Stubb's whale had been killed some distance from the ship. It was a calm; so, forming a tandem of three boats, we commenced slow business of towing the trophy to the Pequod. And now, as we eighteen men with our thirty-six arms, and one hundred and eighty thumbs and fingers, slowly toiled hour after hour upon that inert, sluggish corpse in the sea; and it seemed hardly to budge at all, except at long intervals; good evidence was hereby furnished of the enormousness of the mass we moved. For, upon the great canal of Hang-Ho, or whatever they call it, in China, four or five laborers on the foot-path will draw a bulky freighted junk at the rate of a mile an hour; but this grand argosy we towed heavily forged along, as if laden with piglead in bulk.
came on; but three lights up and down in the Pequod's main-rigging
dimly guided our way; till drawing nearer we saw Ahab dropping one of
several more lanterns over the bulwarks. Vacantly eyeing the heaving
whale for a moment, he issued the usual orders for securing it for the
night, and then handing his lantern to a seaman, went his way into the
cabin, and did not come forward again until morning.
overseeing the pursuit of this whale, Captain Ahab had evinced his
customary activity, to call it so; yet now that the creature was dead,
some vague dissatisfaction, or impatience, or despair, seemed working in
him; as if the sight of that dead body reminded him that Moby Dick was
yet to be slain; and though a thousand other whales were brought to his
ship, all that would not one jot advance his grand, monomaniac object.
Very soon you would have thought from the sound on the Pequod's decks,
that all hands were preparing to cast anchor in the deep; for heavy
chains are being dragged along the deck, and thrust rattling out of the
port-holes. But by those clanking links, the vast corpse itself, not the
ship, is to be moored. Tied by the head to the stern, and by the tall
to the bows, the whale now lies with its black hull close to the
vessel's, and seen through the darkness of the night, which obscured the
spars and rigging aloft, the two- ship and whale, seemed yoked together
like colossal bullocks, whereof one reclines while the other remains
*A little item may as well be related here. The
strongest and most reliable hold which the ship has upon the whale when
moored alongside, is by the flukes or tail; and as from its greater
density that part is relatively heavier than any other (excepting the
side-fins), its flexibility even in death, causes it to sink low beneath
the surface; so that with the hand you cannot get at it from the boat,
in order to put the chain round it. But this difficulty is ingeniously
overcome: a small, strong line is prepared with a wooden float at its
outer end, and a weight in its middle, while the other end is secured to
the ship. By adroit management the wooden float is made to rise on the
other side of the mass, so that now having girdled the whale, the chain
is readily made to follow suit; and being slipped along the body, is at
last locked fast round the smallest part of the tail, at the point of
junction with its broad flukes or lobes.
If moody Ahab was now all
quiescence, at least so far as could be known on deck, Stubb, his
second mate, flushed with conquest, betrayed an unusual but still
good-natured excitement. Such an unwonted bustle was he in that the
staid Starbuck, his official superior, quietly resigned to him for the
time the sole management of affairs. One small, helping cause of all
this liveliness in Stubb, was soon made strangely manifest. Stubb was a
high liver; he was somewhat intemperately fond of the whale as a
flavorish thing to his palate.
"A steak, a steak, ere I sleep! You, Daggoo! overboard you go, and cut me one from his small!"
be it known, that though these wild fishermen do not, as a general
thing, and according to the great military maxim, make the enemy defray
the current expenses of the war (at least before realizing the proceeds
of the voyage), yet now and then you find some of these Nantucketers who
have a genuine relish for that particular part of the Sperm Whale
designated by Stubb; comprising the tapering extremity of the body.
midnight that steak was cut and cooked; and lighted by two lanterns of
sperm oil, Stubb stoutly stood up to his spermaceti supper at the
capstan-head, as if that capstan were a sideboard. Nor was Stubb the
only banqueter on whale's flesh that night. Mingling their mumblings
with his own mastications, thousands on thousands of sharks, swarming
round the dead leviathan, smackingly feasted on its fatness. The few
sleepers below in their bunks were often startled by the sharp slapping
of their tails against the hull, within a few inches of the sleepers'
hearts. Peering over the side you could just see them (as before you
heard them) wallowing in the sullen, black waters, and turning over on
their backs as they scooped out huge globular pieces of the whale of the
bigness of a human head. This particular feat of the shark seems all
but miraculous. How at such an apparently unassailable surface, they
contrive to gouge out such symmetrical mouthfuls, remains a part of the
universal problem of all things. The mark they thus leave on the whale,
may best be likened to the hollow made by a carpenter in countersinking
for a screw.
Though amid all the smoking horror and diabolism of a
sea-fight, sharks will be seen longingly gazing up to the ship's decks,
like hungry dogs round a table where red meat is being carved, ready to
bolt down every killed man that is tossed to them; and though, while
the valiant butchers over the deck-table are thus cannibally carving
each other's live meat with carving-knives all gilded and tasselled, the
sharks, also, with their jewel-hilted mouths, are quarrelsomely carving
away under the table at the dead meat; and though, were you to turn the
whole affair upside down, it would still be pretty much the same thing,
that is to say, a shocking sharkish business enough for all parties;
and though sharks also are the invariable outriders of all slave ships
crossing the Atlantic, systematically trotting alongside, to be handy in
case a parcel is to be carried anywhere, or a dead slave to be decently
buried; and though one or two other like instances might be set down,
touching the set terms, places, and occasions, when sharks do most
socially congregate, and most hilariously feast; yet is there no
conceivable time or occasion when you will find them in such countless
numbers, and in gayer or more jovial spirits, than around a dead sperm
whale, moored by night to a whaleship at sea. If you have never seen
that sight, then suspend your decision about the propriety of
devil-worship, and the expediency of conciliating the devil.
The aftermath of the whale's death. Its great bulk is slowly rowed to the side of the Pequod-- a daylong task. Then, it's chained to the ship for the night, where it becomes a feast for hungry sharks in the dark waters. For a whaling ship, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of celebration on the part of the crew, aside from Stubb. Ahab, himself, disappears below deck before the whale is even secured to his vessel.
It's a strange thing to get exactly what you want. It doesn't happen very often. Stubb gets his whale, but Ahab doesn't get Moby Dick. Nobody is this world can say that their lives are perfect. That they have everything they have ever wanted. From Presidents to movie stars to Nobel-Prize-winning writers, everyone nurses disappointments, small and large.
I read somewhere recently, and you'll forgive me for not remembering the source of this wisdom, that the best way to avoid disappointment and failure is not to set huge, unreachable goals for yourself. Don't go hunting for the albino whale. Instead, set small, achievable tasks. For example, instead of telling yourself that you're going to write a Pulitzer-Prize-worthy collection of poems, how about writing a 20-page chapbook about your father's vegetable garden. Instead of saying that you're going to declutter your entire house, start by decluttering your bathroom or kitchen. To paraphrase Richard Dreyfus in What About Bob?, it's all about taking baby steps.
So, today, I took some baby steps toward some of my goals. I wrote a new poem. I revised another poem. I met with a close friend and talked about poetry. Tonight, after these small victories, I'm going to relax. Maybe watch some TV or go for a walk. Try to avoid stress for a few hours. I didn't land a whale today. I caught a lake trout.
That's my wisdom for you this evening. It's not earth-shattering advice. but I have to remind myself of this little rule every once in a while. I'm a big picture person. I want to win the Pulitzer Prize, or, better yet, the Nobel. Like George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life, I dream big. Also like George, I sometimes lose sight of small, important things. Sweet potato nachos. A daughter's smile. A son riding his scooter down the street. A woman who shares your dreams.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for baby steps.