"Very good. Now, art thou the man to pitch a harpoon down a live whale's throat, and then jump after it? Answer, quick!"
"I am, sir, if it should be positively indispensable to do so; not to be got rid of, that is; which I don't take to be the fact."
"Good again. Now then, thou not only wantest to go a-whaling, to find out by experience what whaling is, but ye also want to go in order to see the world? Was not that what ye said? I thought so. Well then, just step forward there, and take a peep over the weather bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there."
For a moment I stood a little puzzled by this curious request, not knowing exactly how to take it, whether humorously or in earnest. But concentrating all his crow's feet into one scowl, Captain Peleg started me on the errand.
Going forward and glancing over the weather bow, I perceived that the ship swinging to her anchor with the flood-tide, was now obliquely pointing towards the open ocean. The prospect was unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I could see.
"Well, what's the report?" said Peleg when I came back; "what did ye see?"
"Not much," I replied- "nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there's a squall coming up, I think."
"Well, what does thou think then of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh? Can't ye see the world where you stand?"
I was a little staggered, but go a-whaling I must, and I would; and the Pequod was as good a ship as any- I thought the best- and all this I now repeated to Peleg. Seeing me so determined, he expressed his willingness to ship me.
"And thou mayest as well sign the papers right off," he added- "come along with ye." And so saying, he led the way below deck into the cabin.
Seated on the transom was what seemed to me a most uncommon and surprising figure. It turned out to be Captain Bildad who along with Captain Peleg was one of the largest owners of the vessel; the other shares, as is sometimes the case in these ports, being held by a crowd of old annuitants; widows, fatherless children, and chancery wards; each owning about the value of a timber head, or a foot of plank, or a nail or two in the ship. People in Nantucket invest their money in whaling vessels, the same way that you do yours in approved state stocks bringing in good interest.
Now, Bildad, like Peleg, and indeed many other Nantucketers, was a Quaker, the island having been originally settled by that sect; and to this day its inhabitants in general retain in an uncommon measure peculiarities of the Quaker, only variously and anomalously modified by things altogether alien and heterogeneous. For some of these same Quakers are the most sanguinary of all sailors and whale-hunters. They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance.
So that there are instances among them of men, who, named with Scripture names- a singularly common fashion on the island- and in childhood naturally imbibing the stately dramatic thee and thou of the Quaker idiom; still, from the audacious, daring, and boundless adventure of their subsequent lives, strangely blend with these unoutgrown peculiarities, a thousand bold dashes of character, not unworthy a Scandinavian sea-king, or a poetical Pagan Roman. And when these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath constellations never seen here at the north, been led to think untraditionally and independently; receiving all nature's sweet or savage impressions fresh from her own virgin voluntary and confiding breast, and thereby chiefly, but with some help from accidental advantages, to learn a bold and nervous lofty language- that man makes one in a whole nation's census- a mighty pageant creature, formed for noble tragedies. Nor will it at all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems a half wilful overruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease. But, as yet we have not to do with such an one, but with quite another; and still a man, who, if indeed peculiar, it only results again from another phase of the Quaker, modified by individual circumstances.
Ishmael is doing something here that I would never do. He has just stepped aboard the Pequod and, within of few minutes of meeting Captain Peleg, is ready to sign on for a three-year whaling voyage. Of course, that's why he and Queequeg came to Nantucket. And, of course, Moby-Dick wouldn't be much of a book if Ishmael were less impulsive in his decision here. There wouldn't be Ahab. Or a monstrous white whale.
I am not a person who rushes decisions. I prefer to think about things. A lot. Examine all sides of an issue. Sometimes, I've been accused of being overly cautious. It's just my nature. If I were Ishmael, I wouldn't have ended up on the Pequod. I'm sure of it. In fact, I would have visited every whaling ship in the harbor, taking notes in my journal, maybe writing down names and drawing pictures. Weighing my options. And then I would have hopped on a boat for the mainland, turned my back on the ocean, and found a nice job in a bakery or newspaper.
I am not a coward. I stand up in front of a group of 35 college students every day, talking about film and writing and poetry. Subjects that 18- and 19-year-old men and women don't really give two shits about. I sit at a pipe organ every Saturday night, making music to a church filled with people. I've played the lead in the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I've directed musicals. And I've attended a clothing optional poetry workshop. choosing the optional one night.
So, you see, I take chances. Do things that would make other people incredibly uncomfortable. Yet, I'm not impulsive in the choices I make. Before I took up teaching college English, I worked in a book store. Cleaned a hospital operating room at night. Studied computer programming. I tried my hand at a lot of things. Then I decided I wanted to teach.
Before I played Pseudolus in Forum, I was part of a lot of choruses in musicals. That's like being the second guy at the bus stop in a movie. Or the fifth member of the landing party on an episode of the original Star Trek. I built up some experience before I stepped into the spotlight.
That's how I roll. I'm Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula at the moment. I love meeting people, sharing poems, encouraging other poets. It's exciting. However, I've been practicing poetry for close to 20 years now. I'm still practicing. Every time I sit down with my pen and journal to work on a new poem, it's like I'm in my first poetry workshop all over again.
I'm not an impulsive person. I'm careful. I don't think that makes me timid. That makes me smart.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for being cautiously fearless.
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