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Chapter 132: The Symphony.


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, 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--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 soil!--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! 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; what
cozening, 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 errand-boy
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 yon
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 air 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

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.