And now that at the proper time and place, after so long and wide a preliminary cruise, Ahab,- all other whaling waters swept- seemed to have chased his foe into an oceanfold, to slay him the more securely there; now, that he found himself hard by the very latitude and longitude where his tormenting wound had been inflicted; now that a vessel had been spoken which on the very day preceding had actually encountered Moby Dick;- and now that all his successive meetings with various ships contrastingly concurred to show the demoniac indifference with which the white whale tore his hunters, whether sinning or sinned against; now it was that there lurked a something in the old man's eyes, which it was hardly sufferable for feeble souls to see. As the unsetting polar star, which through the livelong, arctic, six months' night sustains its piercing, steady, central gaze; so Ahab's purpose now fixedly gleamed down upon the constant midnight of the gloomy crew. It domineered above them so, that all their bodings, doubts, misgivings, fears, were fain to hide beneath their souls, and not sprout forth a single spear or leaf.
In this foreshadowing interval, too, all
humor, forced or natural, vanished. Stubb no more strove to raise a
smile; Starbuck no more strove to check one. Alike, joy and sorrow, hope
and fear, seemed ground to finest dust, and powdered, for the time, in
the clamped mortar of Ahab's iron soul. Like machines, they dumbly moved
about the deck, ever conscious that the old man's despot eye was on
But did you deeply scan him in his more secret confidential
hours when he thought no glance but one was on him; then you would have
seen that even as Ahab's eyes so awed the crew's, the inscrutable
Parsee's glance awed his; or somehow, at least, in some wild way, at
times affected it. Such an added, gliding strangeness began to invest
the thin Fedallah now; such ceaseless shudderings shook him; that the
men looked dubious at him; half uncertain, as it seemed, whether indeed
he were a mortal substance, or else a tremulous shadow cast upon the
deck by some unseen being's body. And that shadow was always hovering
there. For not by night, even, had Fedallah ever certainly been known to
slumber, or go below. He would stand still for hours: but never sat or
leaned; his wan but wondrous eves did plainly say- We two watchmen never
Nor, at any time, by night or day could the mariners now
step upon the deck, unless Ahab was before them; either standing in his
pivot-hole, or exactly pacing the planks between two undeviating
limits,- the main-mast and the mizen; or else they saw him standing in
the cabin-scuttle,- his living foot advanced upon the deck, as if to
step; his hat slouched heavily over his eyes; so that however motionless
he stood, however the days and nights were added on, that he had not
swung in his hammock; yet hidden beneath that slouching hat, they could
never tell unerringly whether, for all this, his eyes were really closed
at times; or whether he was still intently scanning them; no matter,
though he stood so in the scuttle for a whole hour on the stretch, and
the unheeded night-damp gathered in beads of dew upon that stone-carved
coat and hat. The clothes that the night had wet, the next day's
sunshine dried upon him; and so, day after day, and night after night;
he went no more beneath the planks; whatever he wanted from the cabin
that thing he sent for.
He ate in the same open air; that is, his
two only meals,- breakfast and dinner: supper he never touched; nor
reaped his beard; which darkly grew all gnarled, as unearthed roots of
trees blown over, which still grow idly on at naked base, though
perished in the upper verdure. But though his whole life was now become
one watch on deck; and though the Parsee's mystic watch was without
intermission as his own; yet these two never seemed to speak- one man to
the other- unless at long intervals some passing unmomentous matter
made it necessary. Though such a potent spell seemed secretly to join
the twain; openly, and to the awe-struck crew, they seemed pole-like
asunder. If by day they chanced to speak one word; by night, dumb men
were both, so far as concerned the slightest verbal interchange. At
times, for longest hours, without a single hail, they stood far parted
in the starlight; Ahab in his scuttle, the Parsee by the main-mast; but
still fixedly gazing upon each other; as if in the Parsee Ahab saw his
forethrown shadow, in Ahab the Parsee his abandoned substance.
yet, somehow, did Ahab- in his own proper self, as daily, hourly, and
every instant, commandingly revealed to his subordinates,- Ahab seemed
an independent lord; the Parsee but his slave. Still again both seemed
yoked together, and an unseen tyrant driving them; the lean shade siding
the solid rib. For be this Parsee what he may, all rib and keel was
At the first faintest glimmering of the dawn, his iron
voice was heard from aft,- "Man the mast-heads!"- and all through the
day, till after sunset and after twilight, the same voice every hour, at
the striking of the helmsman's bell, was heard- "What d'ye see?- sharp!
But when three or four days had slided by, after meeting
the children-seeking Rachel; and no spout had yet been seen; the
monomaniac old man seemed distrustful of his crew's fidelity; at least,
of nearly all except the Pagan harpooneers; he seemed to doubt, even,
whether Stubb and Flask might not willingly overlook the sight he
sought. But if these suspicions were really his, he sagaciously
refrained from verbally expressing them, however his actions might seem
to hint them.
"I will have the first sight of the whale myself,"-
he said. "Aye! Ahab must have the doubloon! and with his own hands he
rigged a nest of basketed bowlines; and sending a hand aloft, with a
single sheaved block, to secure to the mainmast head, he received the
two ends of the downwardreeved rope; and attaching one to his basket
prepared, pin for the other end, in order to fasten it at the rail. This
done, with that end yet in his hand and standing beside the pin, he
looked round upon his crew, sweeping from one to the other; pausing his
glance long upon Daggoo, Queequeg, Tashtego; but shunning Fedallah; and
then settling his firm relying eye upon the chief mate, said,- "Take the
rope, sir- I give it into thy hands, Starbuck." Then arranging his
person in the basket, he gave the word for them to hoist him to his
perch, Starbuck being the one who secured the rope at last; and
afterwards stood near it. And thus, with one hand clinging round the
royal mast, Ahab gazed abroad upon the sea for miles and miles,- ahead
astern, this side, and that,- within the wide expanded circle commanded
at so great a height.
When in working with his hands at some lofty
almost isolated place in the rigging, which chances to afford no
foothold, the sailor at sea is hoisted up to that spot, and sustained
there by the rope; under these circumstances, its fastened end on deck
is always given in strict charge to some one man who has the special
watch of it. Because in such a wilderness of running rigging, whose
various different relations aloft cannot always be infallibly discerned
by what is seen of them at the deck; and when the deck-ends of these
ropes are being every few minutes cast down from the fastenings, it
would be but a natural fatality, if, unprovided with a constant
watchman, the hoisted sailor should by some carelessness of the crew be
cast adrift and fall all swooping to the sea. So Ahab's proceedings in
this matter were not unusual; the only strange thing about them seemed
to be, that Starbuck, almost the one only man who had ever ventured to
oppose him with anything in the slightest degree approaching to
decision- one of those too, whose faithfulness on the look-out he had
seemed to doubt somewhat; it was strange, that this was the very man he
should select for his watchman; freely giving his whole life into such
an otherwise distrusted person's hands.
Now, the first time Ahab
was perched aloft; ere he had been there ten minutes; one of those
red-billed savage sea-hawks which so often fly incommodiously close
round the manned mast-heads of whalemen in these latitudes; one of these
birds came wheeling and screaming round his head in a maze of
untrackably swift circlings. Then it darted a thousand feet straight up
into the air; then spiralized downwards, and went eddying again round
But with his gaze fixed upon the dim and distant
horizon, Ahab seemed not to mark this wild bird; nor, indeed, would any
one else have marked it much, it being no uncommon circumstance; only
now almost the least heedful eye seemed to see some sort of cunning
meaning in almost every sight.
"Your hat, your hat, sir!" suddenly
cried the Sicilian seaman, who being posted at the mizen-mast-head,
stood directly behind Ahab, though somewhat lower than his level, and
with a deep gulf of air dividing them.
But already the sable wing
was before the old man's eyes; the long hooked bill at his head: with a
scream, the black hawk darted away with his prize.
An eagle flew
thrice round Tarquin's head, removing his cap to replace it, and
thereupon Tanaquil, his wife, declared that Tarquin would be king of
Rome. But only by the replacing of the cap was that omen accounted good.
Ahab's hat was never restored; the wild hawk flew on and on with it;
far in advance of the prow: and at last disappeared; while from the
point of that disappearance, a minute black spot was dimly discerned,
falling from that vast height into the sea.
Six chapters from the end of the book. Ahab is closer to the white whale than he's been in over 600-plus pages. He's not sleeping much. Believes most of his crew has turned against him (which they have). All of Ahab's layers have worn away. Now, he's pure obsession, blind to everything but an albino hump, a snowy fluke, on the horizon.
Welcome to Monday evening. I woke up this morning with the best intentions. Grading papers. Putting together medical charts. Grading more papers. Creating a brilliant lesson plan. Posting something on Facebook that would go viral. Then, the rough draft of a new poem before bed. With any extra time, maybe going for a long walk. Three miles at least.
All of that quickly went out the window when I couldn't find my car keys at 5:20 a.m., followed by a frantic 15-minute search. When I got to work, five minutes late, I had a pile of work sitting on my desk that I hadn't anticipated. Two hours later, I was already three hours behind in my best intentions list. I never recovered.
So much for my Ahab-like monomaniacal focus. As of 6:45 this evening, I have eight more papers to grade. My lesson plan was mediocre, at best. I've spent a few minutes simply "liking" other people's Facebook posts, and I'm in sweat pants with just enough energy to walk to the refrigerator for a bottle of water. Monday-1, Best Intentions-0.
Perhaps I'll get the rest of those papers graded. If I do, I'll count that as a victory. I'll probably also fantasize for a few minutes about winning the $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot. Aside from that, my mind is pretty much oatmeal.
It's sad that I measure my daily success by work completed or not completed. I'm a daily list-maker, but those daily lists frequently accomplish only one thing--making me feel like a failure. I need to come up with a better measure for success. Like, I played chess with my son for two hours tonight. My daughter sent me a text this morning, out of the blue, that simply said, "I love you." I had a great salted caramel this afternoon that made me believe in God again.
That's going to be my new obsession: redefining what success is.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for a cold glass of water and maybe another salted caramel.
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