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Warmest climes but nurse the cruellest fangs: the tiger of
Bengal crouches in spiced groves of ceaseless verdure. Skies
the most effulgent but basket the deadliest thunders: gorgeous
Cuba knows tornadoes that never swept tame northern lands.
So, too, it is, that in these resplendent Japanese seas the mariner
encounters the direst of all storms, the Typhoon. It will
sometimes burst from out that cloudless sky, like an exploding
bomb upon a dazed and sleepy town.

Towards evening of that day, the Pequod was torn of her
canvas, and bare-poled was left to fight a Typhoon which had
struck her directly ahead. When darkness came on, sky and
sea roared and split with the thunder, and blazed with the
lightning, that showed the disabled masts fluttering here and
there with the rags which the first fury of the tempest had left
for its after sport.

Holding by a shroud, Starbuck was standing on the quarter-deck;
at every flash of the lightning glancing aloft, to see what
additional disaster might have befallen the intricate hamper
there; while Stubb and Flask were directing the men in the
higher hoisting and firmer lashing of the boats. But all their
pains seemed naught. Though lifted to the very top of the
cranes, the windward quarter boat (Ahab's) did not escape.
A great rolling sea, dashing high up against the reeling ship's
high tetering side, stove in the boat's bottom at the stern, and
left it again, all dripping through like a sieve.


Page 556

“Bad work, bad work! Mr. Starbuck,” said Stubb, regarding
the wreck, “but the sea will have its way. Stubb, for one, can't
fight it. You see, Mr. Starbuck, a wave has such a great long
start before it leaps, all round the world it runs, and then comes
the spring! But as for me, all the start I have to meet it, is
just across the deck here. But never mind; it's all in fun: so
the old song says;”—(sings.)

Oh! jolly is the gale,
And a joker is the whale,
A' flourishin' his tail,—
Such a funny, sporty, gamy, jesty, joky, hoky-poky lad, is the Ocean, oh!
The scud all a flyin',
That's his flip only foamin';
When he stirs in the spicin',—
Such a funny, sporty, gamy, jesty, joky, hoky-poky lad, is the Ocean, oh!
Thunder splits the ships,
But he only smacks his lips,
A tastin' of this flip,—
Such a funny, sporty, gamy, jesty, joky, hoky-poky lad, is the Ocean, oh!

“Avast Stubb,” cried Starbuck, “let the Typhoon sing, and
strike his harp here in our rigging; but if thou art a brave man
thou wilt hold thy peace.”

“But I am not a brave man; never said I was a brave man;
I am a coward; and I sing to keep up my spirits. And I tell
you what it is, Mr. Starbuck, there's no way to stop my singing
in this world but to cut my throat. And when that's done,
ten to one I sing ye the doxology for a wind-up.”

“Madman! look through my eyes if thou hast none of thine

“What! how can you see better of a dark night than anybody
else, never mind how foolish?”

“Here!” cried Starbuck, seizing Stubb by the shoulder, and


Page 557
pointing his hand towards the weather bow, “markest thou not
that the gale comes from the eastward, the very course Ahab
is to run for Moby Dick? the very course he swung to this day
noon? now mark his boat there; where is that stove? In the
stern-sheets, man; where he is wont to stand—his stand-point is
stove, man! Now jump overboard, and sing away, if thou must!”

“I don't half understand ye: what's in the wind?”

Yes, yes, round the Cape of Good Hope is the shortest way
to Nantucket,” soliloquized Starbuck suddenly, heedless of
Stubb's question. “The gale that now hammers at us to stave
us, we can turn it into a fair wind that will drive us towards
home. Yonder, to windward, all is blackness of doom; but to
leeward, homeward—I see it lightens up there; but not with the

At that moment in one of the intervals of profound darkness,
following the flashes, a voice was heard at his side; and almost
at the same instant a volley of thunder peals rolled overhead.

“Who's there?”

“Old Thunder!” said Ahab, groping his way along the
bulwarks to his pivot-hole; but suddenly finding his path made
plain to him by elbowed lances of fire.

Now, as the lightning rod to a spire on shore is intended to
carry off the perilous fluid into the soil; so the kindred rod
which at sea some ships carry to each mast, is intended to conduct
it into the water. But as this conductor must descend to
considerable depth, that its end may avoid all contact with the
hull; and as moreover, if kept constantly towing there, it would
be liable to many mishaps, besides interfering not a little with
some of the rigging, and more or less impeding the vessel's way
in the water; because of all this, the lower parts of a ship's
lightning-rods are not always overboard; but are generally
made in long slender links, so as to be the more readily hauled
up into the chains outside, or thrown down into the sea, as
occasion may require.


Page 558

“The rods! the rods!” cried Starbuck to the crew, suddenly
admonished to vigilance by the vivid lightning that had just
been darting flambeaux, to light Ahab to his post. “Are they
overboard? drop them over, fore and aft. Quick!”

“Avast!” cried Ahab; “let's have fair play here, though we
be the weaker side. Yet I'll contribute to raise rods on the
Himmalehs and Andes, that all the world may be secured; but
out on privileges! Let them be, sir.”

“Look aloft!” cried Starbuck. “The corpusants! the corpusants!”

All the yard-arms were tipped with a pallid fire; and touched
at each tri-pointed lightning-rod-end with three tapering white
flames, each of the three tall masts was silently burning in that
sulphurous air, like three gigantic wax tapers before an altar.

“Blast the boat! let it go!” cried Stubb at this instant, as a
swashing sea heaved up under his own little craft, so that its
gunwale violently jammed his hand, as he was passing a lashing.
“Blast it!”—but slipping backward on the deck, his uplifted
eyes caught the flames; and immediately shifting his tone, he
cried—“The corpusants have mercy on us all!”

To sailors' oaths are household words; they will swear in the
trance of the calm, and in the teeth of the tempest; they will
imprecate curses from the topsail-yard-arms, when most they
teter over to a seething sea; but in all my voyagings, seldom
have I heard a common oath when God's burning finger has
been laid on the ship; when His “Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin”
has been woven into the shrouds and the cordage.

While this pallidness was burning aloft, few words were
heard from the enchanted crew; who in one thick cluster stood
on the forecastle, all their eyes gleaming in that pale phosphorescence,
like a far away constellation of stars. Relieved against
the ghostly light, the gigantic jet negro, Daggoo, loomed up to
thrice his real stature, and seemed the black cloud from which
the thunder had come. The parted mouth of Tashtego revealed


Page 559
his shark-white teeth, which strangely gleamed as if they too
had been tipped by corpusants; while lit up by the preternatural
light, Queequeg's tattooing burned like Satanic blue
flames on his body.

The tableau all waned at last with the pallidness aloft; and
once more the Pequod and every soul on her decks were
wrapped in a pall. A moment or two passed, when Starbuck,
going forward, pushed against some one. It was Stubb. “What
thinkest thou now, man; I heard thy cry; it was not the same
in the song.”

“No, no, it wasn't; I said the corpusants have mercy on us
all; and I hope they will, still. But do they only have mercy
on long faces?—have they no bowels for a laugh? And look
ye, Mr. Starbuck—but it's too dark too look. Hear me, then:
I take that mast-head flame we saw for a sign of good luck; for
those masts are rooted in a hold that is going to be chock a'
block with sperm-oil, d'ye see; and so, all that sperm will work
up into the masts, like sap in a tree. Yes, our three masts will
yet be as three spermaceti candles—that's the good promise we

At that moment Starbuck caught sight of Stubb's face slowly
beginning to glimmer into sight. Glancing upwards, he cried:
“See! see!” and once more the high tapering flames were
beheld with what seemed redoubled supernaturalness in their

“The corpusants have mercy on us all,” cried Stubb, again.

At the base of the mainmast, full beneath the doubloon and
the flame, the Parsee was kneeling in Ahab's front, but with his
head bowed away from him; while near by, from the arched and
overhanging rigging, where they had just been engaged securing
a spar, a number of the seamen, arrested by the glare, now
cohered together, and hung pendulous, like a knot of numbed
wasps from a drooping, orchard twig. In various enchanted
attitudes, like the standing, or stepping, or running skeletons in


Page 560
Herculaneum, others remained rooted to the deck; but all their
eyes upcast.

“Aye, aye, men!” cried Ahab. “Look up at it; mark it well;
the white flame but lights the way to the White Whale!
Hand me those main-mast links there; I would fain feel this
pulse, and let mine beat against it; blood against fire! So.”

Then turning—the last link held fast in his left hand, he put
his foot upon the Parsee; and with fixed upward eye, and high-flung
right arm, he stood erect before the lofty tri-pointed
trinity of flames.

“Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as
Persian once did worship, till in the sacramental act so burned
by thee, that to this hour I bear the scar; I now know thee,
thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is
defiance. To neither love nor reverence wilt thou be kind; and
e'en for hate thou canst but kill; and all are killed. No fearless
fool now fronts thee. I own thy speechless, placeless
power; but to the last gasp of my earthquake life will dispute
its unconditional, unintegral mastery in me. In the midst of
the personified impersonal, a personality stands here. Though
but a point at best; whencesoe'er I came; wheresoe'er I go;
yet while I earthly live, the queenly personality lives in me, and
feels her royal rights. But war is pain, and hate is woe. Come
in thy lowest form of love, and I will kneel and kiss thee; but
at thy highest, come as mere supernal power; and though thou
launchest navies of full-freighted worlds, there's that in here that
still remains indifferent. Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou
madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee.”

[Sudden, repeated flashes of lightning; the nine flames leap
lengthwise to thrice their previous height; Ahab, with the rest,
closes his eyes, his right hand pressed hard upon them.

“I own thy speechless, placeless power; said I not so? Nor
was it wrung from me; nor do I now drop these links. Thou


Page 561
canst blind; but I can then grope. Thou canst consume; but
I can then be ashes. Take the homage of these poor eyes, and
shutter-hands. I would not take it. The lightning flashes
through my skull; mine eye-balls ache and ache; my whole
beaten brain seems as beheaded, and rolling on some stunning
ground. Oh, oh! Yet blindfold, yet will I talk to thee. Light
though thou be, thou leapest out of darkness; but I am darkness
leaping out of light, leaping out of thee! The javelins
cease; open eyes; see, or not? There burn the flames! Oh,
thou magnanimous! now I do glory in my genealogy. But
thou art but my fiery father; my sweet mother, I know not.
Oh, cruel! what hast thou done with her? There lies my
puzzle; but thine is greater. Thou knowest not how came ye,
hence callest thyself unbegotten; certainly knowest not thy
beginning, hence callest thyself unbegun. I know that of me,
which thou knowest not of thyself, oh, thou omnipotent. There
is some unsuffusing thing beyond thee, thou clear spirit, to whom
all thy eternity is but time, all thy creativeness mechanical.
Through thee, thy flaming self, my scorched eyes do dimly see
it. Oh, thou foundling fire, thou hermit immemorial, thou too
hast thy incommunicable riddle, thy unparticipated grief. Here
again with haughty agony, I read my sire. Leap! leap up, and
lick the sky! I leap with thee; I burn with thee; would fain
be welded with thee; defyingly I worship thee!”

“The boat! the boat!” cried Starbuck, “look at thy boat,
old man!”

Ahab's harpoon, the one forged at Perth's fire, remained
firmly lashed in its conspicuous crotch, so that it projected
beyond his whale-boat's bow; but the sea that had stove its
bottom had caused the loose leather sheath to drop off; and
from the keen steel barb there now came a levelled flame of
pale, forked fire. As the silent harpoon burned there like a
serpent's tongue, Starbuck grasped Ahab by the arm—“God,
God is against thee, old man; forbear! t' is an ill voyage! ill


Page 562
begun, ill continued; let me square the yards, while we may,
old man, and make a fair wind of it homewards, to go on a better
voyage than this.”

Overhearing Starbuck, the panic-stricken crew instantly ran
to the braces—though not a sail was left aloft. For the
moment all the aghast mate's thoughts seemed theirs; they raised
a half mutinous cry. But dashing the rattling lightning links to
the deck, and snatching the burning harpoon, Ahab waved it
like a torch among them; swearing to transfix with it the first
sailor that but cast loose a rope's end. Petrified by his aspect,
and still more shrinking from the fiery dart that he held, the
men fell back in dismay, and Ahab again spoke:—

“All your oaths to hunt the White Whale are as binding as
mine; and heart, soul, and body, lungs and life, old Ahab is
bound. And that ye may know to what tune this heart beats;
look ye here; thus I blow out the last fear!” And with one
blast of his breath he extinguished the flame.

As in the hurricane that sweeps the plain, men fly the neighborhood
of some lone, gigantic elm, whose very height and
strength but render it so much the more unsafe, because so
much the more a mark for thunderbolts; so at those last words
of Ahab's many of the mariners did run from him in a terror
of dismay.