I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing

In shared lament for the upcoming semester a colleague left me a cake pop with this message attached – it is Stubb from ch. 39 of Moby Dick, one of Melville’s theatrically-conceived chapters:

Fore-Top.
(Stubb solus, and mending a brace.)
Ha! ha! ha! ha! hem! clear my throat!—I’ve been thinking over it ever since, and that ha, ha’s the final consequence. Why so? Because a laugh’s the wisest, easiest answer to all that’s queer; and come what will, one comfort’s always left—that unfailing comfort is, it’s all predestinated. I heard not all his talk with Starbuck; but to my poor eye Starbuck then looked something as I the other evening felt. Be sure the old Mogul has fixed him, too. I twigged it, knew it; had had the gift, might readily have prophesied it—for when I clapped my eye upon his skull I saw it. Well, Stubb, wise Stubb—that’s my title—well, Stubb, what of it, Stubb? Here’s a carcase. I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing. Such a waggish leering as lurks in all your horribles! I feel funny. Fa, la! lirra, skirra! What’s my juicy little pear at home doing now? Crying its eyes out?—Giving a party to the last arrived harpooneers, I dare say, gay as a frigate’s pennant, and so am I—fa, la! lirra, skirra! Oh—

We’ll drink to-night with hearts as light,
To love, as gay and fleeting
As bubbles that swim, on the beaker’s brim,
And break on the lips while meeting.

A brave stave that—who calls? Mr. Starbuck? Aye, aye, sir—(Aside) he’s my superior, he has his too, if I’m not mistaken.—Aye, aye, sir, just through with this job—coming.

Stubb is always an easy target for critics for his express refusal to engage anything with seriousness. I don’t think the character should be believed on that point – he takes an oblique, jocular angle to engagement and multiple times must warn himself away from hard thinking – but even if he is, it doesn’t discount the rich intuitive sense Melville allows him. See the sequence of chs 29-31:

CHAPTER 29. Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb.
Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which, at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic. The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up—flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, ’twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul, especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; then, memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights. And all these subtle agencies, more and more they wrought on Ahab’s texture.

Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death. Among sea-commanders, the old greybeards will oftenest leave their berths to visit the night-cloaked deck. It was so with Ahab; only that now, of late, he seemed so much to live in the open air, that truly speaking, his visits were more to the cabin, than from the cabin to the planks. “It feels like going down into one’s tomb,”—he would mutter to himself—“for an old captain like me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go to my grave-dug berth.”

So, almost every twenty-four hours, when the watches of the night were set, and the band on deck sentinelled the slumbers of the band below; and when if a rope was to be hauled upon the forecastle, the sailors flung it not rudely down, as by day, but with some cautiousness dropt it to its place for fear of disturbing their slumbering shipmates; when this sort of steady quietude would begin to prevail, habitually, the silent steersman would watch the cabin-scuttle; and ere long the old man would emerge, gripping at the iron banister, to help his crippled way. Some considering touch of humanity was in him; for at times like these, he usually abstained from patrolling the quarter-deck; because to his wearied mates, seeking repose within six inches of his ivory heel, such would have been the reverberating crack and din of that bony step, that their dreams would have been on the crunching teeth of sharks. But once, the mood was on him too deep for common regardings; and as with heavy, lumber-like pace he was measuring the ship from taffrail to mainmast, Stubb, the old second mate, came up from below, with a certain unassured, deprecating humorousness, hinted that if Captain Ahab was pleased to walk the planks, then, no one could say nay; but there might be some way of muffling the noise; hinting something indistinctly and hesitatingly about a globe of tow, and the insertion into it, of the ivory heel. Ah! Stubb, thou didst not know Ahab then.

“Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb,” said Ahab, “that thou wouldst wad me that fashion? But go thy ways; I had forgot. Below to thy nightly grave; where such as ye sleep between shrouds, to use ye to the filling one at last.—Down, dog, and kennel!”

Starting at the unforseen concluding exclamation of the so suddenly scornful old man, Stubb was speechless a moment; then said excitedly, “I am not used to be spoken to that way, sir; I do but less than half like it, sir.”

“Avast! gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently moving away, as if to avoid some passionate temptation.

“No, sir; not yet,” said Stubb, emboldened, “I will not tamely be called a dog, sir.”

“Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I’ll clear the world of thee!”

As he said this, Ahab advanced upon him with such overbearing terrors in his aspect, that Stubb involuntarily retreated.

“I was never served so before without giving a hard blow for it,” muttered Stubb, as he found himself descending the cabin-scuttle. “It’s very queer. Stop, Stubb; somehow, now, I don’t well know whether to go back and strike him, or—what’s that?—down here on my knees and pray for him? Yes, that was the thought coming up in me; but it would be the first time I ever did pray. It’s queer; very queer; and he’s queer too; aye, take him fore and aft, he’s about the queerest old man Stubb ever sailed with. How he flashed at me!—his eyes like powder-pans! is he mad? Anyway there’s something on his mind, as sure as there must be something on a deck when it cracks. He aint in his bed now, either, more than three hours out of the twenty-four; and he don’t sleep then. Didn’t that Dough-Boy, the steward, tell me that of a morning he always finds the old man’s hammock clothes all rumpled and tumbled, and the sheets down at the foot, and the coverlid almost tied into knots, and the pillow a sort of frightful hot, as though a baked brick had been on it? A hot old man! I guess he’s got what some folks ashore call a conscience; it’s a kind of Tic-Dolly-row they say—worse nor a toothache. Well, well; I don’t know what it is, but the Lord keep me from catching it. He’s full of riddles; I wonder what he goes into the after hold for, every night, as Dough-Boy tells me he suspects; what’s that for, I should like to know? Who’s made appointments with him in the hold? Ain’t that queer, now? But there’s no telling, it’s the old game—Here goes for a snooze. Damn me, it’s worth a fellow’s while to be born into the world, if only to fall right asleep. And now that I think of it, that’s about the first thing babies do, and that’s a sort of queer, too. Damn me, but all things are queer, come to think of ’em. But that’s against my principles. Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth—So here goes again. But how’s that? didn’t he call me a dog? blazes! he called me ten times a donkey, and piled a lot of jackasses on top of that! He might as well have kicked me, and done with it. Maybe he did kick me, and I didn’t observe it, I was so taken all aback with his brow, somehow. It flashed like a bleached bone. What the devil’s the matter with me? I don’t stand right on my legs. Coming afoul of that old man has a sort of turned me wrong side out. By the Lord, I must have been dreaming, though—How? how? how?—but the only way’s to stash it; so here goes to hammock again; and in the morning, I’ll see how this plaguey juggling thinks over by daylight.”

CHAPTER 31. Queen Mab.
Next morning Stubb accosted Flask.

“Such a queer dream, King-Post, I never had. You know the old man’s ivory leg, well I dreamed he kicked me with it; and when I tried to kick back, upon my soul, my little man, I kicked my leg right off! And then, presto! Ahab seemed a pyramid, and I, like a blazing fool, kept kicking at it. But what was still more curious, Flask—you know how curious all dreams are—through all this rage that I was in, I somehow seemed to be thinking to myself, that after all, it was not much of an insult, that kick from Ahab. ‘Why,’ thinks I, ‘what’s the row? It’s not a real leg, only a false leg.’ And there’s a mighty difference between a living thump and a dead thump. That’s what makes a blow from the hand, Flask, fifty times more savage to bear than a blow from a cane. The living member—that makes the living insult, my little man. And thinks I to myself all the while, mind, while I was stubbing my silly toes against that cursed pyramid—so confoundedly contradictory was it all, all the while, I say, I was thinking to myself, ‘what’s his leg now, but a cane—a whalebone cane. Yes,’ thinks I, ‘it was only a playful cudgelling—in fact, only a whaleboning that he gave me—not a base kick. Besides,’ thinks I, ‘look at it once; why, the end of it—the foot part—what a small sort of end it is; whereas, if a broad footed farmer kicked me, there’s a devilish broad insult. But this insult is whittled down to a point only.’ But now comes the greatest joke of the dream, Flask. While I was battering away at the pyramid, a sort of badger-haired old merman, with a hump on his back, takes me by the shoulders, and slews me round. ‘What are you ’bout?’ says he. Slid! man, but I was frightened. Such a phiz! But, somehow, next moment I was over the fright. ‘What am I about?’ says I at last. ‘And what business is that of yours, I should like to know, Mr. Humpback? Do you want a kick?’ By the lord, Flask, I had no sooner said that, than he turned round his stern to me, bent over, and dragging up a lot of seaweed he had for a clout—what do you think, I saw?—why thunder alive, man, his stern was stuck full of marlinspikes, with the points out. Says I, on second thoughts, ‘I guess I won’t kick you, old fellow.’ ‘Wise Stubb,’ said he, ‘wise Stubb;’ and kept muttering it all the time, a sort of eating of his own gums like a chimney hag. Seeing he wasn’t going to stop saying over his ‘wise Stubb, wise Stubb,’ I thought I might as well fall to kicking the pyramid again. But I had only just lifted my foot for it, when he roared out, ‘Stop that kicking!’ ‘Halloa,’ says I, ‘what’s the matter now, old fellow?’ ‘Look ye here,’ says he; ‘let’s argue the insult. Captain Ahab kicked ye, didn’t he?’ ‘Yes, he did,’ says I—‘right here it was.’ ‘Very good,’ says he—‘he used his ivory leg, didn’t he?’ ‘Yes, he did,’ says I. ‘Well then,’ says he, ‘wise Stubb, what have you to complain of? Didn’t he kick with right good will? it wasn’t a common pitch pine leg he kicked with, was it? No, you were kicked by a great man, and with a beautiful ivory leg, Stubb. It’s an honor; I consider it an honor. Listen, wise Stubb. In old England the greatest lords think it great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made garter-knights of; but, be your boast, Stubb, that ye were kicked by old Ahab, and made a wise man of. Remember what I say; be kicked by him; account his kicks honors; and on no account kick back; for you can’t help yourself, wise Stubb. Don’t you see that pyramid?’ With that, he all of a sudden seemed somehow, in some queer fashion, to swim off into the air. I snored; rolled over; and there I was in my hammock! Now, what do you think of that dream, Flask?”

“I don’t know; it seems a sort of foolish to me, tho.’”

“May be; may be. But it’s made a wise man of me, Flask. D’ye see Ahab standing there, sideways looking over the stern? Well, the best thing you can do, Flask, is to let the old man alone; never speak to him, whatever he says. Halloa! What’s that he shouts? Hark!”

“Mast-head, there! Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales hereabouts!

“If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!

“What do you think of that now, Flask? ain’t there a small drop of something queer about that, eh? A white whale—did ye mark that, man? Look ye—there’s something special in the wind. Stand by for it, Flask. Ahab has that that’s bloody on his mind. But, mum; he comes this way.”

As men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones

From Shakespeare’s Pericles (2.1)

Third Fisherman
…Master, I
marvel how the fishes live in the sea.
First Fisherman
Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the
little ones: I can compare our rich misers to
nothing so fitly as to a whale; a’ plays and
tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at
last devours them all at a mouthful: such whales
have I heard on o’ the land, who never leave gaping
till they’ve swallowed the whole parish, church,
steeple, bells, and all.
PERICLES
[Aside] A pretty moral.
Third Fisherman
But, master, if I had been the sexton, I would have
been that day in the belfry.
Second Fisherman
Why, man?
Third Fisherman
Because he should have swallowed me too: and when I
had been in his belly, I would have kept such a
jangling of the bells, that he should never have
left, till he cast bells, steeple, church, and
parish up again.

The new Arden includes a lengthy footnote on the history of the proverb in 28-29 (‘as men do a-land: the great ones eat up the little ones.’) but I’m more interested for the moment in connecting Melville’s reuse of the theme – only reapplied to sharks as better – because more blindly vicious – stand-ins for man. Here is Fleece’s sermon to the sharks (ch. 64).

Sullenly taking the offered lantern, old Fleece limped across the deck to the bulwarks; and then, with one hand dropping his light low over the sea, so as to get a good view of his congregation, with the other hand he solemnly flourished his tongs, and leaning far over the side in a mumbling voice began addressing the sharks, while Stubb, softly crawling behind, overheard all that was said.

“Fellow-critters: I’se ordered here to say dat you must stop dat dam noise dare. You hear? Stop dat dam smackin’ ob de lip! Massa Stubb say dat you can fill your dam bellies up to de hatchings, but by Gor! you must stop dat dam racket!”

“Cook,” here interposed Stubb, accompanying the word with a sudden slap on the shoulder,—“Cook! why, damn your eyes, you mustn’t swear that way when you’re preaching. That’s no way to convert sinners, cook!”

“Who dat? Den preach to him yourself,” sullenly turning to go.

“No, cook; go on, go on.”

“Well, den, Belubed fellow-critters:”—

“Right!” exclaimed Stubb, approvingly, “coax ’em to it; try that,” and Fleece continued.

“Do you is all sharks, and by natur wery woracious, yet I zay to you, fellow-critters, dat dat woraciousness—’top dat dam slappin’ ob de tail! How you tink to hear, spose you keep up such a dam slappin’ and bitin’ dare?”

“Cook,” cried Stubb, collaring him, “I won’t have that swearing. Talk to ’em gentlemanly.”

Once more the sermon proceeded.

“Your woraciousness, fellow-critters, I don’t blame ye so much for; dat is natur, and can’t be helped; but to gobern dat wicked natur, dat is de pint. You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not’ing more dan de shark well goberned. Now, look here, bred’ren, just try wonst to be cibil, a helping yourselbs from dat whale. Don’t be tearin’ de blubber out your neighbour’s mout, I say. Is not one shark dood right as toder to dat whale? And, by Gor, none on you has de right to dat whale; dat whale belong to some one else. I know some o’ you has berry brig mout, brigger dan oders; but den de brig mouts sometimes has de small bellies; so dat de brigness of de mout is not to swaller wid, but to bit off de blubber for de small fry ob sharks, dat can’t get into de scrouge to help demselves.”

“Well done, old Fleece!” cried Stubb, “that’s Christianity; go on.”

“No use goin’ on; de dam willains will keep a scougin’ and slappin’ each oder, Massa Stubb; dey don’t hear one word; no use a-preachin’ to such dam g’uttons as you call ’em, till dare bellies is full, and dare bellies is bottomless; and when dey do get ’em full, dey wont hear you den; for den dey sink in de sea, go fast to sleep on de coral, and can’t hear not’ing at all, no more, for eber and eber.”

“Upon my soul, I am about of the same opinion; so give the benediction, Fleece, and I’ll away to my supper.”

Upon this, Fleece, holding both hands over the fishy mob, raised his shrill voice, and cried—

“Cussed fellow-critters! Kick up de damndest row as ever you can; fill your dam’ bellies ’till dey bust—and den die.”

[Stubb abuses and bullies Fleece at some length about his cooking skill]

“Cook, give me cutlets for supper to-morrow night in the mid-watch. D’ye hear? away you sail, then.—Halloa! stop! make a bow before you go.—Avast heaving again! Whale-balls for breakfast—don’t forget.”

“Wish, by gor! whale eat him, ’stead of him eat whale. I’m bressed if he ain’t more of shark dan Massa Shark hisself,” muttered the old man, limping away; with which sage ejaculation he went to his hammock.

[Parenthetically – I’ve found in teaching that the mocking presentation of Fleece’s dialect is understandably tough to look past. I think it helps to set it alongside Melville’s style in, for example, describing Queequeg as ‘George Washington cannibalistically developed.’ He seeds shock within cultural convention – so here giving Fleece a stereotyped dialect but having him then express the best understanding of human nature of anyone in the novel. So too his parting remark, approved by the narrator, that is an open condemnation of the entire system he lives under.]

Why vainly seek to clasp a fleeting image

I’ve always assumed Melville’s reference to Narcissus (below) was of a very general sort – serving only as a means to activate a connection to his concluding ‘ungraspable phantom of life’ – but thinking on it a bit while reading Ovid’s version this morning it does seem an easy argument to push for a deeper connection. For instance, Ovid’s

quid frustra simulacra fugacia captas? (why vainly seek to clasp a fleeting image) is a more than suitable reply to Ahab’s All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks speech in The Quarter-Deck. But the argument makes itself for anyone who cares so here are the passages side by side.

From ch. 1 (Loomings) of Moby Dick:


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.

From Ovid’s Metamorphoses 3.430, in the Loeb translation:

What he sees he knows not; but that which he sees he burns for, and the same delusion mocks and allures his eyes. O fondly foolish boy, why vainly seek to clasp a fleeting image? What you seek is nowhere; but turn yourself away, and the object of your love will be no more. That which you behold is but the shadow of a reflected form and has no substance of its own. With you it comes, with you it stays, and it will go with you—if you can go.

quid videat, nescit; sed quod videt, uritur illo,
atque oculos idem, qui decipit, incitat error.
credule, quid frustra simulacra fugacia captas?
quod petis, est nusquam; quod amas, avertere, perdes!
ista repercussae, quam cernis, imaginis umbra est:
nil habet ista sui; tecum venitque manetque;
tecum discedet, si tu discedere possis!

According to Melville’s Marginalia Melville’s personal copy of Ovid no longer survives but there is a digitized copy of (a different printing) of that edition online at Hathitrust. Here’s the passage (pg 85, lines 495-500 of bk. 3, translated by Addison).

Nor knows he who it is his arms pursue
With eager clasps, but loves he knows not who.
What could, found youth, this helpless passion move?
What kindled in thee this unpitied love?
They own warm blush within the water glows,
With thee the color’d shadow comes and goes,
Its empty being on thyself relies;
Step thou aside and the frail charmer dies.

One would hope he also had access to the classic Arthur Golding edition – since it does a far better job of capturing the elements he’d want for Moby Dick:

He knowes not what it was he sawe. And yet the foolish elfe
Doth burne in ardent love thereof. The verie selfsame thing
That doth bewitch and blinde his eyes, encreaseth all his sting.
Thou fondling thou, why doest thou raught the fickle image so?
The thing thou seekest is not there. And if aside thou go,
The thing thou lovest straight is gone. It is none other matter
That thou doest see, than of thy selfe the shadow in the water.
The thing is nothing of it selfe: with thee it doth abide,
With thee it would departe if thou withdrew thy selfe aside.

A final note of passing interest- the Melville’s Marginalia site does preserve one bit of Melville’s engagement with Ovid – a marginal checkmark in Warton’s History of English Poetry next to the sentence which begins ‘The Elegies of Ovid, which convey the obscenities of the brothel in elegant language….’.

This world pays dividends

My father loves his dividends and his religion, though generally not in that order. He sidesteps the inconsistency by refusing to acknowledge corporate abuses so when the topic comes up I can’t help nettling him with the below – from Ch. 16 of Moby Dick:

Like Captain Peleg, Captain Bildad was a well-to-do, retired whaleman. But unlike Captain Peleg—who cared not a rush for what are called serious things, and indeed deemed those self-same serious things the veriest of all trifles—Captain Bildad had not only been originally educated according to the strictest sect of Nantucket Quakerism, but all his subsequent ocean life, and the sight of many unclad, lovely island creatures, round the Horn—all that had not moved this native born Quaker one single jot, had not so much as altered one angle of his vest. Still, for all this immutableness, was there some lack of common consistency about worthy Captain Bildad. Though refusing, from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet had he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tuns upon tuns of leviathan gore. How now in the contemplative evening of his days, the pious Bildad reconciled these things in the reminiscence, I do not know; but it did not seem to concern him much, and very probably he had long since come to the sage and sensible conclusion that a man’s religion is one thing, and this practical world quite another. This world pays dividends.

I deal myself the best hand I can, and then accept it

From Montaigne 1.20 – That to Philosophize is to Learn to Die:

It is enough for me to spend my time contentedly. I deal myself the best hand I can, and then accept it. It can be as inglorious or as unexemplary as you please:

 Prætulerim delirus inersque videri,
Dum mea delectent mala me, vel denique fallant,
Quam sapere et ringi.
[I would rather be delirious or a dullard if my faults pleased me, or at least deceived me, rather than to be wise and snarling.]

Car il me suffit de passer à mon aise; et le meilleur jeu que je me puisse donner, je le prens, si peu glorieux au reste et exemplaire que vous voudrez,

praetulerim delirus inérsque videri,
Dum mea delectent mala me, vel denique fallant,
Quam sapere et ringi.

The Latin is from Horace – Epistles 2.2.126

I always hear an echo of this passage in a favorite line from Moby Dick’s opening chapter – I guess Melville would’ve had the Cotton translation or, less likely, the Florio.

I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself

The vulture that probes our inmost liver

A fragment of Petronius, quoted by Fulgentius (Mythologies 2.6):

[on Prometheus] although Nicagoras . . . records that Prometheus was the first to have embodied the image, and that he exposes his liver to a vulture, as if it portrays a metaphor for envy. From this Petronius also says: “The vulture that probes our inmost liver and tears out our heart and inmost entrails, is not a bird, as our witty poets claim, but the evils of our heart, envy and lust.”

[de Prometheo] quamvis Nicagorus . . . primum illum formasse idolum referat et, quod vulturi iecur praebeat, livoris quasi pingat imaginem. unde et Petronius Arbiter ait

“qui vultur iecur intimum pererrat
pectusque eruit intimasque fibras,
non est quem lepidi vocant poetae,
sed cordis <mala>, livor atque luxus.”

Reminiscent of Ishmael’s analysis of Ahab in ch.44 of Moby Dick:

God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.

Jonah’s prodigy of ponderous misery drags him drowning down to sleep

From chapter 9 of Moby-Dick, Father Mapple’s sermon on Jonah:

All dressed and dusty as he is, Jonah throws himself into his berth, and finds the little state-room ceiling almost resting on his forehead. The air is close, and Jonah gasps. Then, in that contracted hole, sunk, too, beneath the ship’s water-line, Jonah feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour, when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his bowels’ wards.

“Screwed at its axis against the side, a swinging lamp slightly oscillates in Jonah’s room; and the ship, heeling over towards the wharf with the weight of the last bales received, the lamp, flame and all, though in slight motion, still maintains a permanent obliquity with reference to the room; though, in truth, infallibly straight itself, it but made obvious the false, lying levels among which it hung. The lamp alarms and frightens Jonah; as lying in his berth his tormented eyes roll round the place, and this thus far successful fugitive finds no refuge for his restless glance. But that contradiction in the lamp more and more appals him. The floor, the ceiling, and the side, are all awry. ‘Oh! so my conscience hangs in me!’ he groans, ‘straight upwards, so it burns; but the chambers of my soul are all in crookedness!’

“Like one who after a night of drunken revelry hies to his bed, still reeling, but with conscience yet pricking him, as the plungings of the Roman race-horse but so much the more strike his steel tags into him; as one who in that miserable plight still turns and turns in giddy anguish, praying God for annihilation until the fit be passed; and at last amid the whirl of woe he feels, a deep stupor steals over him, as over the man who bleeds to death, for conscience is the wound, and there’s naught to staunch it; so, after sore wrestlings in his berth, Jonah’s prodigy of ponderous misery drags him drowning down to sleep.

Wisdom and wilderness are here at poise

Two from Yvor Winters on Herman Melville:

To a Portrait of Melville in My Library

O face reserved, unmoved by praise or scorn!
O dreadful heart that won Socratic peace!
What was the purchase-price of thy release
What life was buried, ere thou rose reborn?
Rest here in quiet, now. Our strength is shorn.
Honor my books! Preserve this room from wrack!
Plato and Aristotle at thy back,
Above thy head this ancient powder-horn.

The lids droop coldly, and the face is still:
Wisdom and wilderness are here at poise,
Ocean and forest are the mind’s device,
But still I feel the presence of thy will:
The midnight trembles when I hear thy voice,
The moon’s immobile when I meet thine eyes.

And

To Herman Melville in 1951

Saint Herman, grant me this: that I may be
Saved from the worms who have infested thee.

I just could not put that hose and bra on the Son of God

On the excesses of symbolist readings by critics – from Dan McCall’s The Silence of Bartleby (pg24)

Years ago I read an essay suggesting that in The Sound and the Fury, when Jason enters his niece’s room on Easter Sunday and finds her underwear strewn about, we should remember Jesus’ burial clothes after the stone was rolled away from the Tomb.  I just could not put that hose and bra on the Son of God.

It was his soul that suffered, and his soul I could not reach

From Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener:

Revolving all these things, and coupling them with the recently discovered fact that he made my office his constant abiding place and home, and not forgetful of his morbid moodiness; revolving all these things, a prudential feeling began to steal over me. My first emotions had been those of pure melancholy and sincerest pity; but just in proportion as the forlornness of Bartleby grew and grew to my imagination, did that same melancholy merge into fear, that pity into repulsion. So true it is, and so terrible too, that up to a certain point the thought or sight of misery enlists our best affections; but, in certain special cases, beyond that point it does not. They err who would assert that invariably this is owing to the inherent selfishness of the human heart. It rather proceeds from a certain hopelessness of remedying excessive and organic ill. To a sensitive being, pity is not seldom pain. And when at last it is perceived that such pity cannot lead to effectual succor, common sense bids the soul rid of it. What I saw that morning persuaded me that the scrivener was the victim of innate and incurable disorder. I might give alms to his body; but his body did not pain him; it was his soul that suffered, and his soul I could not reach.