Chapters

37 Sunset CHAPTER 37 SUNSET. The cabin; by the stern windows; Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out. I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where’er I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass. Yonder, by the ever-brimming goblet’s rim, the warm waves blush like wine. The gold brow plumbs the blue. The diver sun—slow dived from noon,—goes down; my soul mounts up! she wearies with her endless hill. Is, then, the crown too heavy that I wear? this Iron Crown of LombardyIron Crown of Lombardy: Ancient jewelled crown used at coronations of the Holy Roman emperors, and supposed to contain a nail from the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Unlike Ahab’s metaphorical crown, the original is mainly gold.. Yet is it bright with many a gem; I, the wearer, see not its far flashings; but darkly feel that I wear that, that dazzlingly confounds. ’Tis iron—that I know—not gold. ’Tis split, too—that I feel; the jagged edge galls me so, my brain seems to beat against the solid metal; aye, steel skull, mine; the sort that needs no helmet in the most brain-battering fight!REVISION NARRATIVE: the solid metal; aye, steel skull, mine; the sort that needs no helmet in the most brain-battering fight! // In the American version of the opening to Ahab’s soliloquy, Melville piles metal upon metal—gold, iron, then steel—in describing the contrast between Ahab's metaphorical iron crown of duty and his obsession battered brain. The final two clauses introduce Ahab's steel skull, which, he says, obviates his having to wear a “helmet” or iron crown. The British version deletes these two clauses so that the paragraph ends with “solid metal.” A British editor would have had no reason to remove these words, though a printer might have inadvertently omitted them in setting type. A likelier scenario, however, is that Melville found the extended metamorphizing confusing and made the deletion himself in the proof sheets he sent to England. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. Dry heat upon my brow? Oh! time was, when as the sunrise nobly spurred me, so the sunset soothed. No more. This lovely light, it lights not me; all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can ne’er enjoy. Gifted with the high perception, I lack the low, enjoying power; damned, most subtly and most malignantly! damned in the midst of Paradisedamned in the midst of Paradise!: Melville’s “in the midst of” phrasing echoes Eve’s words to the serpent telling him that she is prohibited from eating “the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden” (Genesis 3.3). Ahab’s lament also recalls Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost, “Me miserable! which way shall I fly / Infinite wrath, and infinite despair? / Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell” (IV.73–75). See also note on “hell in himself” in Ch. 44.! Good night—good night! (waving his hand, he moves from the window.) ’Twas not so hard a task. I thought to find one stubborn, at the least; but my one cogged circle fits into all their various wheels, and they revolve. Or, if you will, like so many ant-hills of powder, they all stand before me; and I their match. Oh, hard! that to fire others, the match itself must needs be wasting! What I’ve dared, I’ve willed; and what I’ve willed, I’ll do! They think me mad—Starbuck does; but I’m demoniacdemoniac: Because he is aware of his madness, Ahab claims he is therefore not crazy; it is as if an internal demon or “dæmon” controls and uses his insanity. In Plato’s Symposium and in Romantic poetry, a “dæmon” mediates between heaven and earth or gives human form to ideal truths. In this sense, Ahab’s demonism is more spiritual than supernatural., I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecyprophecy: See Ch. 19. was that I should be dismembered; and—Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one. That’s more than ye, ye great gods, ever were. I laugh and hoot at ye, ye cricket-players, ye pugilists, ye deaf Burkes and blinded Bendigoesdeaf Burkes and blinded Bendigoes!: William Abednego Thompson (1811-1880; nicknamed Bendigo) won the heavyweight boxing championship of England in 1839 against James (“Deaf”) Burke (1809-1845). Burke was born deaf, but Thompson was never blind. Melville's epithet "blinded" might refer to temporary sight impairment due to facial swellings, common enough in the ring.! I will not say as schoolboys do to bullies,—Take some one of your own size; don’t pommel me! No, ye’ve knocked me down, and I am up again; but ye have run and hidden. Come forth from behind your cotton bagsCome forth from behind your cotton bags!: In the Battle of New Orleans (1815), Andrew Jackson’s troops, including frontiersmen with their long rifles, protected in part by cotton bales, defeated a British attack force.! I have no long gun to reach ye. Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angleangle: According to the OED, a turning point in a zigzag path or bend in a stream. By extension, any curve, or angle, in a railroad would slow down the locomotive. to the iron way!