23 The Lee Shore
THE LEE SHORE.
Some chapters backSome chapters back: See Ch. 3., one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, new-landed mariner, encountered in New Bedford at the inn.
When on that shivering winter’s night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in midwinter just landed from a four years’ dangerous voyagefour years’ dangerous voyage: See note on "three years' voyage" in Ch. 3., could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward landdrives along the leeward land: A ship struggles against strong storm winds, with land dangerously close to its downwind side. Although with ordinary winds the vessel could sail into port, in the gale it struggles to avoid being wrecked on that shore.. The port would fain give succorwould fain give succor . . . pitiful . . . our mortalities: would like to help; has pity; our human needs and weaknesses.; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sailcrowds all sail: sets all possible sails. off shore; in so doing, fights ’gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!
Know ye, now, BulkingtonKnow ye, now, Bulkington?: In Ch. 3, Melville introduces Bulkington in such detail that the character seems destined to play an important role in the narrative, but here, Bulkington is abruptly, though gloriously, dismissed by means of “apotheosis.” That is, he is transformed from a character into a god-like example of human independence. Bulkington may have been part of an early conception of the narrative, eventually abandoned in the course of writing. If so, Melville might have noticed the vestigial Bulkington perhaps while proofreading his early chapters later on in his compositional process. In this line of thinking, Melville’s solution to the problem of what then to do with Bulkington was to insert Ch. 23 as a retrospective erasure of him. While for some critics, this farewell chapter poses problems regarding traditional novel structure, it also provides Ishmael a chance to reflect on identity and independence. Whatever compositional events may have transpired, Melville’s address to his reader—“Know ye, now, Bulkington?”—initiates a pattern of rhetorical questioning, particularly evident in the concluding line of one of Moby-Dick’s deepest philosophical chapters, “The Whiteness of the Whale” (Ch. 42): “Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?
But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as GodREVISION NARRATIVE: indefinite as God // Melville’s British editor revised “God” to “the Almighty.” To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.—so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing—straight up, leaps thy apotheosisapotheosis: transformation into an immortal spirit.!