Moby Dick Musings
OK, this is the one that started it all, the first book that said,
"We're here, we're American, get used to it!"



 
 
 
 
 

...that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore.

 --from Chapter 23, The Lee Shore
 

For be a man’s intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base.  That it is, that for ever keeps God’s true princes of the Empire from this world’s hustings; and leaves the highest honors that this air can give, to those men who who become famous more through their infinite inferiority to the choice hidden handful of the Divine Inert, than through their undoubted superiority over the dead level of the mass.

 --from Chapter 33, The Specksnyder
 

 “Hark ye yet again,-- the little lower layer.  All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks.  But in each event-- in the living act, the undoubted deed-- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing put forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask.  If man will strike, strike through the mask!  How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?  To me, the white whale is the wall, shoved near to me.  Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond.  But ‘tis enough.  He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.  That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.”

 --Ahab, from Chapter 36, The Quarter-Deck
 
 

But as the mind does not exist unless leagued with the soul, therefore it must have been that, in Ahab’s case, yielding up all his thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purpose, by its own sheer inveterancy of will, forced itself against gods and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own.  Nay, could grimly live and burn, while the common vitality to which it was conjoined, fled horror-stricken from the unbidden and unfathered birth.

 --from Chapter 44, The Chart
 

Again:  as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and prophesies 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.

 --from Chapter 60, The Line
 

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me;  and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules.  Such and abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget;  that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, --Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy!  Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the milk and sperm of kindness.
     Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever!  For now, since by many prolonged, repeated experiences, I have perceived that in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country; now that I have perceived all this, I am ready to squeeze case eternally.  In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.

 --from Chapter 94, Squeeze of the Hand
 

Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man!  Never dream with thy hand on the helm!  Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly.  To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp-- all others but liars! (...)
     But even Solomon, he says, “the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain” (i.e. even while living) “in the congregation of the dead.” Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me.  There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.  And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny space.  And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.

 --from Chapter 96,  The Try-Works
 

“There’s something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here, -- three peaks as proud as Lucifer.  The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab; and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self.  Great pains, small gains for those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve itself.  Methinks now this coined sun wears a ruddy face; but see! aye, he enters the sign of storms, the equinox! and but six months before he wheeled out of a former equinox at Aries !  From storm to storm!  So be it, then.  Born in throes, ‘tis fit that man should live in pains and die in pangs!  So be it, then!  Here’s stout stuff for woe to work on.  So be it, then.”

 --Ahab, in Chapter 99, The Doubloon
 

“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 though 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.”

 --Ahab, in Chapter 119. The Candles
 

“There’s a sight!  There’s a sound!  The greyheaded woodpecker tapping the hollow tree!  Blind and dumb might well be envied now.  See! that thing rests on two line-tubs, full of tow-lines.  A most malicious wag, that fellow.  Rat-tat!  So man’s seconds tick! Oh! how immaterial are all materials!  What things real are there, but imponderable thoughts!  Here now’s the very dreaded symbol of grim death, by a mere hap, made the expressive sign of the help and hope of most endangered life.  A life-bouy of a coffin!  Does it go further?  Can it be that in some spiritual sense the coffin is, after all, but an immortality-preserver!  I’ll think of that.  But no.  So far gone am I in the dark side of earth, that its other side, the theoretic bright one, seems but uncertain twilight to me.  Will ye never have done, Carpenter, with that accursed sound?  I go below; let me not see that thing here when I return again.  Now, then, Pip, we’ll talk this over; I so suck most wondrous philosophies from thee!  Some unknown conduits from the unknown worlds must empty into thee!”

 --Ahab(to himself), from Chapter 127, The Deck
 

‘What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare?  Is Ahab, Ahab?  Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?  But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I.  By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike.  And all the time, lo! that smiling sky and this unsounded sea!”

 --Ahab, to Starbuck, from chapter 132, The Symphony
 
 

back to Things We Sell