For such a long time I have wanted to read "Moby Dick" but was always daunted by it. You can say that reading "Moby Dick" was my own white whale. So I set a goal for myself: to read it before the year ended, and in 20 days I achieved my goal. And it has taken me just as long to write this blog about it (white whale #2?)
The beginning stages of reading were a pleasant process, although I was daunted by all the extracts Herman Melville uses to start his book, as if he felt the need to repeat every literary reference to a whale he could find. Two things to say: it is the most masculine book and the gayest book I have read (c'mon: Ishmael and Queegeg share a bed, cuddle and refer to themselves as a married couple!(page 57) and although it has some of the most amazingly written lines I have read outside of the Bible (in which it owes so much influence to) "Moby Dick" as a whole is nowhere the masterpiece that scholars claim. There are indeed moments of such sheer brilliance I was moved to tears of awe, but almost half, if not more then half of the book are scientific/historical/literary facts that slow down the pace. Filler, in other words.
Masterpieces do not rely on filler. I do think the book would have been way more powerful if all the "educational" material was removed, to just let the story tell itself. It's as if Melville did not believe in himself and his own ability to tell the story as is.
But, oh, there is so much soul here. What follows are some of the things that really caught my attention and spoke to me. I do believe there is enough in this book to create a long line of sermons about life and death and facing them head on. And Ahab, though he actually appears only briefly, is such a study in alpha-maleness that his sheer presence and mention of his name shines through the text.
This book is for me about one man's inability to let go of the past, therefor selfishly and foolishly destroying the future not only for himself but all those around him. And its also about Ishmael who, by trying to run away from life, must face life and death and mystery and wonder head on, finding salvation in a coffin in the midst of a swirling mass of watery death.
Here's the soul.
Page 45 "...-for the pulpit is ever the earth's foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God's quick wrath...from whence it is the God of breezes fair or foul if first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow."
Page 55: "You can not hide the soul. Through all his unearthly tattooings, I thought I saw the traces of a simple honest heart..."
Page 58: "What is worship?-to do the will of God-that is worship. And what is the will of God?-to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man do to me-that is the will of God."
Page 65: Queequeg telling of a royal feast, lead by his father the King and a High Priest, of how the Priest opens the banquet by dipping his consecrated/consecrating fingers into a bowl before the beverage circulates, and an American Captain, thinking himself above all people, "coolly proceeds to wash his hands in the punch bowl." That's a statement on superiority some people they feel they have over others.
Page 81, Ishmael is asked what he sees, I find his answer a poetic response to what life is "Not much...nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there's a squall coming up, I think." (Ain't that just how life is?)
Page 173, listen to how Ahab, alpha male that he is, gets the crew pumped and excited for the task they have.
Page 182 Chapter 37: Sunset. I read this twice and had tears in my eyes. Perhaps the most beautiful writing I have read outside of Scripture. "Yonder, by the ever-brimming goblet's rim, the warm waves blush like wine. The gold brow plumbs the blue. The diver sun-slow dived from noon,- goes down; my soul mounts up! she wearies with her endless hill." And it just goes on and on. Wow.
and page 183 "What I've dared, I've willed; and what I've willed, I'llkdo!"
Page 224: ecotheology and social justice come into the use of candles made from what blubber "For God's sake, be economical with your lamps and candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man's blood was spilled for it."
Pg 394, the beginning of chapter 82, "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method."
Pg 411 "Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything impossibly beautiful strength has much to do with the magic."
421: In regards to a harpooned whale- "For as the swift monster drags you deeper and deeper into the frantic shoal, you bid adieu to circumspect life and only exist in a delirious throb."
422, in regards to being in the shoal near a pod of whales "Yes, we were now in that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion."
423 "But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side."
453-454 "...Wisdom revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. he saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefor his shipmates called him mad."
465: "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 sunny spaces. And even if he 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."
481-482 the contrast between Ahab (who lost a leg to Moby Dick) and the English Captain who lost an arm: "He's welcome to the arm he has since I can;t help it and didn't know him then, but not to the other one. No more White Whales for me; I've lowered him once and that has satisfied me."
506, in regards to Ahab "...since both the ancestry and posterity of Grief go further than the ancestry and posterity of Joy."
517, Ahab's crazed image of himself that will ultimately destroy him, Moby and everyone on board except for Ishmael "There is one God that is Lord over the earth, and one Captain that is lord over the Pequod.-On deck!"
Chapter 110, "Queequeg in his Coffin" is one of the finest meditations on death, acceptance and new found life. It had me crying, and for, the second finest chapter in this book. Queequeg becomes sickly ill and per the custom of whalers in Nantucket, a canoe-coffin to be built for him so he can be sent out to sea. Once built he lays inside it, and in facing his death head on, he gets better and fully recovers (and the coffin ends up rescuing Ishmael from death as well).
In regards to Queequeg illness, page 520 "But as all else in him thinned, and his cheek bones grew sharper, his eyes, nevertheless, seemed growing fuller and fuller; they became of a strange softness of lustre; and mildly but deeply looked out at you there from his sickness, a wondrous testimony to that immortal health in him would could not die or be weakened."
On 522 Queegueg gets to lay in his canoe with his harpoon by his side, with biscuits and water, his idol, Yojo, and asks the coffin lid to be placed over him. He speaks the word "Rarmai" which means "It will do; it is easy" and asks to be put back into his hammock, and Pip takes his hand and sobs and speaks about the currents taking Queequeg away.
523 Queegueg heals and it is stated "In a word, it was Queequeg's conceit, that if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him: nothing but a whale, or a gale, or some violent, ungovernable, unintelligent destroyer of that sort."
555 Sailors on the boat are talking. How is this for a metaphor "When a fellow's soaked through, it's hard to be sensible, that's a fact. And I am about to be drenched by this spray."
Chapter 128, pp 576-579, the Pequod meets the Rachel, a ship in which the captain is searching for his son who is most likely dead.
590, Ahab reflects on the life he had lead, but there is sense that he would not change a thing, for he is doing what he is supposed to do "Oh, Starbuck! it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky. On such a day- very much a sweetness as this- I struck my first whale...Forty-forty-forty years ago!- ago! Forty years of continual whaling! forty years of privation, and peril, and stormtime! forty years on the pitiless sea! for forty years has Ahab forsaken the peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors of the deep!"
625: Ishmael is rescued. And here is the last line of the book. "It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another author."