Chapter 23: The Lee Shore.
Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, newlanded
mariner, encountered in New Bedford at the inn.
When on that shivering winter's night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive
bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her
helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon
the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years' dangerous
voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another
tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest
things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this
six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say
that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably
drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port
is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm
blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale,
the port, the land, is that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all
hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make
her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail
off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would
blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again;
for refuge's sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her
Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally
intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid
effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while
the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the
treacherous, slavish shore?
But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless,
indefinite as God--so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite,
than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety!
For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of
the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart,
O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy
ocean-perishing--straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!