepy, the anvil-headed whale would be best. But these knocking
whales are seldom remarkable as faithful essays. On the spires of some
old-fashioned churches you will see sheet-iron whales placed there for
weather-cocks; but they are so elevated, and besides that are to all
intents and purposes so labelled with "HANDS OFF!" you cannot examine
them closely enough to decide upon their merit.
In bony, ribby regions of the earth, where at the base of high broken
cliffs masses of rock lie strewn in fantastic groupings upon the
plain, you will often discover images as of the petrified forms of the
Leviathan partly merged in grass, which of a windy day breaks against
them in a surf of green surges.
Then, again, in mountainous countries where the traveller is continually
girdled by amphitheatrical heights; here and there from some lucky
point of view you will catch passing glimpses of the profiles of
whales defined along the undulating ridges. But you must be a thorough
whaleman, to see these sights; and not only that, but if you wish
to return to such a sight again, you must be sure and take the exact
intersecting latitude and longitude of your first stand-point, else
so chance-like are such observations of the hills, that your precise,
previous stand-point would require a laborious re-discovery; like the
Soloma Islands, which still remain incognita, though once high-ruffed
Mendanna trod them and old Figuera chronicled them.
Nor when expandingly lifted by your subject, can you fail to trace out
great whales in the starry heavens, and boats in pursuit of them; as
when long filled with thoughts of war the Eastern nations saw armies
locked in battle among the clouds. Thus at the North have I chased
Leviathan round and round the Pole with the revolutions of the bright
points that first defined him to me. And beneath the effulgent Antarctic
skies I have boarded the Argo-Navis, and joined the chase against the
starry Cetus far beyond the utmost stretch of Hydrus and the Flying
With a frigate's anchors for my bridle-bitts and fasces of harpoons for
spurs, would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies, to
see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents really lie
encamped beyond my mortal sight!
CHAPTER 58. Brit.
Steering north-eastward from the Crozetts, we fell in with vast meadows
of brit, the minute, yellow substance, upon which the Right Whale
largely feeds. For leagues and leagues it undulated round us, so that we
seemed to be sailing through boundless fields of ripe and golden wheat.
On the second day, numbers of Right Whales were seen, who, secure from
the attack of a Sperm Whaler like the Pequod, with open jaws sluggishly
swam through the brit, which, adhering to the fringing fibres of that
wondrous Venetian blind in their mouths, was in that manner separated
from the water that escaped at the lip.
As morning mowers, who side by side slowly and seethingly advance
their scythes through the long wet grass of marshy meads; even so these
monsters swam, making a strange, grassy, cutting sound; and leaving
behind them endless swaths of blue upon the yellow sea.*
*That part of the sea known among whalemen as the "Brazil Banks" does
not bear that name as the Banks of Newfoundland do, because of there
being shallows and soundings there, but because of this remarkable
meadow-like appearance, caused by the vast drifts of brit continually
floating in those latitudes, where the Right Whale is often chased.
But it was only the sound they made as they parted the brit which at all
reminded one of mowers. Seen from the mast-heads, especially when they
paused and were stationary for a while, their vast black forms looked
more like lifeless masses of rock than anything else. And as in the
great hunting countries of India, the stranger at a distance will
sometimes pass on the plains recumbent elephants without knowing them
to be such, taking them for bare, blackened elevations of the soil; even
so, often, with him, who for the first time beholds this species of the
leviathans of the sea. And even when recognised at last, their immense
magnitude renders it very hard really to believe that such bulky masses
of overgrowth can possibly be instinct, in all parts, with the same sort
of life that lives in a dog or a horse.
Indeed, in other respects, you can hardly regard any creatures of the
deep with the same feelings that you do those of the shore. For though
some old naturalists have maintained that all creatures of the land are
of their kind in the sea; and though taking a broad general view of
the thing, this may very well be; yet coming to specialties, where, for
example, does the ocean furnish any fish that in disposition answers to
the sagacious kindness of the dog? The accursed shark alone can in any
generic respect be said to bear comparative analogy to him.
But though, to landsmen in general, the native inhabitants of the
seas have ever been regarded with emotions unspeakably unsocial and
repelling; though we know the sea to be an everlasting terra incognita,
so that Columbus sailed over numberless unknown worlds to discover his
one superficial western one; though, by vast odds, the most terrific
of all mortal disasters have immemorially and indiscriminately befallen
tens and hundreds of thousands of those who have gone upon the waters;
though but a moment's consideration will teach, that however baby man
may brag of his science and skill, and however much, in a flattering
future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever,
to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder him, and pulverize
the stateliest, stiffest frigate he can make; nevertheless, by the
continual repetition of these very impressions, man has lost that sense
of the full awfulness of the sea which aboriginally belongs to it.
The first boat we read of, floated on an ocean, that with Portuguese
vengeance had whelmed a whole world without leaving so much as a widow.
That same ocean rolls now; that same ocean destroyed the wrecked ships
of last year. Yea, foolish mortals, Noah's flood is not yet subsided;
two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.
Wherein differ the sea and the land, that a miracle upon one is not a
miracle upon the other? Preternatural terrors rested upon the Hebrews,
when under the feet of Korah and his company the live ground opened
and swallowed them up for ever; yet not a modern sun ever sets, but in
precisely the same manner the live sea swallows up ships and crews.
But not only is the sea such a foe to man who is an alien to it, but it
is also a fiend to its own off-spring; worse than the Persian host who
murdered his own guests; sparing not the creatures which itself hath
spawned. Like a savage tigress that tossing in the jungle overlays her
own cubs, so the sea dashes even the mightiest whales against the rocks,
and leaves them there side by side with the split wrecks of ships. No
mercy, no power but its own controls it. Panting and snorting like a mad
battle steed that has lost its rider, the masterless ocean overruns the
Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide
under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden
beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish
brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the
dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more,
the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each
other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.
Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile
earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a
strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean
surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular
Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the
half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst
CHAPTER 59. Squid.
Slowly wading through the meadows of brit, the Pequod still held on her
way north-eastward towards the island of Java; a gentle air impelling
her keel, so that in the surrounding serenity her three tall tapering
masts mildly waved to that languid breeze, as three mild palms on a
plain. And still, at wide intervals in the silvery night, the lonely,
alluring jet would be seen.
But one transparent blue morning, when a stillness almost preternatural
spread over the sea, however unattended with any stagnant calm; when
the long burnished sun-glade on the waters seemed a golden finger laid
across them, enjoining some secrecy; when the slippered waves whispered
together as they softly ran on; in this profound hush of the visible
sphere a strange spectre was seen by Daggoo from the main-mast-head.
In the distance, a great white mass lazily rose, and rising higher and
higher, and disentangling itself from the azure, at last gleamed before
our prow like a snow-slide, new slid from the hills. Thus glistening
for a moment, as slowly it subsided, and sank. Then once more arose,
and silently gleamed. It seemed not a whale; and yet is this Moby Dick?
thought Daggoo. Again the phantom went down, but on re-appearing once
more, with a stiletto-like cry that startled every man from his nod, the
negro yelled out--"There! there again! there she breaches! right ahead!
The White Whale, the White Whale!"
Upon this, the seamen rushed to the yard-arms, as in swarming-time the
bees rush to the boughs. Bare-headed in the sultry sun, Ahab stood on
the bowsprit, and with one hand pushed far behind in readiness to wave
his orders to the helmsman, cast his eager glance in the direction
indicated aloft by the outstretched motionless arm of Daggoo.
Whether the flitting attendance of the one still and solitary jet had
gradually worked upon Ahab, so that he was now prepared to connect the
ideas of mildness and repose with the first sight of the particular
whale he pursued; however this was, or whether his eagerness betrayed
him; whichever way it might have been, no sooner did he distinctly
perceive the white mass, than with a quick intensity he instantly gave
orders for lowering.
The four boats were soon on the water; Ahab's in advance, and all
swiftly pulling towards their prey. Soon it went down, and while, with
oars suspended, we were awaiting its reappearance, lo! in the same
spot where it sank, once more it slowly rose. Almost forgetting for
the moment all thoughts of Moby Dick, we now gazed at the most wondrous
phenomenon which the secret seas have hitherto revealed to mankind.
A vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a glancing
cream-colour, lay floating on the water, innumerable long arms radiating
from its centre, and curling and twisting like a nest of anacondas, as
if blindly to clutch at any hapless object within reach. No perceptible
face or front did it have; no conceivable token of either sensation or
instinct; but undulated there on the billows, an unearthly, formless,
chance-like apparition of life.
As with a low sucking sound it slowly disappeared again, Starbuck still
gazing at the agitated waters where it had sunk, with a wild voice
exclaimed--"Almost rather had I seen Moby Dick and fought him, than to
have seen thee, thou white ghost!"
"What was it, Sir?" said Flask.
"The great live squid, which, they say, few whale-ships ever beheld, and
returned to their ports to tell of it."
But Ahab said nothing; turning his boat, he sailed back to the vessel;
the rest as silently following.
Whatever superstitions the sperm whalemen in general have connected with
the sight of this object, certain it is, that a glimpse of it being
so very unusual, that circumstance has gone far to invest it with
portentousness. So rarely is it beheld, that though one and all of them
declare it to be the largest animated thing in the ocean, yet very few
of them have any but the most vague ideas concerning its true nature and
form; notwithstanding, they believe it to furnish to the sperm whale
his only food. For though other species of whales find their food above
water, and may be seen by man in the act of feeding, the spermaceti
whale obtains his whole food in unknown zones below the surface; and
only by inference is it that any one can tell of what, precisely, that
food consists. At times, when closely pursued, he will disgorge what
are supposed to be the detached arms of the squid; some of them thus
exhibited exceeding twenty and thirty feet in length. They fancy that
the monster to which these arms belonged ordinarily clings by them to
the bed of the ocean; and that the sperm whale, unlike other species, is
supplied with teeth in order to attack and tear it.
There seems some ground to imagine that the great Kraken of Bishop
Pontoppodan may ultimately resolve itself into Squid. The manner in
which the Bishop describes it, as alternately rising and sinking, with
some other particulars he narrates, in all this the two correspond.
But much abatement is necessary with respect to the incredible bulk he
By some naturalists who have vaguely heard rumors of the mysterious
creature, here spoken of, it is included among the class of cuttle-fish,
to which, indeed, in certain external respects it would seem to belong,
but only as the Anak of the tribe.
CHAPTER 60. The Line.
With reference to the whaling scene shortly to be described, as well as
for the better understanding of all similar scenes elsewhere presented,
I have here to speak of the magical, sometimes horrible whale-line.
The line originally used in the fishery was of the best hemp, slightly
vapoured with tar, not impregnated with it, as in the case of ordinary
ropes; for while tar, as ordinarily used, makes the hemp more pliable to
the rope-maker, and also renders the rope itself more convenient to the
sailor for common ship use; yet, not only would the ordinary quantity
too much stiffen the whale-line for the close coiling to which it must
be subjected; but as most seamen are beginning to learn, tar in general
by no means adds to the rope's durability or strength, however much it
may give it compactness and gloss.
Of late years the Manilla rope has in the American fishery almost
entirely superseded hemp as a material for whale-lines; for, though not
so durable as hemp, it is stronger, and far more soft and elastic; and
I will add (since there is an aesthetics in all things), is much more
handsome and becoming to the boat, than hemp. Hemp is a dusky, dark
fellow, a sort of Indian; but Manilla is as a golden-haired Circassian
The whale-line is only two-thirds of an inch in thickness. At first
sight, you would not think it so strong as it really is. By experiment
its one and fifty yarns will each suspend a weight of one hundred and
twenty pounds; so that the whole rope will bear a strain nearly equal
to three tons. In length, the common sperm whale-line measures something
over two hundred fathoms. Towards the stern of the boat it is spirally
coiled away in the tub, not like the worm-pipe of a still though, but so
as to form one round, cheese-shaped mass of densely bedded "sheaves," or
layers of concentric spiralizations, without any hollow but the "heart,"
or minute vertical tube formed at the axis of the cheese. As the least
tangle or kink in the coiling would, in running out, infallibly take
somebody's arm, leg, or entire body off, the utmost precaution is used
in stowing the line in its tub. Some harpooneers will consume almost an
entire morning in this business, carrying the line high aloft and then
reeving it downwards through a block towards the tub, so as in the act
of coiling to free it from all possible wrinkles and twists.
In the English boats two tubs are used instead of one; the same line
being continuously coiled in both tubs. There is some advantage in this;
because these twin-tubs being so small they fit more readily into the
boat, and do not strain it so much; whereas, the American tub, nearly
three feet in diameter and of proportionate depth, makes a rather bulky
freight for a craft whose planks are but one half-inch in thickness; for
the bottom of the whale-boat is like critical ice, which will bear up
a considerable distributed weight, but not very much of a concentrated
one. When the painted canvas cover is clapped on the American line-tub,
the boat looks as if it were pulling off with a prodigious great
wedding-cake to present to the whales.
Both ends of the line are exposed; the lower end terminating in an
eye-splice or loop coming up from the bottom against the side of the
tub, and hanging over its edge completely disengaged from everything.
This arrangement of the lower end is necessary on two accounts. First:
In order to facilitate the fastening to it of an additional line from a
neighboring boat, in case the stricken whale should sound so deep as
to threaten to carry off the entire line originally attached to the
harpoon. In these instances, the whale of course is shifted like a mug
of ale, as it were, from the one boat to the other; though the
first boat always hovers at hand to assist its consort. Second: This
arrangement is indispensable for common safety's sake; for were the
lower end of the line in any way attached to the boat, and were the
whale then to run the line out to the end almost in a single, smoking
minute as he sometimes does, he would not stop there, for the doomed
boat would infallibly be dragged down after him into the profundity of
the sea; and in that case no town-crier would ever find her again.
Before lowering the boat for the chase, the upper end of the line is
taken aft from the tub, and passing round the loggerhead there, is again
carried forward the entire length of the boat, resting crosswise upon
the loom or handle of every man's oar, so that it jogs against his wrist
in rowing; and also passing between the men, as they alternately sit at
the opposite gunwales, to the leaded chocks or grooves in the extreme
pointed prow of the boat, where a wooden pin or skewer the size of a
common quill, prevents it from slipping out. From the chocks it hangs
in a slight festoon over the bows, and is then passed inside the boat
again; and some ten or twenty fathoms (called box-line) being coiled
upon the box in the bows, it continues its way to the gunwale still a
little further aft, and is then attached to the short-warp--the rope
which is immediately connected with the harpoon; but previous to that
connexion, the short-warp goes through sundry mystifications too tedious
Thus the whale-line folds the whole boat in its complicated coils,
twisting and writhing around it in almost every direction. All the
oarsmen are involved in its perilous contortions; so that to the timid
eye of the landsman, they seem as Indian jugglers, with the deadliest
snakes sportively festooning their limbs. Nor can any son of mortal
woman, for the first time, seat himself amid those hempen intricacies,
and while straining his utmost at the oar, bethink him that at any
unknown instant the harpoon may be darted, and all these horrible
contortions be put in play like ringed lightnings; he cannot be thus
circumstanced without a shudder that makes the very marrow in his bones
to quiver in him like a shaken jelly. Yet habit--strange thing! what
cannot habit accomplish?--Gayer sallies, more merry mirth, better jokes,
and brighter repartees, you never heard over your mahogany, than you
will hear over the half-inch white cedar of the whale-boat, when thus
hung in hangman's nooses; and, like the six burghers of Calais before
King Edward, the six men composing the crew pull into the jaws of death,
with a halter around every neck, as you may say.
Perhaps a very little thought will now enable you to account for
those repeated whaling disasters--some few of which are casually
chronicled--of this man or that man being taken out of the boat by the
line, and lost. For, when the line is darting out, to be seated then in
the boat, is like being seated in the midst of the manifold whizzings
of a steam-engine in full play, when every flying beam, and shaft, and
wheel, is grazing you. It is worse; for you cannot sit motionless in the
heart of these perils, because the boat is rocking like a cradle, and
you are pitched one way and the other, without the slightest warning;
and only by a certain self-adjusting buoyancy and simultaneousness of
volition and action, can you escape being made a Mazeppa of, and run
away with where the all-seeing sun himself could never pierce you out.
Again: as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and
prophesies of the storm, is perhaps more awful than the storm itself;
for, indeed, the calm is but the wrapper and envelope of the storm; and
contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the fatal
powder, and the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose of the
line, as it silently serpentines about the oarsmen before being brought
into actual play--this is a thing which carries more of true terror than
any other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why say more? All men
live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their
necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death,
that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life.
And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would
not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before
your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.
CHAPTER 61. Stubb Kills a Whale.
If to Starbuck the apparition of the Squid was a thing of portents, to
Queequeg it was quite a different object.