Steering north-eastward from the Crozetts, we fell in with vast meadows of brit, the minute, yellow substance, upon which the Right Whale largely feeds. For leagues and leagues undulated round us, so that we seemed to be sailing through boundless fields of ripe and golden wheat.
On the second day, numbers of Right Whales were seen, who,
secure from the attack of a Sperm-Whaler like the Pequod, with open jaws
sluggishly swam through the brit, which, adhering to the fringing
fibres of that wondrous Venetian blind in their mouths, was in that
manner separated from the water that escaped at the lips.
morning mowers, who side by side slowly and seethingly advance their
scythes through the long wet grass of marshy meads; even so these
monsters swam, making a strange, grassy, cutting sound; and leaving
behind them endless swaths of blue upon the yellow sea.*
part of the sea known among whalemen as the "Brazil Banks" does not bear
that name as the Banks of Newfoundland do, because of there being
shallows and soundings there, but because of this remarkable meadow-like
appearance, caused by the vast drifts of brit continually floating in
those latitudes, where the Right Whale is often chased.
But it was
only the sound they made as they parted the brit which at all reminded
one of mowers. Seen from the mast-heads, especially when they paused and
were stationary for a while, their vast black forms looked more like
lifeless masses of rock than anything else. And as in the great hunting
countries of India, the stranger at a distance will sometimes pass on
the plains recumbent elephants without knowing them to be such, taking
them for bare, blackened elevations of the soil; even so, often, with
him, who for the first time beholds this species of the leviathans of
the sea. And even when recognized at last, their immense magnitude
renders it very hard really to believe that such bulky masses of
overgrowth can possibly be instinct, in all parts, with the same sort of
life that lives in a dog or a horse.
Indeed. in other respects,
you can hardly regard any creatures of the deep with the same feeling
that you do those of the shore. For though some old naturalists have
maintained that all creatures of the land are of their kind in the sea;
and though taking a broad general view of the thing, this may very well
be; yet coming to specialties, where, for example, does the ocean
furnish any fish that in disposition answers to the sagacious kindness
of the dog? The accursed shark alone can in any generic respect be said
to bear comparative analogy to him.
But though, to landsmen in
general, the native inhabitants of the seas have ever regarded with
emotions unspeakably unsocial and repelling; though we know the sea to
be an everlasting terra incognita, so that Columbus sailed over
numberless unknown worlds to discover his one superficial western one;
though, by vast odds, the most terrific of all mortal disasters have
immemorially and indiscriminately befallen tens and hundreds of
thousands of those who have gone upon the waters; though but a moment's
consideration will teach that, however baby man may brag of his science
and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and
skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the
sea will insult and murder him, and pulverize the stateliest, stiffest
frigate he can make; nevertheless, by the continual repetition of these
very impressions, man has lost that sense of the full awfulness of the
sea which aboriginally belongs to it.
The first boat we read of,
floated on an ocean, that with Portuguese vengeance had whelmed a whole
world without leaving so much as a widow. That same ocean rolls now;
that same ocean destroyed the wrecked ships of last year. Yea, foolish
mortals, Noah's flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world
it yet covers.
Wherein differ the sea and the land, that a miracle
upon one is not a miracle upon the other? Preternatural terrors rested
upon the Hebrews, when under the feet of Korah and his company the live
ground opened and swallowed them up for ever; yet not a modern sun ever
sets, but in precisely the same manner the live sea swallows up ships
But not only is the sea such a foe to man who is an
alien to it, but it is also a fiend to its own off-spring; worse than
the Persian host who murdered his own guests; sparing not the creatures
which itself hath spawned. Like a savage tigress that tossing in the
jungle overlays her own cubs, so the sea dashes even the mightiest
whales against the rocks, and leaves them there side by side with the
split wrecks of ships. No mercy, no power but its own controls it.
Panting and snorting like a mad battle steed that has lost its rider,
the masterless ocean overruns the globe.
Consider the subtleness
of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent
for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints
of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of
its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many
species of sharks. Consider once more, the universal cannibalism of the
sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war
since the world began.
Consider all this; and then turn to this
green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and
the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in
yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in
the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy,
but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep
thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!
I really love Melville's last paragraph. Everyone has an inner Tahiti, a small piece of absolute happiness and beauty. It could be the love of a partner. The tiny breaths of an infant. A cabin in the middle of a great forest. Or something more intangible. Reading a book. Writing a poem. Playing the piano. Listening to a symphony. Something that fills you with joy and peace.
Today is dance recital day. For the next several hours, I will be sitting in a dark auditorium while my daughter and son practice the various numbers. It's an annual thing. I've been doing this since my daughter was in kindergarten. Half-way through the rehearsal, my daughter and I will slip away to Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch--another annual thing. A daddy/daughter time where we sit and talk and laugh.
This day is sort of a little Tahiti for me. Time spent with my kids. I love the music, the costumes, the movement. It never gets old seeing my daughter and son move with more grace than I've ever had. I remember the first time I saw my daughter rise up to her toes on stage. It took my breath away. Or the recital where my son brought the house down during his hip-hop routine. Yes, those moments fill me with such fatherly pride and happiness.
Sorry to get all sentimental. Can't help it on this day. Time has flown by so fast. Can't believe I had something to do with making these two creatures on stage.
Saint Marty is thankful today for dance.