“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! Look! see yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who’s to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar? But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the air smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new- mown hay. Sleeping? Aye, toil we how we may, we all sleep at last on the field. Sleep? Aye, and rust amid greenness; as last year’s scythes flung down, and left in the half-cut swaths – Starbuck!”
But blanched to a corpse’s hue with despair, the Mate had stolen away.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
What is this book? It’s an adventure, a sermon, a lecture (oh, so many lectures), a play — whatever Melville wanted to write, however he wanted to write it, that’s what he did. It has a narrative, but the narrative, like the characters caught within it, are wholly at the mercy of a far-removed creator. You want to know what happens to the Pequod? Well, first you’re going to read this part on ropes. For 10 pages.
Melville just can’t help being himself — he knows a lot of stuff, and he’s poured it all into this weird tome. But it’s an unspeakable beauty. I read most of it in the pokey utility room at work where we store old chairs and boxes. For an hour every day, Melville transformed it into the creaking deck of a whaling ship in pursuit of its own doom. It is sad that he’ll never know what his book would mean to the world.
It was a gray, very cold day when I visited his house. I toured it, bothered the current tenants of his hen house, wandered the woods where he used to walk, and stared at the silhouette of a distant Mt. Greylock, the ghost of his greatest creation: the “one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.”