The Project Gutenberg ebook of Moby Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville



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wondrousness unknown before.


"He turns and turns him to it,--how slowly, but how steadfastly, his

homage-rendering and invoking brow, with his last dying motions. He too

worships fire; most faithful, broad, baronial vassal of the sun!--Oh

that these too-favouring eyes should see these too-favouring sights.

Look! here, far water-locked; beyond all hum of human weal or woe;

in these most candid and impartial seas; where to traditions no rocks

furnish tablets; where for long Chinese ages, the billows have still

rolled on speechless and unspoken to, as stars that shine upon the

Niger's unknown source; here, too, life dies sunwards full of faith; but

see! no sooner dead, than death whirls round the corpse, and it heads

some other way.
"Oh, thou dark Hindoo half of nature, who of drowned bones hast builded

thy separate throne somewhere in the heart of these unverdured seas;

thou art an infidel, thou queen, and too truly speakest to me in the

wide-slaughtering Typhoon, and the hushed burial of its after calm. Nor

has this thy whale sunwards turned his dying head, and then gone round

again, without a lesson to me.


"Oh, trebly hooped and welded hip of power! Oh, high aspiring, rainbowed

jet!--that one strivest, this one jettest all in vain! In vain, oh

whale, dost thou seek intercedings with yon all-quickening sun, that

only calls forth life, but gives it not again. Yet dost thou, darker

half, rock me with a prouder, if a darker faith. All thy unnamable

imminglings float beneath me here; I am buoyed by breaths of once living

things, exhaled as air, but water now.
"Then hail, for ever hail, O sea, in whose eternal tossings the wild

fowl finds his only rest. Born of earth, yet suckled by the sea; though

hill and valley mothered me, ye billows are my foster-brothers!"

CHAPTER 117. The Whale Watch.

The four whales slain that evening had died wide apart; one, far to

windward; one, less distant, to leeward; one ahead; one astern. These

last three were brought alongside ere nightfall; but the windward one

could not be reached till morning; and the boat that had killed it lay

by its side all night; and that boat was Ahab's.
The waif-pole was thrust upright into the dead whale's spout-hole; and

the lantern hanging from its top, cast a troubled flickering glare

upon the black, glossy back, and far out upon the midnight waves, which

gently chafed the whale's broad flank, like soft surf upon a beach.


Ahab and all his boat's crew seemed asleep but the Parsee; who crouching

in the bow, sat watching the sharks, that spectrally played round the

whale, and tapped the light cedar planks with their tails. A sound

like the moaning in squadrons over Asphaltites of unforgiven ghosts of

Gomorrah, ran shuddering through the air.
Started from his slumbers, Ahab, face to face, saw the Parsee; and

hooped round by the gloom of the night they seemed the last men in a

flooded world. "I have dreamed it again," said he.
"Of the hearses? Have I not said, old man, that neither hearse nor

coffin can be thine?"


"And who are hearsed that die on the sea?"
"But I said, old man, that ere thou couldst die on this voyage, two

hearses must verily be seen by thee on the sea; the first not made by

mortal hands; and the visible wood of the last one must be grown in

America."


"Aye, aye! a strange sight that, Parsee:--a hearse and its plumes

floating over the ocean with the waves for the pall-bearers. Ha! Such a

sight we shall not soon see."
"Believe it or not, thou canst not die till it be seen, old man."
"And what was that saying about thyself?"
"Though it come to the last, I shall still go before thee thy pilot."
"And when thou art so gone before--if that ever befall--then ere I can

follow, thou must still appear to me, to pilot me still?--Was it not

so? Well, then, did I believe all ye say, oh my pilot! I have here two

pledges that I shall yet slay Moby Dick and survive it."


"Take another pledge, old man," said the Parsee, as his eyes lighted up

like fire-flies in the gloom--"Hemp only can kill thee."


"The gallows, ye mean.--I am immortal then, on land and on sea," cried

Ahab, with a laugh of derision;--"Immortal on land and on sea!"


Both were silent again, as one man. The grey dawn came on, and the

slumbering crew arose from the boat's bottom, and ere noon the dead

whale was brought to the ship.

CHAPTER 118. The Quadrant.

The season for the Line at length drew near; and every day when Ahab,

coming from his cabin, cast his eyes aloft, the vigilant helmsman would

ostentatiously handle his spokes, and the eager mariners quickly run to

the braces, and would stand there with all their eyes centrally fixed

on the nailed doubloon; impatient for the order to point the ship's

prow for the equator. In good time the order came. It was hard upon high

noon; and Ahab, seated in the bows of his high-hoisted boat, was

about taking his wonted daily observation of the sun to determine his

latitude.
Now, in that Japanese sea, the days in summer are as freshets of

effulgences. That unblinkingly vivid Japanese sun seems the blazing

focus of the glassy ocean's immeasurable burning-glass. The sky looks

lacquered; clouds there are none; the horizon floats; and this nakedness

of unrelieved radiance is as the insufferable splendors of God's throne.

Well that Ahab's quadrant was furnished with coloured glasses, through

which to take sight of that solar fire. So, swinging his seated form

to the roll of the ship, and with his astrological-looking instrument

placed to his eye, he remained in that posture for some moments to

catch the precise instant when the sun should gain its precise meridian.

Meantime while his whole attention was absorbed, the Parsee was kneeling

beneath him on the ship's deck, and with face thrown up like Ahab's,

was eyeing the same sun with him; only the lids of his eyes half hooded

their orbs, and his wild face was subdued to an earthly passionlessness.

At length the desired observation was taken; and with his pencil upon

his ivory leg, Ahab soon calculated what his latitude must be at that

precise instant. Then falling into a moment's revery, he again looked up

towards the sun and murmured to himself: "Thou sea-mark! thou high and

mighty Pilot! thou tellest me truly where I AM--but canst thou cast the

least hint where I SHALL be? Or canst thou tell where some other thing

besides me is this moment living? Where is Moby Dick? This instant thou

must be eyeing him. These eyes of mine look into the very eye that is

even now beholding him; aye, and into the eye that is even now equally

beholding the objects on the unknown, thither side of thee, thou sun!"


Then gazing at his quadrant, and handling, one after the other, its

numerous cabalistical contrivances, he pondered again, and muttered:

"Foolish toy! babies' plaything of haughty Admirals, and Commodores, and

Captains; the world brags of thee, of thy cunning and might; but what

after all canst thou do, but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou

thyself happenest to be on this wide planet, and the hand that holds

thee: no! not one jot more! Thou canst not tell where one drop of water

or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon; and yet with thy impotence

thou insultest the sun! Science! Curse thee, thou vain toy; and cursed

be all the things that cast man's eyes aloft to that heaven, whose live

vividness but scorches him, as these old eyes are even now scorched

with thy light, O sun! Level by nature to this earth's horizon are the

glances of man's eyes; not shot from the crown of his head, as if God

had meant him to gaze on his firmament. Curse thee, thou quadrant!"

dashing it to the deck, "no longer will I guide my earthly way by thee;

the level ship's compass, and the level deadreckoning, by log and by

line; THESE shall conduct me, and show me my place on the sea. Aye,"

lighting from the boat to the deck, "thus I trample on thee, thou paltry

thing that feebly pointest on high; thus I split and destroy thee!"
As the frantic old man thus spoke and thus trampled with his live

and dead feet, a sneering triumph that seemed meant for Ahab, and a

fatalistic despair that seemed meant for himself--these passed over

the mute, motionless Parsee's face. Unobserved he rose and glided away;

while, awestruck by the aspect of their commander, the seamen clustered

together on the forecastle, till Ahab, troubledly pacing the deck,

shouted out--"To the braces! Up helm!--square in!"
In an instant the yards swung round; and as the ship half-wheeled upon

her heel, her three firm-seated graceful masts erectly poised upon

her long, ribbed hull, seemed as the three Horatii pirouetting on one

sufficient steed.


Standing between the knight-heads, Starbuck watched the Pequod's

tumultuous way, and Ahab's also, as he went lurching along the deck.


"I have sat before the dense coal fire and watched it all aglow, full of

its tormented flaming life; and I have seen it wane at last, down, down,

to dumbest dust. Old man of oceans! of all this fiery life of thine,

what will at length remain but one little heap of ashes!"


"Aye," cried Stubb, "but sea-coal ashes--mind ye that, Mr.

Starbuck--sea-coal, not your common charcoal. Well, well; I heard Ahab

mutter, 'Here some one thrusts these cards into these old hands of mine;

swears that I must play them, and no others.' And damn me, Ahab, but

thou actest right; live in the game, and die in it!"

CHAPTER 119. The Candles.

Warmest climes but nurse the cruellest fangs: the tiger of Bengal

crouches in spiced groves of ceaseless verdure. Skies the most effulgent

but basket the deadliest thunders: gorgeous Cuba knows tornadoes

that never swept tame northern lands. So, too, it is, that in these

resplendent Japanese seas the mariner encounters the direst of all

storms, the Typhoon. It will sometimes burst from out that cloudless

sky, like an exploding bomb upon a dazed and sleepy town.
Towards evening of that day, the Pequod was torn of her canvas, and

bare-poled was left to fight a Typhoon which had struck her directly

ahead. When darkness came on, sky and sea roared and split with the

thunder, and blazed with the lightning, that showed the disabled masts

fluttering here and there with the rags which the first fury of the

tempest had left for its after sport.


Holding by a shroud, Starbuck was standing on the quarter-deck; at every

flash of the lightning glancing aloft, to see what additional disaster

might have befallen the intricate hamper there; while Stubb and Flask

were directing the men in the higher hoisting and firmer lashing of the

boats. But all their pains seemed naught. Though lifted to the very

top of the cranes, the windward quarter boat (Ahab's) did not escape.

A great rolling sea, dashing high up against the reeling ship's high

teetering side, stove in the boat's bottom at the stern, and left it

again, all dripping through like a sieve.
"Bad work, bad work! Mr. Starbuck," said Stubb, regarding the wreck,

"but the sea will have its way. Stubb, for one, can't fight it. You see,

Mr. Starbuck, a wave has such a great long start before it leaps, all

round the world it runs, and then comes the spring! But as for me, all

the start I have to meet it, is just across the deck here. But never

mind; it's all in fun: so the old song says;"--(SINGS.)


Oh! jolly is the gale,

And a joker is the whale,

A' flourishin' his tail,--

Such a funny, sporty, gamy, jesty, joky, hoky-poky lad, is the Ocean, oh!


The scud all a flyin',

That's his flip only foamin';

When he stirs in the spicin',--

Such a funny, sporty, gamy, jesty, joky, hoky-poky lad, is the Ocean, oh!


Thunder splits the ships,

But he only smacks his lips,

A tastin' of this flip,--

Such a funny, sporty, gamy, jesty, joky, hoky-poky lad, is the Ocean, oh!

"Avast Stubb," cried Starbuck, "let the Typhoon sing, and strike his

harp here in our rigging; but if thou art a brave man thou wilt hold thy

peace."
"But I am not a brave man; never said I was a brave man; I am a coward;

and I sing to keep up my spirits. And I tell you what it is, Mr.

Starbuck, there's no way to stop my singing in this world but to cut my

throat. And when that's done, ten to one I sing ye the doxology for a

wind-up."
"Madman! look through my eyes if thou hast none of thine own."
"What! how can you see better of a dark night than anybody else, never

mind how foolish?"


"Here!" cried Starbuck, seizing Stubb by the shoulder, and pointing his

hand towards the weather bow, "markest thou not that the gale comes from

the eastward, the very course Ahab is to run for Moby Dick? the very

course he swung to this day noon? now mark his boat there; where is

that stove? In the stern-sheets, man; where he is wont to stand--his

stand-point is stove, man! Now jump overboard, and sing away, if thou

must!
"I don't half understand ye: what's in the wind?"
"Yes, yes, round the Cape of Good Hope is the shortest way to

Nantucket," soliloquized Starbuck suddenly, heedless of Stubb's

question. "The gale that now hammers at us to stave us, we can turn it

into a fair wind that will drive us towards home. Yonder, to windward,

all is blackness of doom; but to leeward, homeward--I see it lightens up

there; but not with the lightning."


At that moment in one of the intervals of profound darkness, following

the flashes, a voice was heard at his side; and almost at the same

instant a volley of thunder peals rolled overhead.
"Who's there?"
"Old Thunder!" said Ahab, groping his way along the bulwarks to his

pivot-hole; but suddenly finding his path made plain to him by elbowed

lances of fire.
Now, as the lightning rod to a spire on shore is intended to carry off

the perilous fluid into the soil; so the kindred rod which at sea some

ships carry to each mast, is intended to conduct it into the water. But

as this conductor must descend to considerable depth, that its end may

avoid all contact with the hull; and as moreover, if kept constantly

towing there, it would be liable to many mishaps, besides interfering

not a little with some of the rigging, and more or less impeding the

vessel's way in the water; because of all this, the lower parts of a

ship's lightning-rods are not always overboard; but are generally made

in long slender links, so as to be the more readily hauled up into the

chains outside, or thrown down into the sea, as occasion may require.
"The rods! the rods!" cried Starbuck to the crew, suddenly admonished to

vigilance by the vivid lightning that had just been darting flambeaux,

to light Ahab to his post. "Are they overboard? drop them over, fore and

aft. Quick!"


"Avast!" cried Ahab; "let's have fair play here, though we be the weaker

side. Yet I'll contribute to raise rods on the Himmalehs and Andes, that

all the world may be secured; but out on privileges! Let them be, sir."
"Look aloft!" cried Starbuck. "The corpusants! the corpusants!"
All the yard-arms were tipped with a pallid fire; and touched at each

tri-pointed lightning-rod-end with three tapering white flames, each of

the three tall masts was silently burning in that sulphurous air, like

three gigantic wax tapers before an altar.


"Blast the boat! let it go!" cried Stubb at this instant, as a swashing

sea heaved up under his own little craft, so that its gunwale violently

jammed his hand, as he was passing a lashing. "Blast it!"--but

slipping backward on the deck, his uplifted eyes caught the flames; and

immediately shifting his tone he cried--"The corpusants have mercy on us

all!"
To sailors, oaths are household words; they will swear in the trance of

the calm, and in the teeth of the tempest; they will imprecate curses

from the topsail-yard-arms, when most they teeter over to a seething

sea; but in all my voyagings, seldom have I heard a common oath when

God's burning finger has been laid on the ship; when His "Mene, Mene,

Tekel Upharsin" has been woven into the shrouds and the cordage.
While this pallidness was burning aloft, few words were heard from the

enchanted crew; who in one thick cluster stood on the forecastle,

all their eyes gleaming in that pale phosphorescence, like a far away

constellation of stars. Relieved against the ghostly light, the gigantic

jet negro, Daggoo, loomed up to thrice his real stature, and seemed

the black cloud from which the thunder had come. The parted mouth of

Tashtego revealed his shark-white teeth, which strangely gleamed as

if they too had been tipped by corpusants; while lit up by the

preternatural light, Queequeg's tattooing burned like Satanic blue

flames on his body.


The tableau all waned at last with the pallidness aloft; and once more

the Pequod and every soul on her decks were wrapped in a pall. A moment

or two passed, when Starbuck, going forward, pushed against some one. It

was Stubb. "What thinkest thou now, man; I heard thy cry; it was not the

same in the song."
"No, no, it wasn't; I said the corpusants have mercy on us all; and I

hope they will, still. But do they only have mercy on long faces?--have

they no bowels for a laugh? And look ye, Mr. Starbuck--but it's too dark

to look. Hear me, then: I take that mast-head flame we saw for a sign

of good luck; for those masts are rooted in a hold that is going to be

chock a' block with sperm-oil, d'ye see; and so, all that sperm will

work up into the masts, like sap in a tree. Yes, our three masts will

yet be as three spermaceti candles--that's the good promise we saw."


At that moment Starbuck caught sight of Stubb's face slowly beginning

to glimmer into sight. Glancing upwards, he cried: "See! see!" and once

more the high tapering flames were beheld with what seemed redoubled

supernaturalness in their pallor.


"The corpusants have mercy on us all," cried Stubb, again.
At the base of the mainmast, full beneath the doubloon and the flame,

the Parsee was kneeling in Ahab's front, but with his head bowed away

from him; while near by, from the arched and overhanging rigging, where

they had just been engaged securing a spar, a number of the seamen,

arrested by the glare, now cohered together, and hung pendulous, like a

knot of numbed wasps from a drooping, orchard twig. In various enchanted

attitudes, like the standing, or stepping, or running skeletons in

Herculaneum, others remained rooted to the deck; but all their eyes

upcast.
"Aye, aye, men!" cried Ahab. "Look up at it; mark it well; the white

flame but lights the way to the White Whale! Hand me those mainmast

links there; I would fain feel this pulse, and let mine beat against it;

blood against fire! So."


Then turning--the last link held fast in his left hand, he put his foot

upon the Parsee; and with fixed upward eye, and high-flung right arm, he

stood erect before the lofty tri-pointed trinity of flames.
"Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian

once did worship, till in the sacramental act so burned by thee, that to

this hour I bear the scar; I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now

know that thy right worship is defiance. To neither love nor reverence

wilt thou be kind; and e'en for hate thou canst but kill; and all

are killed. No fearless fool now fronts thee. I own thy speechless,

placeless power; but to the last gasp of my earthquake life will

dispute its unconditional, unintegral mastery in me. In the midst of the

personified impersonal, a personality stands here. Though but a point at

best; whencesoe'er I came; wheresoe'er I go; yet while I earthly live,

the queenly personality lives in me, and feels her royal rights. But war

is pain, and hate is woe. Come in thy lowest form of love, and I will

kneel and kiss thee; but at thy highest, come as mere supernal power;

and though thou launchest navies of full-freighted worlds, there's that

in here that still remains indifferent. Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy

fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to

thee."
[SUDDEN, REPEATED FLASHES OF LIGHTNING; THE NINE FLAMES LEAP LENGTHWISE

TO THRICE THEIR PREVIOUS HEIGHT; AHAB, WITH THE REST, CLOSES HIS EYES,

HIS RIGHT HAND PRESSED HARD UPON THEM.]
"I own thy speechless, placeless power; said I not so? Nor was it wrung

from me; nor do I now drop these links. Thou canst blind; but I can then

grope. Thou canst consume; but I can then be ashes. Take the homage of

these poor eyes, and shutter-hands. I would not take it. The lightning

flashes through my skull; mine eye-balls ache and ache; my whole beaten

brain seems as beheaded, and rolling on some stunning ground. Oh, oh!

Yet blindfold, yet will I talk to thee. Light though thou be, thou

leapest out of darkness; but I am darkness leaping out of light, leaping

out of thee! The javelins cease; open eyes; see, or not? There burn the

flames! Oh, thou magnanimous! now I do glory in my genealogy. But thou

art but my fiery father; my sweet mother, I know not. Oh, cruel! what

hast thou done with her? There lies my puzzle; but thine is greater.

Thou knowest not how came ye, hence callest thyself unbegotten;

certainly knowest not thy beginning, hence callest thyself unbegun. I

know that of me, which thou knowest not of thyself, oh, thou omnipotent.

There is some unsuffusing thing beyond thee, thou clear spirit, to whom

all thy eternity is but time, all thy creativeness mechanical. Through

thee, thy flaming self, my scorched eyes do dimly see it. Oh, thou

foundling fire, thou hermit immemorial, thou too hast thy incommunicable

riddle, thy unparticipated grief. Here again with haughty agony, I read

my sire. Leap! leap up, and lick the sky! I leap with thee; I burn with

thee; would fain be welded with thee; defyingly I worship thee!"


"The boat! the boat!" cried Starbuck, "look at thy boat, old man!"
Ahab's harpoon, the one forged at Perth's fire, remained firmly lashed

in its conspicuous crotch, so that it projected beyond his whale-boat's

bow; but the sea that had stove its bottom had caused the loose leather

sheath to drop off; and from the keen steel barb there now came a

levelled flame of pale, forked fire. As the silent harpoon burned there

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