116 The Dying Whale
THE DYING WHALER.
Not seldom in this life, when, on the right side, fortune’s favorites sail close by us, we, though all adroop before, catch somewhat of the rushing breeze, and joyfully feel our bagging sails fill out. So seemed it with the Pequod. For next day after encountering the gay Bachelor, whales were seen and four were slain; and one of them by Ahab.
It was far down the afternoon; and when all the spearings of the crimson fight were done: and floating in the lovely sunset sea and sky, sun and whale both stillystilly: quietly. died together; then, such a sweetness and such plaintiveness, such inwreathing orisonsorisons: prayers. curled up in that rosy air, that it almost seemed as if far over from the deep green convent valleys of the Manilla islesManilla isles: The Philippines., the Spanish land-breeze, wantonly turned sailor, had gone to sea, freighted with these vesper hymns.
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 sunwardsturning sunwards of the head: Melville affirms this belief of whalemen, though he had read Thomas Beale's doubts of the phenomenon in his The Natural History of the Sperm Whale. (See Mansfield and Vincent, 818) 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 and turns him to it,—how slowly, but how steadfastly, his homage-rendering and invoking brow, with his last dying motions. He too worships fire; most faithful, broad, baronial vassal of the sun!—Oh that these too-favoring eyes should see these too-favoring sights. Look! here, far water-locked; beyond all hum of human weal or woe; in these most candid and impartial seas; where to traditions no rocks furnish tablets; where for long Chinese ages, the billows have still rolled on speechless and unspoken to, as stars that shine upon the Niger’s unknown sourcethe Niger’s unknown source: European explorers had long tried to find the source of the Niger River, the most important in western Africa, and had succeeded in locating it in northern Cameroon in 1822, when Melville was 3 years old.; here, too, life dies sunwards full of faith; but see! no sooner dead, than death whirls round the corpse, and it heads some other way.—
“Oh, thou dark Hindoo half of naturedark Hindoo half of nature: Called a “queen” later in the speech, this darker half in Ahab’s personality alludes to female Hindu deities such as Kali and Durga, known as destroyers. Later, in Ch. 119, Ahab once again invokes his “queenly personality” in his address to fire where he also defines himself as darkness., who of drowned bones hast builded thy separate throne somewhere in the heart of these unverdured seas; thou art an infidel, thou queen, and too truly speakest to me in the wide-slaughtering Typhoon, and the hushed burial of its after calm. Nor has this thy whale sunwards turned his dying head, and then gone round again, without a lesson to me.
“Oh, trebly hooped and welded hip of power! Oh, high aspiring, rainbowed jet!—that one strivest, this one jettest all in vain! 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. All thy unnamable imminglingsREVISION NARRATIVE: thy unnamable imminglings // Melville probably revised “unnamable” to “nameless” on the sheets he sent to England. The change in meaning is significant. Watching the dying whale turn toward the sun, Ahab experiences a “wondrousness unknown before,” and in the soliloquy that follows, he distinguishes the dying whale’s vain sun worship at the end from the sea’s darker truth which rocks him “with a prouder, if a darker faith.” But by referring to the sea’s “imminglings” (its mixtures of life and death) as “unnamable,” Ahab admits that these mysteries cannot be named or known, and that he has no control over them. However, the revision to “nameless” alters this effect, suggesting that while the imminglings are presently nameless, they are nevertheless “namable,” hence knowable in some way. The prideful implication is that Ahab’s “darker faith” allows him a measure of control over the unknown. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. float beneath me here; I am buoyed by breaths of once living things, exhaled as air, but water now.
“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!”