Chapter 116: The Dying Whale.
Not seldom in this life, when, on the right side, fortune's favourites
sail close by us, we, though all adroop before, catch somewhat of the
rushing breeze, and joyfully feel our bagging sails fill out. So seemed
it with the Pequod. For next day after encountering the gay Bachelor,
whales were seen and four were slain; and one of them by Ahab.
It was far down the afternoon; and when all the spearings of the crimson
fight were done: and floating in the lovely sunset sea and sky, sun
and whale both stilly died together; then, such a sweetness and such
plaintiveness, such inwreathing orisons curled up in that rosy air, that
it almost seemed as if far over from the deep green convent valleys of
the Manilla isles, the Spanish land-breeze, wantonly turned sailor, had
gone to sea, freighted with these vesper hymns.
Soothed again, but only soothed to deeper gloom, Ahab, who had sterned
off from the whale, sat intently watching his final wanings from the now
tranquil boat. For that strange spectacle observable in all sperm whales
dying--the turning sunwards of the head, and so expiring--that strange
spectacle, beheld of such a placid evening, somehow to Ahab conveyed a
wondrousness unknown before.
"He turns and turns him to it,--how slowly, but how steadfastly, his
homage-rendering and invoking brow, with his last dying motions. He too
worships fire; most faithful, broad, baronial vassal of the sun!--Oh
that these too-favouring eyes should see these too-favouring sights.
Look! here, far water-locked; beyond all hum of human weal or woe;
in these most candid and impartial seas; where to traditions no rocks
furnish tablets; where for long Chinese ages, the billows have still
rolled on speechless and unspoken to, as stars that shine upon the
Niger's unknown source; here, too, life dies sunwards full of faith; but
see! no sooner dead, than death whirls round the corpse, and it heads
some other way.
"Oh, thou dark Hindoo half of nature, who of drowned bones hast builded
thy separate throne somewhere in the heart of these unverdured seas;
thou art an infidel, thou queen, and too truly speakest to me in the
wide-slaughtering Typhoon, and the hushed burial of its after calm. Nor
has this thy whale sunwards turned his dying head, and then gone round
again, without a lesson to me.
"Oh, trebly hooped and welded hip of power! Oh, high aspiring, rainbowed
jet!--that one strivest, this one jettest all in vain! In vain, oh
whale, dost thou seek intercedings with yon all-quickening sun, that
only calls forth life, but gives it not again. Yet dost thou, darker
half, rock me with a prouder, if a darker faith. All thy unnamable
imminglings float beneath me here; I am buoyed by breaths of once living
things, exhaled as air, but water now.
"Then hail, for ever hail, O sea, in whose eternal tossings the wild
fowl finds his only rest. Born of earth, yet suckled by the sea; though
hill and valley mothered me, ye billows are my foster-brothers!"