The predestinated day arrived, and we duly met the ship Jungfrau, Derick De Deer, master, of Bremen.
one time the greatest whaling people in the world, the Dutch and
Germans are now among the least; but here and there at very wide
intervals of latitude and longitude, you still occasionally meet with
their flag in the Pacific.
For some reason, the Jungfrau seemed
quite eager to pay her respects. While yet some distance from the
Pequod, she rounded to, and dropping a boat, her captain was impelled
towards us, impatiently standing in the bows instead of the stern.
has he in his hand there?" cried Starbuck, pointing to something
wavingly held by the German. "Impossible!- a lamp-feeder!"
that," said Stubb, "no, no, it's a coffee-pot, Mr. Starbuck; he's coming
off to make us our coffee, is the Yarman; don't you see that big tin
can there alongside of him?- that's his boiling water. Oh! he's all
right, is the Yarman."
"Go along with you," cried Flask, "it's a lamp-feeder and an oil-can. He's out of oil, and has come a-begging."
curious it may seem for an oil-ship to be borrowing oil on the
whale-ground, and however much it may invertedly contradict the old
proverb about carrying coals to Newcastle, yet sometimes such a thing
really happens; and in the present case Captain Derick De Deer did
indubitably conduct a lamp-feeder as Flask did declare.
mounted the deck, Ahab abruptly accosted him, without at all heeding
what he had in his hand; but in his broken lingo, the German soon
evinced his complete ignorance of the White Whale; immediately turning
the conversation to his lamp-feeder and oil can, with some remarks
touching his having to turn into his hammock at night in profound
darkness- his last drop of Bremen oil being gone, and not a single
flying-fish yet captured to supply the deficiency; concluding by hinting
that his ship was indeed what in the Fishery is technically called a
clean one (that is, an empty one), well deserving the name of Jungfrau
or the Virgin.
His necessities supplied, Derick departed; but he
had not gained his ship's side, when whales were almost simultaneously
raised from the mast-heads of both vessels; and so eager for the chase
was Derick, that without pausing to put his oil-can and lamp-feeder
aboard, he slewed round his boat and made after the leviathan
Now, the game having risen to leeward, he and the
other three German boats that soon followed him, had considerably the
start of the Pequod's keels. There were eight whales, an average pod.
Aware of their danger, they were going all abreast with great speed
straight before the wind, rubbing their flanks as closely as so many
spans of horses in harness. They left a great, wide wake, as though
continually unrolling a great wide parchment upon the sea.
this rapid wake, and many fathoms in the rear, swam a huge, humped old
bull, which by his comparatively slow progress, as well as by the
unusual yellowish incrustations over-growing him, seemed afflicted with
the jaundice, or some other infirmity. Whether this whale belonged to
the pod in advance, seemed questionable; for it is not customary for
such venerable leviathans to be at all social. Nevertheless, he stuck to
their wake, though indeed their back water must have retarded him,
because the white-bone or swell at his broad muzzle was a dashed one,
like the swell formed when two hostile currents meet. His spout was
short, slow, and laborious; coming forth with a choking sort of gush,
and spending itself in torn shreds, followed by strange subterranean
commotions in him, which seemed to have egress at his other buried
extremity, causing the waters behind him to upbubble.
some paregoric?" said Stubb, "he has the stomach-ache, I'm afraid. Lord,
think of having half an acre of stomach-ache! Adverse winds are holding
mad Christmas in him, boys. It's the first foul wind ever knew to blow
from astern; but look, did ever whale yaw so before? it must be, he's
lost his tiller."
As an overladen Indiaman bearing down the
Hindostan coast with a deck load of frightened horses, careens, buries,
rolls, and wallows on her way; so did this old whale heave his aged
bulk, and now and then partly turning over on his cumbrous rib-ends,
expose the cause of his devious wake in the unnatural stump of his
starboard fin. Whether he had lost that fin in battle, or had been born
without it, it were hard to say.
"Only wait a bit, old chap, and
I'll give ye a sling for that wounded arm," cried cruel Flask, pointing
to the whale-line near him.
"Mind he don't sling thee with it," cried Starbuck. "Give way, or the German will have him."
one intent all the combined rival boats were pointed for this one fish,
because not only was he the largest, and therefore the most valuable
whale, but he was nearest to them, and the other whales were going with
such great velocity, moreover, as almost to defy pursuit for the time.
At this juncture, the Pequod's keels had shot by the three German boats
last lowered; but from the great start he had had, Derick's boat still
led the chase, though every moment neared by his foreign rivals. The
only thing they feared, was, that from being already so nigh to his
mark, he would be enabled to dart his iron before they could completely
overtake and pass him. As for Derick, he seemed quite confident that
this would be the case, and occasionally with a deriding gesture shook
his lamp-feeder at the other boats.
"The ungracious and ungrateful
dog!" cried Starbuck; "he mocks and dares me with the very poor-box I
filled for him not five minutes ago!"- Then in his old intense whisper-
"give way, greyhounds! Dog to it!"
"I tell ye what it is, men"-
cried Stubb to his crew- "it's against my religion to get mad; but I'd
like to eat that villainous Yarman- Pull- won't ye? Are ye going to let
that rascal beat ye? Do ye love brandy? A hogshead of brandy, then, to
the best man. Come, why don't some of ye burst a blood-vessel? Who's
that been dropping an anchor overboard- we don't budge an inch- we're
becalmed. Halloo, here's grass growing in the boat's bottom- and by the
Lord, the mast there's budding. This won't do, boys. Look at that
Yarman! The short and long of it is, men, will ye spit fire or not?"
see the suds he makes!" cried Flask, dancing up and down- "What a hump-
Oh, do pile on the beef- lays like a log! Oh! my lads, do spring-
slap-jacks and quahogs for supper, you know, my lads- baked clams and
muffins- ho, do, do, spring,- he's a hundred barreler- don't lose him
now- don't oh, don't!- see that Yarman- Oh, won't ye pull for your duff,
my lads- such a sog! such a sogger! Don't ye love sperm? There goes
three thousand dollars, men!- a bank!- a whole bank! The bank of
England!- Oh, do, do, do!- What's that Yarman about now?"
moment Derick was in the act of pitching his lamp-feeder at the
advancing boats, and also his oil-can; perhaps with the double view of
retarding his rivals' way, and at the same time economically
accelerating his own by the momentary impetus of the backward toss.
unmannerly Dutch dogger!" cried Stubb. "Pull now, men, like fifty
thousand line-of-battle-ship loads of red-haired devils. What d'ye say,
Tashtego; are you the man to snap your spine in two-and-twenty pieces
for the honor of old Gayhead? What d'ye say?"
"I say, pull like god-dam,"- cried the Indian.
but evenly incited by the taunts of the German, the Pequod's three
boats now began ranging almost abreast; and, so disposed, momentarily
neared him. In that fine, loose, chivalrous attitude of the headsman
when drawing near to his prey, the three mates stood up proudly,
occasionally backing the after oarsman with an exhilarating cry of,
"There she slides, now! Hurrah for the white-ash breeze! Down with the
Yarman! Sail over him!"
But so decided an original start had
Derick had, that spite of all their gallantry, he would have proved the
victor in this race, had not a righteous judgment descended upon him in a
crab which caught the blade of his midship oarsman. While this clumsy
lubber was striving to free his white-ash, and while, in consequence,
Derick's boat was nigh to capsizing, and he thundering away at his men
in a mighty rage;- that was a good time for Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask.
With a shout, they took a mortal start forwards, and slantingly ranged
up on the German's quarter. An instant more, and all four boats were
diagonically in the whale's immediate wake, while stretching from them,
on both sides, was the foaming swell that he made.
It was a
terrific, most pitiable, and maddening sight. The whale was now going
head out, and sending his spout before him in a continual tormented jet;
while his one poor fin beat his side in an agony of fright. Now to this
hand, now to that, he yawed in his faltering flight, and still at every
billow that he broke, he spasmodically sank in the sea, or sideways
rolled towards the sky his one beating fin. So have I seen a bird with
clipped wing, making affrighted broken circle in the air, vainly
striving to escape the piratical hawks. But the bird has a voice, and
with plaintive cries will make known her fear; but the fear of this vast
dumb brute of the sea, was chained up and enchanted in him; he had no
voice, save that choking respiration through his spiracle, and this made
the sight of him unspeakably pitiable; while still, in his amazing
bulk, portcullis jaw, and omnipotent tail, there was enough to appal the
stoutest man who so pitied.
Seeing now that but a very few
moments more would give the Pequod's boat the advantage, and rather than
be thus foiled of his game, Derick chose to hazard what to him must
have seemed a most unusually long dart, ere the last chance would for
But no sooner did his harpooneer stand up for the
stroke, than all three tigers- Queequeg, Tashtego, Daggoo- instinctively
sprang to their feet, and standing in a diagonal row, simultaneously
pointed their barbs; and darted over the head of the German harpooneer,
their three Nantucket irons entered the whale. Blinding vapors of foam
and white-fire! The three boats, in the first fury of the whale's
headlong rush, bumped the German's aside with such force, that both
Derick and his baffled harpooneer were spilled out, and sailed over by
the three flying keels.
"Don't be afraid, my butter-boxes," cried
Stubb, casting a passing glance upon them as he shot by; "ye'll be
picked up presently- all right- I saw some sharks astern- St. Bernard's
dogs, you know- relieve distressed travellers. Hurrah! this is the way
to sail now. Every keel a sunbeam! Hurrah!- Here we go like three tin
kettles at the tail of a mad cougar! This puts me in mind of fastening
to an elephant in a tilbury on a plain- makes the wheelspokes fly, boys,
when you fasten to him that way; and there's danger of being pitched
out too, when you strike a hill. Hurrah! this is the way a fellow feels
when he's going to Davy Jones- all a rush down an endless inclined
plane! Hurrah! this whale carries the everlasting mail!"
monster's run was a brief one. Giving a sudden gasp, he tumultuously
sounded. With a grating rush, the three lines flew round the loggerheads
with such a force as to gouge deep grooves in them; while so fearful
were the harpooneers that this rapid sounding would soon exhaust the
lines, that using all their dexterous might, they caught repeated
smoking turns with the rope to hold on; till at last- owing to the
perpendicular strain from the lead-lined chocks of the boat, whence the
three ropes went straight down into the blue- the gunwales of the bows
were almost even with the water, while the three sterns tilted high in
the air. And the whale soon ceasing to sound, for some time they
remained in that attitude, fearful of expending more line, though the
position was a little ticklish. But though boats have been taken down
and lost in this way, yet it is this "holding on," as it is called; this
hooking up by the sharp barbs of his live flesh from the back; this it
is that often torments the Leviathan into soon rising again to meet the
sharp lance of his foes. Yet not to speak of the peril of the thing, it
is to be doubted whether this course is always the best; for it is but
reasonable to presume, that the longer the stricken whale stays under
water, the more he is exhausted. Because, owing to the enormous surface
of him- in a full grown sperm whale something less than 2000 square
feet- the pressure of the water is immense. We all know what an
astonishing atmospheric weight we ourselves stand up under; even here,
above-ground, in the air; how vast, then, the burden of a whale, bearing
on his back a column of two hundred fathoms of ocean! It must at least
equal the weight of fifty atmospheres. One whaleman has estimated it at
the weight of twenty line-of-battle ships, with all their guns, and
stores, and men on board.
As the three boats lay there on that
gently rolling sea, gazing down into its eternal blue noon; and as not a
single groan or cry of any sort, nay, not so much as a ripple or a
bubble came up from its depths; what landsman would have thought, that
beneath all that silence and placidity, the utmost monster of the seas
was writhing and wrenching in agony! Not eight inches of perpendicular
rope were visible at the bows. Seems it credible that by three such thin
threads the great Leviathan was suspended like the big weight to an
eight day clock. Suspended? and to what? To three bits of board. Is this
the creature of whom it was once so triumphantly said- "Canst thou fill
his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish-spears? The sword of
him that layeth at him cannot hold, the spear, the dart, nor the
habergeon: he esteemeth iron as straw; the arrow cannot make him flee;
darts are counted as stubble; he laugheth at the shaking of a spear!"
This the creature? this he? Oh! that unfulfilments should follow the
prophets. For with the strength of a thousand thighs in his tail,
Leviathan had run his head under the mountains of the sea, to hide him
from the Pequod's fishspears!
In that sloping afternoon sunlight,
the shadows that the three boats sent down beneath the surface, must
have been long enough and broad enough to shade half Xerxes' army. Who
can tell how appalling to the wounded whale must have been such huge
phantoms flitting over his head! "Stand by, men; he stirs," cried
Starbuck, as the three lines suddenly vibrated in the water, distinctly
conducting upwards to them, as by magnetic wires, the life and death
throbs of the whale, so that every oarsman felt them in his seat. The
next moment, relieved in great part from the downward strain at the
bows, the boats gave a sudden bounce upwards, as a small icefield will,
when a dense herd of white bears are scared from it into the sea.
"Haul in! Haul in!" cried Starbuck again; "he's rising."
lines, of which, hardly an instant before, not one hand's breadth could
have been gained, were now in long quick coils flung back all dripping
into the boats, and soon the whale broke water within two ship's length
of the hunters.
His motions plainly denoted his extreme
exhaustion. In most land animals there are certain valves or flood-gates
in many of their veins, whereby when wounded, the blood is in some
degree at least instantly shut off in certain directions. Not so with
the whale; one of whose peculiarities it is, to have an entire
non-valvular structure of the blood-vessels, so that when pierced even
by so small a point as a harpoon, a deadly drain is at once begun upon
his whole arterial system; and when this is heightened by the
extraordinary pressure of water at a great distance below the surface,
his life may be said to pour from him in incessant streams. Yet so vast
is the quantity of blood in him, and so distant and numerous its
interior fountains, that he will keep thus bleeding and bleeding for a
considerable period; even as in a drought a river will flow, whose
source is the well-springs of far-off and indiscernible hills. Even now,
when the boats pulled upon this whale, and perilously drew over his
swaying flukes, and the lances were darted into him, they were followed
by steady jets from the new made wound, which kept continually playing,
while the natural spout-hole in his head was only at intervals, however
rapid, sending its affrighted moisture into the air. From this last vent
no blood yet came, because no vital part of him had thus far been
struck. His life, as they significantly call it, was untouched.
the boats now more closely surrounded him, the whole upper part of his
form, with much of it that is ordinarily submerged, was plainly
revealed. His eyes, or rather the places where his eyes had been, were
beheld. As strange misgrown masses gather in the knot-holes of the
noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale's eyes
had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs, horribly pitiable to see.
But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his
blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the
gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the
solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all.
Still rolling in his blood, at last he partially disclosed a strangely
discolored bunch or protuberance, the size of a bushel, low down on the
"A nice spot," cried Flask; "just let me prick him there once."
"Avast!" cried Starbuck, "there's no need of that!"
humane Starbuck was too late. At the instant of the dart an ulcerous
jet shot from this cruel wound, and goaded by it into more than
sufferable anguish, the whale now spouting thick blood, with swift fury
blindly darted at the craft, bespattering them and their glorying crews
all over with showers of gore, capsizing Flask's boat and marring the
bows. It was his death stroke. For, by this time, so spent was he by
loss of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from the wreck he had
made; lay panting on his side, impotently flapped with his stumped fin,
then over and over slowly revolved like a waning world; turned up the
white secrets of his belly; lay like a log, and died. It was most
piteous, that last expiring spout. As when by unseen hands the water is
gradually drawn off from some mighty fountain, and with half-stifled
melancholy gurglings the spray-column lowers and lowers to the ground-
so the last long dying spout of the whale.
Soon, while the crews
were awaiting the arrival of the ship, the body showed symptoms of
sinking with all its treasures unrifled. Immediately, by Starbuck's
orders, lines were secured to it at different points, so that ere long
every boat was a buoy; the sunken whale being suspended a few inches
beneath them by the cords. By very heedful management, when the ship
drew nigh, the whale was transferred to her side, and was strongly
secured there by the stiffest fluke-chains, for it was plain that unless
artificially upheld, the body would at once sink to the bottom.
so chanced that almost upon first him with the spade, the entire length
of a corroded harpoon was found imbedded in his flesh, on the lower
part of the bunch before described. But as the stumps of harpoons are
frequently found in the dead bodies of captured whales, with the flesh
perfectly healed around them, and no prominence of any kind to denote
their place; therefore, there must needs have been some other unknown
reason in the present case fully to account for the ulceration alluded
to. But still more curious was the fact of a lance-head of stone being
found in him, not far from the buried iron, the flesh perfectly firm
about it. Who had darted that stone lance? And when? It might have been
darted by some Nor' West Indian long before America was discovered.
other marvels might have been rummaged out of this monstrous cabinet
there is no telling. But a sudden stop was put to further discoveries,
by the ship's being unprecedentedly dragged over sideways to the sea,
owing to the body's immensely increasing tendency to sink. However,
Starbuck, who had the ordering of affairs, hung on to it to the last;
hung on to it so resolutely, indeed, that when at length the ship would
have been capsized, if still persisting in locking arms with the body;
then, when the command was given to break clear from it, such was the
immovable strain upon the timber-heads to which the fluke-chains and
cables were fastened, that it was impossible to cast them off. Meantime
everything in the Pequod was aslant. To cross to the other side of the
deck was like walking up the steep gabled roof of a house. The ship
groaned and gasped. Many of the ivory inlayings of her bulwarks and
cabins were started from their places, by the unnatural dislocation. In
vain handspikes and crows were brought to bear upon the immovable
fluke-chains, to pry them adrift from the timberheads; and so low had
the whale now settled that the submerged ends could not be at all
approached, while every moment whole tons of ponderosity seemed added to
the sinking bulk, and the ship seemed on the point of going over.
on, hold on, won't ye?" cried Stubb to the body, "don't be in such a
devil of a hurry to sink! By thunder, men, we must do something or go
for it. No use prying there; avast, I say with your handspikes, and run
one of ye for a prayer book and a pen-knife, and cut the big chains."
Aye, aye," cried Queequeg, and seizing the carpenter's heavy hatchet,
he leaned out of a porthole, and steel to iron, began slashing at the
largest fluke-chains. But a few strokes, full of sparks, were given,
when the exceeding strain effected the rest. With a terrific snap, every
fastening went adrift; the ship righted, the carcase sank.
this occasional inevitable sinking of the recently killed Sperm Whale is
a very curious thing; nor has any fisherman yet adequately accounted
for it. Usually the dead Sperm Whale floats with great buoyancy, with
its side or belly considerably elevated above the surface. If the only
whales that thus sank were old, meagre, and broken-hearted creatures,
their pads of lard diminished and all their bones heavy and rheumatic;
then you might with some reason assert that this sinking is caused by an
uncommon specific gravity in the fish so sinking, consequent upon this
absence of buoyant matter in him. But it is not so. For young whales, in
the highest health, and swelling with noble aspirations, prematurely
cut off in the warm flush and May of life, with all their panting lard
about them! even these brawny, buoyant heroes do sometimes sink.
it said, however, that the Sperm Whale is far less liable to this
accident than any other species. Where one of that sort go down, twenty
Right Whales do. This difference in the species is no doubt imputable in
no small degree to the greater quantity of bone in the Right Whale; his
Venetian blinds alone sometimes weighing more than a ton; from this
incumbrance the Sperm Whale is wholly free. But there are instances
where, after the lapse of many hours or several days, the sunken whale
again rises, more buoyant than in life. But the reason of this is
obvious. Gases are generated in him; he swells to a prodigious
magnitude; becomes a sort of animal balloon. A line-of-battle ship could
hardly keep him under then. In the Shore Whaling, on soundings, among
the Bays of New Zealand, when a Right Whale gives token of sinking, they
fasten buoys to him, with plenty of rope; so that when the body has
gone down, they know where to look for it when it shall have ascended
It was not long after the sinking of the body that a cry
was heard from the Pequod's mast-heads, announcing that the Jungfrau was
again lowering her boats; though the only spout in sight was that of a
Fin-Back, belonging to the species of uncapturable whales, because of
its incredible power of swimming. Nevertheless, the Fin-Back's spout is
so similar to the Sperm Whale's, that by unskilful fishermen it is often
mistaken for it. And consequently Derick and all his host were now in
valiant chase of this unnearable brute. The Virgin crowding all sail,
made after her four young keels, and thus they all disappeared far to
leeward, still in bold, hopeful chase.
Oh! many are the Fin-Backs, and many are the Dericks, my friend.
Well, it is Friday the 13th. What better way to celebrate this unlucky day than a chapter about the killing and sinking of a sperm whale. Yes, the crew of the Pequod slays a huge creature, bigger than their previous victim. This one is old, injured, slower than the other whales in the pod. Melville states that such a specimen would fetch close to $3,000 in oil. That's over $75,000 today. Yet, the whale is so heavy that it almost capsizes the ship. Instead of collecting blubber and oil, Starbuck and company watch the lines snap and the whale sink into the ocean. Bad luck.
I'm not really superstitious about Friday the 13ths. When I was a teenager, the slasher horror movies were all the rage. I remember going to the movie theater to see Jason Vorhees' first rampage at Crystal Lake when I was about 11 or 12. My brother took me, despite its R-rating. There I sat, watching horny teens skinny dipping and having sex, then being hunted down and slaughtered by a guy in a hockey mask.
While I wasn't particularly frightened by this series of films, I didn't take any chances as a teenager. I stayed out of the woods and avoided having indiscriminate sex with girls. (Actually, the sex part wasn't by choice. If given the opportunity, I probably would have screwed any girl who had a thing for geeky bookworms into theater and Star Wars.) These days, my superstition on Friday the 13th is limited to not walking under ladders (more for safety reasons) and avoiding black cats (because I'm allergic to them).
In about a half hour, I'm going out to dinner with my family at a local Italian restaurant. Lots of garlic bread and a plate of tortellini drowning in garlic butter sauce. Plus, some wine. I don't think Freddy Krueger is going to storm out of the kitchen and carve us up like live Thanksgiving turkeys. And Michael Myers isn't going to be our waiter. The only thing that I'm really concerned about is whether or not the bartender has the kind of gin I like.
As a Christian, I'm not supposed to be superstitious, and I pretty much adhere to that dictum. I do get a little weird about the kind of pen and journal I use when I'm writing a poem. It's always a fountain pen and Moleskine. Recently, since I'm working on a collection of Bigfoot poetry, I try to wear one of my Bigfoot shirts when I'm composing. Not superstition. It simply gets me in the proper frame of mind.
As a Catholic boy, I used to believe that, if I committed a particularly serious sin (usually involving a dirty magazine and some alone time in the bathroom), God would not just punish me. He would punish people I loved, as well. This line of thought carried over well into my young adulthood. Thus, I used to think that I was the cause for things like car accidents or serious illness. In fact, when my sister was dying of lymphoma of the brain a few years ago, I had a few nights of questioning myself, wondering how I had ticked God off enough to kill my sister.
I told a pastor friend after my sister died how I thought I had done something to cause my sister's death. He shook his head and said, "I wouldn't work for a God like that." Superstition can be incredibly harmful. I learned this the hard way.
So, I try to avoid thoughts of a vengeful Supreme Being these days. My God isn't about anger and pain. My God is about love and forgiveness.
And if that's superstition, Saint Marty is thankful for it.