Top Words

Click a word to see its frequency and other chapters in which it appears.

Word Occurrences
sea 13
one 11
some 11
water 8
part 7
see 6
way 6
old 6
time 6
take 6
down 6
voyage 6
land 6
whaling 5
stand 5
whenever 5
same 5
never 5
sailor 5
men 4
world 4
high 4
passenger 4
because 4
tell 4
first 4
up 4
every 4
head 4
going 4
things 4
two 4
would 4
money 4
little 4
much 4
miles 3
say 3
winds 3
right 3
before 3
should 3
set 3
soul 3
man 3
purse 3
without 3
come 3
out 3
ship 3

Chapter 1: Loomings.


Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having
little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on
shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of
the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating
the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;
whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find
myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up
the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get
such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to
prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically
knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea
as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a
philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly
take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew
it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very
nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by
wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs--commerce surrounds it with
her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme
downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and
cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land.
Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears
Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What
do you see?--Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand
thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some
leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some
looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the
rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these
are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster--tied to
counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are
the green fields gone? What do they here?

But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and
seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the
extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder
warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water
as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand--miles of
them--leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets
and avenues--north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite.
Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all
those ships attract them thither?

Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take
almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a
dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic
in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest
reveries--stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will
infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.
Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this
experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical
professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for

But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest,
quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of
the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees,
each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and
here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder
cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into distant woodlands winds a
mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their
hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though
this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd's
head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd's eye were fixed upon the
magic stream before him. Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores
on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among Tiger-lilies--what is the
one charm wanting?--Water--there is not a drop of water there! Were
Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to
see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two
handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly
needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why
is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at
some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a
passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first
told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the
old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate
deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning.
And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because
he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain,
plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see
in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of
life; and this is the key to it all.

Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin
to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs,
I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger.
For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is
but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get
sea-sick--grow quarrelsome--don't sleep of nights--do not enjoy
themselves much, as a general thing;--no, I never go as a passenger;
nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a
Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction
of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all
honourable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind
whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself,
without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not.
And as for going as cook,--though I confess there is considerable glory
in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board--yet, somehow,
I never fancied broiling fowls;--though once broiled, judiciously
buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who
will speak more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled
fowl than I will. It is out of the idolatrous dotings of the old
Egyptians upon broiled ibis and roasted river horse, that you see the
mummies of those creatures in their huge bake-houses the pyramids.

No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right before the mast,
plumb down into the forecastle, aloft there to the royal mast-head.
True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to
spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first, this sort
of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one's sense of honour,
particularly if you come of an old established family in the land, the
Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than all,
if just previous to putting your hand into the tar-pot, you have been
lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand
in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a
schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and
the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in

What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom
and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed,
I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel
Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and
respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who ain't
a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may
order me about--however they may thump and punch me about, I have the
satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is
one way or other served in much the same way--either in a physical
or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is
passed round, and all hands should rub each other's shoulder-blades, and
be content.

Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of
paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single
penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must
pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying
and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable
infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But BEING
PAID,--what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man
receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly
believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account
can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves
to perdition!

Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome
exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. For as in this world,
head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is,
if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the
Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from
the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but not
so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in many
other things, at the same time that the leaders little suspect it.
But wherefore it was that after having repeatedly smelt the sea as a
merchant sailor, I should now take it into my head to go on a whaling
voyage; this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the
constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me
in some unaccountable way--he can better answer than any one else. And,
doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand
programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as
a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances.
I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:




Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the
Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others
were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and
easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces--though
I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the
circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives
which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced
me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the
delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill
and discriminating judgment.

Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great
whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all my
curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he rolled his island
bulk; the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale; these, with all
the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and sounds, helped
to sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such things would not
have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting
itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on
barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a
horror, and could still be social with it--would they let me--since it
is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place
one lodges in.

By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the
great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild
conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into
my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, mid most of them
all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.