This may be the most moving chapter in this book. Evoked by the beauty and majesty of the seascape, the powerful exchange between Ahab and Starbuck is heroic in proportion and finality. The aura is so affecting that Ahab himself sheds a lonely tear into the sea. Starbuck observes his captain in a weak moment and hopefully draws near. "Starbuck?" "Sir."
"Oh, Starbuck! it is a mild.
mild wind, and a mild looking sky. On such a day I struck my
first whale -- a boy harpooneer of eighteen! Forty years
ago! [Ahab is 58 -- not so old a man, but old for a
whaling command.] Forty years of continual whaling!
Forty years of privation, and peril, and storm time! forty years
on the pitiless sea! Aye and yes, Starbuck, out of those forty
years I have not spent three ashore . . . away, whole oceans
away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed
for Cape Horn the next day. Aye I widowed that poor girl when I
married her, Starbuck. Aye, aye! what a forty years' old fool
has old Ahab been! Why this strife of the chase? how 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?
"But do I look very old, so very,
very old, Starbuck? I feel bowed, as though I were Adam,
staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise. Close,
stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is
better than to gaze upon God. This is the magic glass, man; I
see my wife and child in thine eye. Lower not when I do, to give
chase to Moby Dick. The hazard shall not be thine."
"But do I look very old, so very, very old, Starbuck? I feel bowed, as though I were Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise. Close, stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is better than to gaze upon God. This is the magic glass, man; I see my wife and child in thine eye. Lower not when I do, to give chase to Moby Dick. The hazard shall not be thine."
Exulting at the prospect that Ahab
might change his mind, Starbuck presses his case. "Oh,
my Captain! my Captain! noble soul after all! Let us fly these
deadly waters! Why should anyone give chase to that hated fish!
Let us home! Wife and child, too, are Starbuck's! This instant
let me alter the course! I think, sir, they have some such mild
blue days, even as this, in Nantucket."
"They have, Starbuck. It is his noon
nap now -- the boy wakes . . . and his mother tells him of me, of
cannibal old me."
"They have, Starbuck. It is his noon nap now -- the boy wakes . . . and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me."[It is with some surprise that we hear Ahab refer to himself as a cannibal. However, Melville was strongly influenced by the loss of the Nantucket whaleship Essex. After seeing their ship sunk by an enraged sperm whale, the survivors took to their little whaleboats, deciding to head for South America -- 2,000 miles away! Why? They feared cannibals on the nearby Pacific islands. Ironically, they were obliged to resort to cannibalism themselves, seven of the twenty castaways being eaten by their shipmates. How ironic when we remember that old Captain Bildad (conceivably representing one of the cannibals by choice) called Queequeg, a cannibal by birth, a "son of darkness" (Chapter 18).]
But Ahab abruptly changes . . . "What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it? what commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts his arm? By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. Where do murderers go, man? -- Starbuck?" But Starbuck, resigned and dejected, was gone.
"Ahab crossed the deck to gaze over on the other side; but started at two reflected, fixed eyes in the water there. Fedallah was motionlessly leaning over the same rail."