Chapter 116 The Dying Whale

        The Pequod had a bit of greasy luck that rubbed off on them after encountering the ship Bachelor. They took four whales, one of which was killed by Ahab himself.

        "It was far down in the afternoon, and all the spearings of the crimson fight were done. Floating in the lovely sunset sea and sky, sun and whale both stilly died together; then, such a sweetness and such plaintivness, such inwreathing orisons [prayers] curled up in that rosy air. Soothed again, but only soothed to deeper gloom, Ahab, who had sterned off from the whale, sat intently watching his final wanings from the now tranquil boat. For that strange spectacle observable in all sperm whales dying -- the turning sunwards of the head, and so expiring -- that strange spectacle, beheld of such a placid evening, somehow to Ahab conveyed a wondrousness unknown before."

        "He turns him to it -- he too worships fire; most faithful, broad, baronial vassal of the sun!" [What is Melville saying about fire worship with that "too"?] "Far water-locked, beyond all hum of human weal or woe; here, too, life dies sunwards full of faith; but see! no sooner dead, than death whirls round the corpse, and it heads in some other way." [This is a critical observation by Ahab, prompting him to make a declaration of faith to himself.]

        "Oh thou dark Hindoo half of nature. Nor has this thy whale sunwards turned his dying head, and then gone round again, without a lesson to me. In vain, oh whale, dost thou seek intercedings with yon all-quickening sun, that only calls forth life, but gives it not again. Yet dost thou, darker half, rock me with a prouder, if a darker faith." [Not "rock" as in rock-and-roll, but rocked in the cradle of the deep blue sea, to refer to a much older form of music]

        Prouder and darker than what? It seems that Melville, through Ahab, is voicing an admiration for a faith "prouder" and "darker" than sun worship. The next sentence gives us the answer: All thy unnamable imminglings float beneath me here [that is, the "dark Hindoo half of nature" which is the sea itself.] I am buoyed by breaths of once living things, exhaled as air, but water now." And so we are back to water, of which in Chapter 1 it was said, "It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all."

        And finally the whaleship captain of forty years at sea, who has "been in colleges" according to the old Quaker owners back on Nantucket Island, waxes positively Shakespearean:

        "Then hail, for ever hail, O sea, in whose eternal tossings the wild fowl finds his only rest. Born of earth, yet suckled by the sea; though hill and valley mothered me, ye billows are my foster brothers!"

        How many readers in the mid-nineteenth century, when Moby-Dick first came out, could relate to this? No wonder some critics dismissed this book as demented drivel. We know better. Taken in total, Moby- Dick is considered to be one of the finest contributions to the literature of the English language.

        The reader is urged to look up the word sententious, to see whether it applies to our deep-diving author, who would have us believe he should be called Ishmael, whereas he might be better known as the American Shakespeare of prose drama.