I never expected to be so thoroughly entranced by Moby Dick. I knew I wanted to read it because a reader should be aware of such classics, because Herman Melville’s birthday was 200 years ago on August 1, because it has been sitting on my shelf for years. But, I never knew that each chapter, even each page, would have something significant to say.
In order to remember such a long novel accurately, I am writing down quotes which seem to highlight each chapter. I will post them in groups of ten, to access them more easily. (And Brona, I realize this was to be a slow read-along, but I am compelled to sail along.)
Chapter 1: Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
Chapter 2: …it became a matter of concernment where I was to eat and sleep meanwhile. It was a very dubious-looking, nay, a very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless. I knew no one in the place (New Bedford, Massachusetts).
Chapter 3: Upon entering the place ((The Spouter Inn) I found a number of young seamen gathered about a table, examining by a dim light divers specimens of skrimshander. I sought the landlord, and telling him I desired to be accommodated with a room, received for answer that his house was full – not a bed unoccupied. ‘But avast,’ he added, tapping his forehead, ‘you hadn’t no objections to sharing a harpooner’s blanket, have ye? I s’pose you are goin’ a whalin’, so you’d better get used to that sort of thing.’
Chapter 4: Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner…The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were one precise shade…this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt.
Chapter 5: Queequeg’s greatest admirer could not have cordially justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast with him, and using it there without ceremony; reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him, and everyone knows that in most people’s estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.
Chapter 6: …in New Bedford, actual cannibals stand chatting at street corners; savages outright; many of whom yet carry on their bones unholy flesh. It makes a stranger stare.
Chapter 7: In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included…how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss.
Chapter 8: Yes, the world’s a ship in its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.
Chapter 9: Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale!
Chapter 10: No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage (Queequeg) had redeemed it…He seemed to take me quite as naturally and unbiddingly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me around the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country’s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be.
Can’t you just see Queequeg’s tattoos? The harpoon with which he first shaves and then spears his beefsteak for breakfast? The church with its pulpit and tombstones and somber foreshadowing of what one feels certain will come? This book has me by the throat, and I love it.