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It was a clear steel-blue day. The firmaments of air and sea
were hardly separable in that all-pervading azure; only, the
pensive air was transparently pure and soft, with a woman's
look, and the robust and man-like sea heaved with long,
strong, lingering swells, as Samson's chest in his sleep.

Hither, and thither, on high, glided the snow-white wings of
small, unspeckled birds; these were the gentle thoughts of the
feminine air; but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless
blue, rushed mighty leviathans, sword-fish, and sharks;
and these were the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the
masculine sea.

But though thus contrasting within, the contrast was only in
shades and shadows without; those two seemed one; it was
only the sex, as it were, that distinguished them.

Aloft, like a royal czar and king, the sun seemed giving this
gentle air to this bold and rolling sea; even as bride to
groom. And at the girdling line of the horizon, a soft and tremulous
motion—most seen here at the equator—denoted the fond,
throbbing trust, the loving alarms, with which the poor bride
gave her bosom away.

Tied up and twisted; gnarled and knotted with wrinkles;
haggardly firm and unyielding; his eyes glowing like coals,


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that still glow in the ashes of ruin; untottering Ahab stood
forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet
of a brow to the fair girl's forehead of heaven.

Oh, immortal infancy, and innocency of the azure! Invisible
winged creatures that frolic all round us! Sweet childhood
of air and sky! how oblivious were ye of old Ahab's close-coiled
woe! But so have I seen little Miriam and Martha, laughing-eyed
elves, heedlessly gambol around their old sire; sporting
with the circle of singed locks which grew on the marge of
that burnt-out crater of his brain.

Slowly crossing the deck from the scuttle, Ahab leaned over
the side, and watched how his shadow in the water sank and
sank to his gaze, the more and the more that he strove to pierce
the profundity. But the lovely aromas in that enchanted air
did at last seem to dispel, for a moment, the cankerous thing in
his soul. That glad, happy air, that winsome sky, did at last
stroke and caress him; the step-mother world, so long cruel—
forbidding—now threw affectionate arms round his stubborn
neck, and did seem to joyously sob over him, as if over one,
that however wilful and erring, she could yet find it in her
heart to save and to bless. From beneath his slouched hat
Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain
such wealth as that one wee drop.

Starbuck saw the old man; saw him, how he heavily leaned
over the side; and he seemed to hear in his own true heart the
measureless sobbing that stole out of the centre of the serenity
around. Careful not to touch him, or be noticed by him, he
yet drew near to him, and stood there.

Ahab turned.



“Oh, Starbuck! it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking
sky. On such a day—very much such a sweetness as this—I
struck my first whale—a boy-harpooneer of eighteen! Forty—


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forty—forty years ago!—ago! Forty years of continual whaling!
forty years of privation, and peril, and storm-time! forty
years on the pitiless sea! for forty years has Ahab forsaken the
peaceful land, for forty years to make war on the horrors of the
deep! Aye and yes, Starbuck, out of those forty years I have
not spent three ashore. When I think of this life I have led; the
desolation of solitude it has been; the masoned, walled-town of
a Captain's exclusiveness, which admits but small entrance to
any sympathy from the green country without—oh, weariness!
heaviness! Guinea-coast slavery of solitary command!—when
I think of all this; only half-suspected, not so keenly known to
me before—and how for forty years I have fed upon dry salted
fare—fit emblem of the dry nourishment of my soul!—when
the poorest landsman has had fresh fruit to his daily hand, and
broken the world's fresh bread to my mouldy crusts—away,
whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past
fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one
dent in my marriage pillow—wife? wife?—rather a widow with
her husband alive! Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I
married her, Starbuck; and then, the madness, the frenzy, the
boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand
lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey—
more a demon than a man!—aye, aye! what a forty years'
fool—fool—old fool, has old Ahab been! Why this strife of
the chase? why weary, and palsy the arm at the oar, and the
iron, and the lance? how the 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?
Here, brush this old hair aside; it blinds me, that I seem to
weep. Locks so grey did never grow but from out some
ashes! But do I look very old, so very, very old, Starbuck?
I feel deadly faint, bowed, and humped, as though I were
Adam, staggering beneath the piled centuries since Paradise.
God! God! God!—crack my heart!—stave my brain!—mockery!


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mockery! bitter, biting mockery of grey hairs, have I
lived enough joy to wear ye; and seem and feel thus intolerably
old? Close! stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a
human eye; it is better than to gaze into sea or sky; better
than to gaze upon God. By the green land; by the bright
hearth-stone! this is the magic glass, man; I see my wife and
my child in thine eye. No, no; stay on board, on board!—
lower not when I do; when branded Ahab gives chase to Moby
Dick. That hazard shall not be thine. No, no! not with the
far away home I see in that eye!”

“Oh, my Captain! my Captain! noble soul! grand old heart,
after all! why should any one give chase to that hated fish!
Away with me! let us fly these deadly waters! let us home!
Wife and child, too, are Starbuck's—wife and child of his
brotherly, sisterly, play-fellow youth; even as thine, sir, are the
wife and child of thy loving, longing, paternal old age! Away!
let us away!—this instant let me alter the course! How
cheerily, how hilariously, O my Captain, would we bowl on
our way to see old Nantucket again! I think, sir, they have
some such mild blue days, even as this, in Nantucket.”

“They have, they have. I have seen them—some summer
days in the morning. About this time—yes, it is his noon nap
now—the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his
mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad
upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again.”

“Tis my Mary, my Mary herself! She promised that my
boy, every morning, should be carried to the hill to catch the
first glimpse of his father's sail! Yes, yes! no more! it is
done! we head for Nantucket! Come, my Captain, study out
the course, and let us away! See, see! the boy's face from
the window! the boy's hand on the hill!”

But Ahab's glance was averted; like a blighted fruit tree he
shook, and cast his last, cindered apple to the soil.

“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it;


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what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless
emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and
longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself
on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my
own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is
Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?
But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errandboy
in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some
invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this
one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating,
does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven,
man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder
windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that
smiling sky, and this unsounded sea! Look! see you Albicore!
who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where
do murderers go, man! Who's to doom, when the judge
himself is dragged to the bar? But it is a mild, mild wind,
and a mild looking sky; and the airs smells now, as if it blew
from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere
under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers
are sleeping among the new-mown hay. Sleeping? Aye,
toil we how we may, we all sleep at last on the field. Sleep?
Aye, and rust amid greenness; as last year's scythes flung down,
and left in the half-cut swaths—Starbuck!”

But blanched to a corpse's hue with despair, the Mate had
stolen away.

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.