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Page 601


That night, in the mid-watch, when the old man—as his
wont at intervals—stepped forth from the scuttle in which
he leaned, and went to his pivot-hole, he suddenly thrust out
his face fiercely, snuffing up the sea air as a sagacious ship's
dog will, in drawing nigh to some barbarous isle. He declared
that a whale must be near. Soon that peculiar odor, sometimes
to a great distance given forth by the living sperm whale, was
palpable to all the watch; nor was any mariner surprised when,
after inspecting the compass, and then the dog-vane, and then
ascertaining the precise bearing of the odor as nearly as possible,
Ahab rapidly ordered the ship's course to be slightly
altered, and the sail to be shortened.

The acute policy dictating these movements was sufficiently
vindicated at daybreak, by the sight of a long sleek on the sea
directly and lengthwise ahead, smooth as oil, and resembling in
the pleated watery wrinkles bordering it, the polished metalliclike
marks of some swift tide-rip, at the mouth of a deep, rapid

“Man the mast-heads! Call all hands!”

Thundering with the butts of three clubbed handspikes on
the forecastle deck, Daggoo roused the sleepers with such judgment
claps that they seemed to exhale from the scuttle, so
instantaneously did they appear with their clothes in their

“What d'ye see?” cried Ahab, flattening his face to the

“Nothing, nothing, sir!” was the sound hailing down in


Page 602

“T'gallant sails!—stunsails! alow and aloft, and on both

All sail being set, he now cast loose the life-line, reserved for
swaying him to the main royal-mast head; and in a few
moments they were hoisting him thither, when, while but two
thirds of the way aloft, and while peering ahead through the
horizontal vacancy between the main-top-sail and top-gallant-sail,
he raised a gull-like cry in the air, “There she blows!—
there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby

Fired by the cry which seemed simultaneously taken up by
the three look-outs, the men on deck rushed to the rigging
to behold the famous whale they had so long been pursuing.
Ahab had now gained his final perch, some feet above the other
look-outs, Tashtego standing just beneath him on the cap of the
top-gallant-mast, so that the Indian's head was almost on a
level with Ahab's heel. From this height the whale was now
seen some mile or so ahead, at every roll of the sea revealing
his high sparkling hump, and regularly jetting his silent spout
into the air. To the credulous mariners it seemed the same
silent spout they had so long ago beheld in the moonlit Atlantic
and Indian Oceans.

“And did none of ye see it before?” cried Ahab, hailing the
perched men all around him.

“I saw him almost that same instant, sir, that Captain Ahab
did, and I cried out,” said Tashtego.

“Not the same instant; not the same—no, the doubloon is
mine, Fate reserved the doubloon for me. I only; none of ye
could have raised the White Whale first. There she blows!
there she blows!—there she blows! There again!—there
again!” he cried, in long-drawn, lingering, methodic tones,
attuned to the gradual prolongings of the whale's visible
jets. “He's going to sound! In stunsails! Down top-gallant-sails!
Stand by three boats. Mr. Starbuck, remember,


Page 603
stay on board, and keep the ship. Helm there! Luff, luff
a point! So; steady, man, steady! There go flukes! No,
no; only black water! All ready the boats there? Stand
by, stand by! Lower me, Mr. Starbuck; lower, lower,—quick,
quicker!” and he slid through the air to the deck.

“He is heading straight to leeward, sir,” cried Stubb, “right
away from us; cannot have seen the ship yet.”

“Be dumb, man! Stand by the braces! Hard down the
helm!—brace up! Shiver her!—shiver her! So; well that!
Boats, boats!”

Soon all the boats but Starbuck's were dropped; all the
boat-sails set—all the paddles plying; with rippling swiftness,
shooting to leeward; and Ahab heading the onset. A pale,
death-glimmer lit up Fedallah's sunken eyes; a hideous motion
gnawed his mouth.

Like noiseless nautilus shells, their light prows sped through
the sea; but only slowly they neared the foe. As they neared
him, the ocean grew still more smooth; seemed drawing a
carpet over its waves; seemed a noon-meadow, so serenely it
spread. At length the breathless hunter came so nigh his
seemingly unsuspecting prey, that his entire dazzling hump was
distinctly visible, sliding along the sea as if an isolated thing,
and continually set in a revolving ring of finest, fleecy, greenish
foam. He saw the vast, involved wrinkles of the slightly projecting
head beyond. Before it, far out on the soft Turkishrugged
waters, went the glistening white shadow from his
broad, milky forehead, a musical rippling playfully accompanying
the shade; and behind, the blue waters interchangeably
flowed over into the moving valley of his steady wake; and on
either hand bright bubbles arose and danced by his side. But
these were broken again by the light toes of hundreds of gay
fowl softly feathering the sea, alternate with their fitful flight;
and like to some flag-staff rising from the painted hull of an
argosy, the tall but shattered pole of a recent lance projected


Page 604
from the white whale's back; and at intervals one of the cloud
of soft-toed fowels hovering, and to and fro skimming like
a canopy over the fish, silently perched and rocked on this pole,
the long tail feathers streaming like pennons.

A gentle joyousness—a mighty mildness of repose in swiftness,
invested the gliding whale. Not the white bull Jupiter
swimming away with ravished Europa clinging to his graceful
horns; his lovely, leering eyes sideways intent upon the maid;
with smooth bewitching fleetness, rippling straight for the nuptial
bower in Crete; not Jove, not that great majesty Supreme!
did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so divinely swam.

On each soft side—coincident with the parted swell, that but
once leaving him, then flowed so wide away—on each bright side,
the whale shed off enticings. No wonder there had been some
among the hunters who namelessly transported and allured
by all this serenity, had ventured to assail it; but had fatally
found that quietude but the vesture of tornadoes. Yet calm,
enticing calm, oh, whale! thou glidest on, to all who for the
first time eye thee, no matter how many in that same way
thou may'st have bejuggled and destroyed before.

And thus, through the serene tranquillities of the tropical sea,
among waves whose hand-clappings were suspended by exceeding
rapture, Moby Dick moved on, still withholding from sight
the full terrors of his submerged trunk, entirely hiding the
wrenched hideousness of his jaw. But soon the fore part of
him slowly rose from the water; for an instant his whole marbleized
body formed a high arch, like Virginia's Natural Bridge,
and warningly waving his bannered flukes in the air, the grand
god revealed himself, sounded, and went out of sight. Hoveringly
halting, and dipping on the wing, the white sea-fowls longingly
lingered over the agitated pool that he left.

With oars apeak, and paddles down, the sheets of their sails
adrift, the three boats now stilly floated, awaiting Moby Dick's


Page 605

“An hour,” said Ahab, standing rooted in his boat's stern;
and he gazed beyond the whale's place, towards the dim blue
spaces and wide wooing vacancies to leeward. It was only an
instant; for again his eyes seemed whirling round in his head as
he swept the watery circle. The breeze now freshened; the
sea began to swell.

“The birds!—the birds!” cried Tashtego.

In long Indian file, as when herons take wing, the white
birds were now all flying towards Ahab's boat; and when
within a few yards began fluttering over the water there, wheeling
round and round, with joyous, expectant cries. Their
vision was keener than man's; Ahab could discover no sign
in the sea. But suddenly as he peered down and down into
its depths, he profoundly saw a white living spot no bigger than
a white weasel, with wonderful celerity uprising, and magnifying
as it rose, till it turned, and then there were plainly revealed
two long crooked rows of white, glistening teeth, floating up
from the undiscoverable bottom. It was Moby Dick's open
mouth and scrolled jaw; his vast, shadowed bulk still half
blending with the blue of the sea. The glittering mouth
yawned beneath the boat like an open-doored marble tomb;
and giving one sidelong sweep with his steering oar, Ahab
whirled the craft aside from this tremendous apparition. Then,
calling upon Fedallah to change places with him, went forward
to the bows, and seizing Perth's harpoon, commanded his crew
to grasp their oars and stand by to stern.

Now, by reason of this timely spinning round the boat
upon its axis, its bow, by anticipation, was made to face the
whale's head while yet under water. But as if perceiving this
stratagem, Moby Dick, with that malicious intelligence ascribed
to him, sidelingly transplanted himself, as it were, in an instant,
shooting his pleated head lengthwise beneath the boat.

Through and through; through every plank and each rib, it
thrilled for an instant, the whale obliquely lying on his back, in


Page 606
the manner of a biting shark, slowly and feelingly taking its
bows full within his mouth, so that the long, narrow, scrolled
lower jaw curled high up into the open air, and one of the teeth
caught in a row-lock. The bluish pearl-white of the inside of
the jaw was within six inches of Ahab's head, and reached
higher than that. In this attitude the White Whale now shook
the slight cedar as a mildly cruel cat her mouse. With unastonished
eyes Fedallah gazed, and crossed his arms; but the tiger-yellow
crew were tumbling over each other's heads to gain the
uttermost stern.

And now, while both elastic gunwales were springing in and
out, as the whale dallied with the doomed craft in this devilish
way; and from his body being submerged beneath the boat, he
could not be darted at from the bows, for the bows were almost
inside of him, as it were; and while the other boats involuntarily
paused, as before a quick crisis impossible to withstand,
then it was that monomaniac Ahab, furious with this tantalizing
vicinity of his foe, which placed him all alive and helpless
in the very jaws he hated; frenzied with all this, he seized the
long bone with his naked hands, and wildly strove to wrench it
from its gripe. As now he thus vainly strove, the jaw slipped
from him; the frail gunwales bent in, collapsed, and snapped,
as both jaws, like an enormous shears, sliding further aft, bit
the craft completely in twain, and locked themselves fast again
in the sea, midway between the two floating wrecks. These
floated aside, the broken ends drooping, the crew at the sternwreck
clinging to the gunwales, and striving to hold fast to the
oars to lash them across.

At that preluding moment, ere the boat was yet snapped,
Ahab, the first to perceive the whale's intent, by the crafty upraising
of his head, a movement that loosed his hold for the
time; at that moment his hand had made one final effort to
push the boat out of the bite. But only slipping further into the
whale's mouth, and tilting over sideways as it slipped, the boat


Page 607
had shaken off his hold on the jaw; spilled him out of it, as he
leaned to the push; and so he fell flat-faced upon the sea.

Ripplingly withdrawing from his prey, Moby Dick now lay
at a little distance, vertically thrusting his oblong white head
up and down in the billows; and at the same time slowly
revolving his whole spindled body; so that when his vast
wrinkled forehead rose—some twenty or more feet out of the
water—the now rising swells, with all their confluent waves,
dazzlingly broke against it; vindictively tossing their shivered
spray still higher into the air.[1] So, in a gale, the but half
baffled Channel billows only recoil from the base of the Eddystone,
triumphantly to overleap its summit with their scud.

But soon resuming his horizontal attitude, Moby Dick swam
swiftly round and round the wrecked crew; sideways churning
the water in his vengeful wake, as if lashing himself up to still
another and more deadly assault. The sight of the splintered
boat seemed to madden him, as the blood of grapes and mulberries
cast before Antiochus's elephants in the book of Maccabees.
Meanwhile Ahab half smothered in the foam of the
whale's insolent tail, and too much of a cripple to swim,—though
he could still keep afloat, even in the heart of such a whirlpool
as that; helpless Ahab's head was seen, like a tossed bubble
which the least chance shock might burst. From the boat's
fragmentary stern, Fedallah incuriously and mildly eyed him;
the clinging crew, at the other drifting end, could not succor
him; more than enough was it for them to look to themselves.
For so revolvingly appalling was the White Whale's aspect, and
so planetarily swift the ever-contracting circles he made, that
he seemed horizontally swooping upon them. And though the


Page 608
other boats, unharmed, still hovered hard by; still they dared
not pull into the eddy to strike, lest that should be the signal
for the instant destruction of the jeopardized castaways, Ahab
and all; nor in that case could they themselves hope to escape.
With straining eyes, then, they remained on the outer edge
of the direful zone, whose centre had now become the old man's

Meantime, from the beginning all this had been described from
the ship's mast heads; and squaring her yards, she had borne
down upon the scene; and was now so nigh, that Ahab in the
water hailed her;—“Sail on the”—but that moment a breaking
sea dashed on him from Moby Dick, and whelmed him for the
time. But struggling out of it again, and chancing to rise on
a towering crest, he shouted,—“Sail on the whale!—Drive him

The Pequod's prows were pointed; and breaking up the
charmed circle, she effectually parted the white whale from his
victim. As he sullenly swam off, the boats flew to the rescue.

Dragged into Stubb's boat with blood-shot, blinded eyes, the
white brine caking in his wrinkles; the long tension of Ahab's
bodily strength did crack, and helplessly he yielded to his body's
doom: for a time, lying all crushed in the bottom of Stubb's
boat, like one trodden under foot of herds of elephants. Far
inland, nameless wails came from him, as desolate sounds from
out ravines.

But this intensity of his physical prostration did but so much
the more abbreviate it. In an instant's compass, great hearts
sometimes condense to one deep pang, the sum total of those
shallow pains kindly diffused through feebler men's whole lives.
And so, such hearts, though summary in each one suffering;
still, if the gods decree it, in their life-time aggregate a whole
age of woe, wholly made up of instantaneous intensities; for
even in their pointless centres, those noble natures contain the
entire circumferences of inferior souls.


Page 609

“The harpoon,” said Ahab, half way rising, and draggingly
leaning on one bended arm—“is it safe?”

“Aye, sir, for it was not darted; this is it,” said Stubb,
showing it.

“Lay it before me;—any missing men?”

“One, two, three, four, five;—there were five oars, sir, and
here are five men.”

“That's good.—Help me, man; I wish to stand. So, so,
I see him! there! there! going to leeward still; what a leaping
spout!—Hands off from me! The eternal sap runs up in
Ahab's bones again! Set the sail; out oars; the helm!”

It is often the case that when a boat is stove, its crew, being
picked up by another boat, help to work that second boat; and
the chase is thus continued with what is called double-banked
oars. It was thus now. But the added power of the boat did
not equal the added power of the whale, for he seemed to have
treble-banked his every fin; swimming with a velocity which
plainly showed, that if now, under these circumstances, pushed
on, the chase would prove an indefinitely prolonged, if not a
hopeless one; nor could any crew endure for so long a period,
such an unintermitted, intense straining at the oar; a thing
barely tolerable only in some one brief vicissitude. The ship
itself, then, as it sometimes happens, offered the most promising
intermediate means of overtaking the chase. Accordingly, the
boats now made for her, and were soon swayed up to their
cranes—the two parts of the wrecked boat having been
previously secured by her—and then hoisting everything to her
side, and stacking her canvas high up, and sideways outstretching
it with stun-sails, like the double-jointed wings of an
albatross; the Pequod bore down in the leeward wake of Moby-Dick.
At the well known, methodic intervals, the whale's
glittering spout was regularly announced from the manned
mast-heads; and when he would be reported as just gone down,
Ahab would take the time, and then pacing the deck, binnaclewatch


Page 610
in hand, so soon as the last second of the allotted hour
expired, his voice was heard.—“Whose is the doubloon now?
D'ye see him?” and if the reply was, No, sir! straightway he
commanded them to lift him to his perch. In this way the
day wore on; Ahab, now aloft and motionless; anon, unrestingly
pacing the planks.

As he was thus walking, uttering no sound, except to hail
the men aloft, or to bid them hoist a sail still higher, or to
spread one to a still greater breadth—thus to and fro pacing,
beneath his slouched hat, at every turn he passed his own
wrecked boat, which had been dropped upon the quarter-deck,
and lay there reversed; broken bow to shattered stern. At last
he paused before it; and as in an already over-clouded sky
fresh troops of clouds will sometimes sail across, so over the old
man's face there now stole some such added gloom as this.

Stubb saw him pause; and perhaps intending, not vainly,
though, to evince his own unabated fortitude, and thus keep up
a valiant place in his Captain's mind, he advanced, and eyeing
the wreck exclaimed—“The thistle the ass refused; it pricked
his mouth too keenly, sir; ha! ha!”

“What soulless thing is this that laughs before a wreck?
Man, man! did I not know thee brave as fearless fire (and as
mechanical) I could swear thou wert a poltroon. Groan nor
laugh should be heard before a wreck.”

“Aye, sir,” said Starbuck drawing near, “'tis a solemn sight;
an omen, and an ill one.”

“Omen? omen?—the dictionary! If the gods think to
speak outright to man, they will honorably speak outright; not
shake their heads, and give an old wives' darkling hint.—
Begone! Ye two are the opposite poles of one thing; Starbuck
is Stubb reversed, and Stubb is Starbuck; and ye two are all
mankind; and Ahab stands alone among the millions of the
peopled earth, nor gods nor men his neighbors! Cold,
cold—I shiver!—How now? Aloft there! D'ye see him?


Page 611
Sing out for every spout, though he spout ten times a

The day was nearly done; only the hem of his golden robe
was rustling. Soon, it was almost dark, but the look-out men
still remained unset.

“Can't see the spout now, sir;—too dark”—cried a voice
from the air.

“How heading when last seen?”

“As before, sir,—straight to leeward.”

“Good! he will travel slower now 'tis night. Down royals
and top-gallant stun-sails, Mr. Starbuck. We must not run over
him before morning; he's making a passage now, and may
heave-to a while. Helm there! keep her full before the wind!
—Aloft! come down!—Mr. Stubb, send a fresh hand to the
fore-mast head, and see it manned till morning.”—Then
advancing towards the doubloon in the main-mast—“Men, this
gold is mine, for I earned it; but I shall let it abide here till
the White Whale is dead; and then, whosoever of ye first raises
him, upon the day he shall be killed, this gold is that man's;
and if on that day I shall again raise him, then, ten times its
sum shall be divided among all of ye! Away now!—the deck
is thine, sir.”

And so saying, he placed himself half way within the scuttle,
and slouching his hat, stood there till dawn, except when at
intervals rousing himself to see how the night wore on.


This motion is peculiar to the sperm whale. It receives its designation
(pitchpoling) from its being likened to that preliminary up-and-down
poise of the whale-lance, in the exercise called pitchpoling, previously
described. By this motion the whale must best and most
comprehensively view whatever objects may be encircling him.