Lessons from the Pequod

by chuckofish

Rockwell Kent. Illustration to the novel by H. Melville "Moby dick"

My mother’s comment on my last post pointed to a Stubb quotation from Moby-Dick: “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.” This got me thinking about Stubb, Starbuck, and Ahab, and it dawned on me that Moby-Dick might be the perfect novel for these self-isolation, social distancing, quarantine times. I couldn’t resist sharing a couple of lengthy passages, below.

From “The Gilder,” three approaches to stormy weather:

Oh, grassy glades! oh ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye, — though long parched by the dead drought of the earthly life,- in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling’s father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it. And that same day, too, gazing far down from his boat’s side into that same golden sea, Starbuck lowly murmured: —

“Loveliness unfathomable, as ever lover saw in his young bride’s eyes! — Tell me not of thy teeth-tiered sharks, and thy kidnapping cannibal ways. Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down and do believe.”

And Stubb, fish-like, with sparkling scale, leaped up in that same golden light: —

“I am Stubb, and Stubb has his history; but here Stubb takes oaths that he has always been jolly!”

And from “The Symphony,” if we really want to go there with Ahab…

When I think of this life I have led; the desolation of solitude it has been; the masoned, walled-town of a Captain’s exclusiveness, which admits but small entrance to any sympathy from the green country without — oh, weariness! heaviness! Guinea-coast slavery of solitary command! — when I think of all this; only half-suspected, not so keenly known to me before — and how for forty years I have fed upon dry salted fare — fit emblem of the dry nourishment of my soul! — when the poorest landsman has had fresh fruit to his daily hand, and broken the world’s fresh bread to my mouldy crusts — away, whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow — wife? wife? — rather a widow with her husband alive? Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck; and then, the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey — more a demon than a man! — aye, aye! what a forty years’ fool — fool — old fool, has old Ahab been! Why this strife of the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the iron, and the lance? how the richer or better is Ahab now? Behold. Oh, Starbuck! is it not hard, that with this weary load I bear, one poor leg should have been snatched from under me? Here, brush this old hair aside; it blinds me, that I seem to weep. Locks so grey did never grow but from out some ashes! But do I look very old, so very, very old, Starbuck? I feel deadly faint, bowed, and humped, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise. God! God! God! — crack my heart! — stave my brain! — mockery! mockery! bitter, biting mockery of grey hairs, have I lived enough joy to wear ye; and seem and feel thus intolerably old? Close! stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is better than to gaze into sea or sky; better than to gaze upon God. By the green land; by the bright hearthstone! this is the magic glass, man; I see my wife and my child in thine eye. No, no; stay on board, on board! — lower not when I do; when branded Ahab gives chase to Moby Dick. That hazard shall not be thine. No, no! not with the far away home I see in that eye!

Needless to say, I hope we are not aboard our (metaphorical) ship for forty years. Might I suggest cracking Moby-Dick to help weather the coronavirus storm in the meantime?