That night, in the mid-watch when the old man- as his wont at intervals- stepped forth from the scuttle in which he leaned, and went to his pivot-hole, he suddenly thrust out his face fiercely, snuffing up the sea air as a sagacious ship's dog will, in drawing nigh to some barbarous isle. He declared that a whale must be near. Soon that peculiar odor, sometimes to a great distance given forth by the living sperm whale, was palpable to all the watch; nor was any mariner surprised when, after inspecting the compass, and then the dog-vane, and then ascertaining the precise bearing of the odor as nearly as possible, Ahab rapidly ordered the ship's course to be slightly altered, and the sail to be shortened.
The acute policy dictating these
movements was sufficiently vindicated at daybreak, by the sight of a
long sleek on the sea directly and lengthwise ahead, smooth as oil, and
resembling in the pleated watery wrinkles bordering it, the polished
metallic-like marks of some swift tide-rip, at the mouth of a deep,
"Man the mast-heads! Call all hands!"
with the butts of three clubbed handspikes on the forecastle deck,
Daggoo roused the sleepers with such judgment claps that they seemed to
exhale from the scuttle, so instantaneously did they appear with their
clothes in their hands.
"What d'ye see?" cried Ahab, flattening his face to the sky.
"Nothing, nothing sir!" was the sound hailing down in reply.
"T'gallant sails!- stunsails! alow and aloft, and on both sides!"
sail being set, he now cast loose the life-line, reserved for swaying
him to the main royal-mast head; and in a few moments they were hoisting
him thither, when, while but two thirds of the way aloft, and while
peering ahead through the horizontal vacancy between the main-top-sail
and top-gallant-sail, he raised a gull-like cry in the air. "There she
blows!- there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!"
by the cry which seemed simultaneously taken up by the three look-outs,
the men on deck rushed to the rigging to behold the famous whale they
had so long been pursuing. Ahab had now gained his final perch, some
feet above the other look-outs, Tashtego standing just beneath him on
the cap of the top-gallant-mast, so that the Indian's head was almost on
a level with Ahab's heel. From this height the whale was now seen some
mile or so ahead, at every roll of the sea revealing his high sparkling
hump, and regularly jetting his silent spout into the air. To the
credulous mariners it seemed the same silent spout they had so long ago
beheld in the moonlit Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
"And did none of ye see it before?" cried Ahab, hailing the perched men all around him.
"I saw him almost that same instant, sir, that Captain Ahab did, and I cried out," said Tashtego.
the same instant; not the same- no, the doubloon is mine, Fate reserved
the doubloon for me. I only; none of ye could have raised the White
Whale first. There she blows!- there she blows!- there she blows! There
again!- there again!" he cried, in long-drawn, lingering, methodic
tones, attuned to the gradual prolongings of the whale's visible jets.
"He's going to sound! In stunsails! Down top-gallant-sails! Stand by
three boats. Mr. Starbuck, remember, stay on board, and keep the ship.
Helm there! Luff, luff a point! So; steady, man, steady! There go
flukes! No, no; only black water! All ready the boats there? Stand by,
stand by! Lower me, Mr. Starbuck; lower, lower,- quick, quicker!" and he
slid through the air to the deck.
"He is heading straight to leeward, sir," cried Stubb, "right away from us; cannot have seen the ship yet."
"Be dumb, man! Stand by the braces! Hard down the helm!- brace up! Shiver her!- shiver her!- So; well that! Boats, boats!"
all the boats but Starbuck's were dropped; all the boat-sails set- all
the paddles plying; with rippling swiftness, shooting to leeward; and
Ahab heading the onset. A pale, death-glimmer lit up Fedallah's sunken
eyes; a hideous motion gnawed his mouth.
Like noiseless nautilus
shells, their light prows sped through the sea; but only slowly they
neared the foe. As they neared him, the ocean grew still more smooth;
seemed drawing a carpet over its waves; seemed a noon-meadow, so
serenely it spread. At length the breathless hunter came so nigh
seemingly unsuspecting prey, that his entire dazzling hump was
distinctly visible, sliding along the sea as if an isolated thing, and
continually set in a revolving ring of finest, fleecy, greenish foam. He
saw the vast, involved wrinkles of the slightly projecting head beyond.
Before it, far out on the soft Turkish-rugged waters, went the
glistening white shadow from his broad, milky forehead, a musical
rippling playfully accompanying the shade; and behind, the blue waters
interchangeably flowed over into the moving valley of his steady wake;
and on either hand bright bubbles arose and danced by his side. But
these were broken again by the light toes of hundreds of gay fowls
softly feathering the sea, alternate with their fitful flight; and like
to some flag-staff rising from the painted hull of an argosy, the tall
but shattered pole of a recent lance projected from the white whale's
back; and at intervals one of the cloud of soft-toed fowls hovering, and
to and fro skimming like a canopy over the fish, silently perched and
rocked on this pole, the long tail feathers streaming like pennons.
gentle joyousness- a mighty mildness of repose in swiftness, invested
the gliding whale. Not the white bull Jupiter swimming away with
ravished Europa clinging to his graceful horns; his lovely, leering eyes
sideways intent upon the maid; with smooth bewitching fleetness,
rippling straight for the nuptial bower in Crete; not Jove, not that
great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so
On each soft side- coincident with the parted
swell, that but once leaving him then flowed so wide away- on each
bright side, the whale shed off enticings. No wonder there had been some
among the hunters who namelessly transported and allured by all this
serenity, had ventured to assail it; but had fatally found that quietude
but the vesture of tornadoes. Yet calm, enticing calm, oh, whale! thou
glidest on, to all who for the first time eye thee, no matter how many
in that same way thou mayst have bejuggled and destroyed before.
thus, through the serene tranquilities of the tropical sea, among waves
whose hand-clappings were suspended by exceeding rapture, Moby Dick
moved on, still withholding from sight the full terrors of his submerged
trunk, entirely hiding the wrenched hideousness of his jaw. But soon
the fore part of him slowly rose from the water; for an instant his
whole marbleized body formed a high arch, like Virginia's Natural
Bridge, and warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air, the grand
god revealed himself, sounded and went out of sight. Hoveringly halting,
and dipping on the wing, the white sea-fowls longingly lingered over
the agitated pool that he left.
With oars apeak, and paddles down,
the sheets of their sails adrift, the three boats now stilly floated,
awaiting Moby Dick's reappearance.
"An hour," said Ahab, standing
rooted in his boat's stern; and he gazed beyond the whale's place,
towards the dim blue spaces and wide wooing vacancies to leeward. It was
only an instant; for again his eyes seemed whirling round in his head
as he swept the watery circle. The breeze now freshened; the sea began
"The birds!- the birds!" cried Tashtego.
Indian file, as when herons take wing, the white birds were now all
flying towards Ahab's boat; and when within a few yards began fluttering
over the water there, wheeling round and round, with joyous, expectant
cries. Their vision was keener than man's; Ahab could discover no sign
in the sea. But suddenly as he peered down and down into its depths, he
profoundly saw a white living spot no bigger than a white weasel, with
wonderful celerity uprising, and magnifying as it rose, till it turned,
and then there were plainly revealed two long crooked rows of white,
glistening teeth, floating up from the undiscoverable bottom. It was
Moby Dick's open mouth and scrolled jaw; his vast, shadowed bulk still
half blending with the blue of the sea. The glittering mouth yawned
beneath the boat like an open-doored marble tomb; and giving one
sidelong sweep with his steering oar, Ahab whirled the craft aside from
this tremendous apparition. Then, calling upon Fedallah to change places
with him, went forward to the bows, and seizing Perth's harpoon,
commanded his crew to grasp their oars and stand by to stern.
by reason of this timely spinning round the boat upon its axis, its
bow, by anticipation, was made to face the whale's head while yet under
water. But as if perceiving this stratagem, Moby Dick, with that
malicious intelligence ascribed to him, sidelingly transplanted himself,
as it were, in an instant, shooting his pleated head lengthwise beneath
Through and through; through every plank and each rib,
it thrilled for an instant, the whale obliquely lying on his back, in
the manner of a biting shark slowly and feelingly taking its bows full
within his mouth, so that the long, narrow, scrolled lower jaw curled
high up into the open air, and one of the teeth caught in a row-lock.
The bluish pearl-white of the inside of the jaw was within six inches of
Ahab's head, and reached higher than that. In this attitude the White
Whale now shook the slight cedar as a mildly cruel cat her mouse. With
unastonished eyes Fedallah gazed, and crossed his arms; but the
tiger-yellow crew were tumbling over each other's heads to gain the
And now, while both elastic gunwales were
springing in and out, as the whale dallied with the doomed craft in this
devilish way; and from his body being submerged beneath the boat, he
could not be darted at from the bows, for the bows were almost inside of
him, as it were; and while the other boats involuntarily paused, as
before a quick crisis impossible to withstand, then it was that
monomaniac Ahab, furious with this tantalizing vicinity of his foe,
which placed him all alive and helpless in the very jaws he hated;
frenzied with all this, he seized the long bone with his naked hands,
and wildly strove to wrench from its gripe. As now he thus vainly
strove, the jaw slipped from him; the frail gunwales bent in, collapsed,
and snapped, as both jaws, like an enormous shears, sliding further
aft, bit the craft completely in twain, and locked themselves fast again
in the sea, midway between the two floating wrecks. These floated
aside, the broken ends drooping, the crew at the stern-wreck clinging to
the gunwales, and striving to hold fast to the oars to lash them
At that preluding moment, ere the boat was yet snapped,
Ahab, the first to perceive the whale's intent, by the crafty upraising
of his head, a movement that loosed his hold for the time; at that
moment his hand had made one final effort to push the boat out of the
bite. But only slipping further into the whale's mouth, and tilting over
sideways as it slipped, the boat had shaken off his hold on the jaw;
spilled him out of it, as he leaned to the push; and so he fell
flat-faced upon the sea.
Ripplingly withdrawing from his prey,
Moby Dick now lay at a little distance, vertically thrusting his oblong
white head up and down in the billows; and at the same time slowly
revolving his whole spindled body; so that when his vast wrinkled
forehead rose- some twenty or more feet out of the water- the now rising
swells, with all their confluent waves, dazzlingly broke against it;
vindictively tossing their shivered spray still higher into the air.*
So, in a gale, the but half baffled Channel billows only recoil from the
base of the Eddystone, triumphantly to overleap its summit with their
*This motion is peculiar to the sperm whale. It receives its
designation (pitchpoling) from its being likened to that preliminary
up-and-down poise of the whale-lance, in the exercise called
pitchpoling, previously described. By this motion the whale must best
and most comprehensively view whatever objects may be encircling him.
soon resuming his horizontal attitude, Moby Dick swam swiftly round and
round the wrecked crew; sideways churning the water in his vengeful
wake, as if lashing himself up to still another and more deadly assault.
The sight of the splintered boat seemed to madden him, as the blood of
grapes and mulberries cast before Antiochus's elephants in the book of
Maccabees. Meanwhile Ahab half smothered in the foam of the whale's
insolent tail, and too much of a cripple to swim,- though he could still
keep afloat, even in the heart of such a whirlpool as that; helpless
Ahab's head was seen, like a tossed bubble which the least chance shock
might burst. From the boat's fragmentary stern, Fedallah incuriously and
mildly eved him; the clinging crew, at the other drifting end, could
not succor him; more than enough was it for them to look to themselves.
For so revolvingly appalling was the White Whale's aspect, and so
planetarily swift the ever-contracting circles he made, that he seemed
horizontally swooping upon them. And though the other boats, unharmed,
still hovered hard by; still they dared not pull into the eddy to
strike, lest that should be the signal for the instant destruction of
the jeopardized castaways, Ahab and all; nor in that case could they
themselves hope to escape. With straining eyes, then, they remained on
the outer edge of the direful zone, whose centre had now become the old
Meantime, from the beginning all this had been
descried from the ship's mast heads; and squaring her yards, she had
borne down upon the scene; and was now so nigh, that Ahab in the water
hailed her!- "Sail on the"- but that moment a breaking sea dashed on him
from Moby Dick, and whelmed him for the time. But struggling out of it
again, and chancing to rise on a towering crest, he shouted,- "Sail on
the whale!- Drive him off!"
The Pequod's prows were pointed-, and
breaking up the charmed circle, she effectually parted the white whale
from his victim. As he sullenly swam off, the boats flew to the rescue.
into Stubb's boat with blood-shot, blinded eyes, the white brine caking
in his wrinkles; the long tension of Ahab's bodily strength did crack,
and helplessly he yielded to his body's doom for a time, lying all
crushed in the bottom of Stubb's boat, like one trodden under foot of
herds of elephants. Far inland, nameless wails came from him, as
desolate sounds from out ravines.
But this intensity of his
physical prostration did but so much the more abbreviate it. In an
instant's compass, great hearts sometimes condense to one deep pang, the
sum total of those shallow pains kindly diffused through feebler men's
whole lives. And so, such hearts, though summary in each one suffering;
still, if the gods decree it, in their life-time aggregate a whole age
of woe, wholly made up of instantaneous intensities; for even in their
pointless centres, those noble natures contain the entire circumferences
of inferior souls.
"The harpoon," said Ahab, half way rising, and draggingly leaning on one bended arm- "is it safe?"
"Aye, sir, for it was not darted; this is it," said Stubb, showing it.
"Lay it before me;- any missing men?"
"One, two, three, four, five;- there were five oars, sir, and here are five men."
good.- Help me, man; I wish to stand. So, so, I see him! there! there!
going to leeward still; what a leaping spout!- Hands off from me! The
eternal sap runs up in Ahab's bones again! Set the sail; out oars; the
It is often the case that when a boat is stove, its crew,
being picked up by another boat, help to work that second boat; and the
chase is thus continued with what is called double-banked oars. It was
thus now. But the added power of the boat did not equal the added power
of the whale, for he seemed to have treble-banked his every fin;
swimming with a velocity which plainly showed, that if now, under these
circumstances, pushed on, the chase would prove an indefinitely
prolonged, if not a hopeless one; nor could any crew endure for so long a
period, such an unintermitted, intense straining at the oar; a thing
barely tolerable only in some one brief vicissitude. The ship itself,
then, as it sometimes happens, offered the most promising intermediate
means of overtaking the chase. Accordingly, the boats now made for her,
and were soon swayed up to their cranes- the two parts of the wrecked
boat having been previously secured by her- and then hoisting everything
to her side, and stacking her canvas high up, and sideways
outstretching it with stunsails, like the double-jointed wings of an
albatross; the Pequod bore down in the leeward wake of Moby Dick. At the
well known, methodic intervals, the whale's glittering spout was
regularly announced from the manned mast-heads; and when he would be
reported as just gone down, Ahab would take the time, and then pacing
the deck, binnacle-watch in hand, so soon as the last second of the
allotted hour expired, his voice was heard.- "Whose is the doubloon now?
D'ye see him?" and if the reply was No, sir! straightway he commanded
them to lift him to his perch. In this way the day wore on; Ahab, now
aloft and motionless; anon, unrestingly pacing the planks.
was thus walking, uttering no sound, except to hail the men aloft, or to
bid them hoist a sail still higher, or to spread one to a still greater
breadth- thus to and fro pacing, beneath his slouched hat, at every
turn he passed his own wrecked boat, which had been dropped upon the
quarter-deck, and lay there reversed; broken bow to shattered stern. At
last he paused before it; and as in an already over-clouded sky fresh
troops of clouds will sometimes sail across, so over the old man's face
there now stole some such added gloom as this.
Stubb saw him
pause; and perhaps intending, not vainly, though, to evince his own
unabated fortitude, and thus keep up a valiant place in his Captain's
mind, he advanced, and eyeing the wreck exclaimed- "The thistle the ass
refused; it pricked his mouth too keenly, sir, ha! ha!"
soulless thing is this that laughs before a wreck? Man, man! did I not
know thee brave as fearless fire (and as mechanical) I could swear thou
wert a paltroon. Groan nor laugh should be heard before a wreck."
"Aye, sir," said Starbuck drawing near, "'tis a solemn sight; an omen, and an ill one."
omen?- the dictionary! If the gods think to speak outright to man, they
will honorably speak outright; not shake their heads, and give an old
wives' darkling hint.- Begone! Ye two are the opposite poles of one
thing; Starbuck is Stubb reversed, and Stubb is Starbuck; and ye two are
all mankind; and Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled
earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors! Cold, cold- I shiver!- How now?
Aloft there! D'ye see him? Sing out for every spout, though he spout ten
times a second!"
The day was nearly done; only the helm of his
golden robe was rustling. Soon it was almost dark, but the look-out men
still remained unset.
"Can't see the spout now, sir;- too dark"- cried a voice from the air.
"How heading when last seen?"
"As before, sir,- straight to leeward."
he will travel slower now 'tis night. Down royals and top-gallant
stunsails, Mr. Starbuck. We must not run over him before morning; he's
making a passage now, and may heave-to a while. Helm there! keep her
full before the wind!- Aloft! come down!- Mr. Stubb, send a fresh hand
to the fore-mast head, and see it manned till morning."- Then advancing
towards the doubloon in the main-mast- "Men, this gold is mine, for I
earned it; but I shall let it abide here till the White Whale is dead;
and then, whosoever of ye first raises him, upon the day he shall be
killed, this gold is that man's; and if on that day I shall again raise
him, then, ten times its sum shall be divided among all of ye! Away now!
the deck is thine, sir!"
And so saying, he placed himself half
way within the scuttle, and slouching his hat, stood there till dawn,
except when at intervals rousing himself to see how the night wore on.
Ahab finally spies Moby-Dick, three chapters before the end of the novel. All has been leading to this moment. Queequeg and Ishmael's first meeting. Queequeg's trance in the room on Nantucket. The Pequod. Tashtego and Starbuck. The oceans and seas and stories and digressions. All leading to the appearance of Moby-Dick's white hump on the horizon. The book is unclear about how long the crew of the Pequod has been sailing and whaling, but the hold of the ship is full of barrels of rendered sperm whale.
Today is my wife's birthday. I wanted to stop and get her some birthday cards last night at Walmart. Was planning on getting her a cake today. I want to make this day special for her. Unfortunately, my plans didn't work out. Money is really tight this week due to various bills coming due. So I couldn't buy her cards last night. Couldn't pick up a cheesecake for her. Instead, I bought a cupcake for her, and, when I get home, I will put a candle in the cupcake, and we will sing "Happy Birthday" and watch her make a wish and blow out the candle.
Like Ahab, this day has not turned out the way I wanted. Ahab's boat gets bitten in two, and he almost drowns. I've had to settle for a cupcake. Not very exciting. When I spoke with her this afternoon, she said that she was having a wonderful day. She got to sleep in as long as she wanted. She didn't have to work today. And this afternoon, she's going grocery shopping and then spending some time at Lake Superior by herself.
She and I have been through a lot together. It hasn't always been easy sailing. There have been plenty of white whales in our relationship and marriage. Mental illness. Sexual addiction. Separation headed toward divorce. But, of course, there have been the miracles of our kids. Trips to New York City. Family vacations at wonderful resorts. Laughter and, always, love.
I suppose that's what really counts tonight. It isn't whether I could buy the most expensive Hallmark card or creamiest cheesecake. Or whether I could hand her a jewelry box with a diamond ring. It's all about those small moments. Saying prayers with our son at night. Watching our daughter sing in her Christmas concert. Holding hands as we go for a walk. Finding each other in the dark after waking from a nightmare.
Saint Marty is so thankful tonight for his beautiful wife on the day of her birth.
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