Finding Melville’s Whale – Moby Dick (Chapter 41)

After reading some of the reviews from our Readers’ Survey, many people list these among their favorite posts, while many others consider them their least favorite. So, we’ve decided to change the posting schedule for Finding Melville’s Whale. From now on, one or two new entries will appear every Sunday, instead of Tuesdays and Thursdays. We hope you will continue reading along with us as we dive deeper in Melville’s masterpiece.

Moby Dick

By the glint of harpoon goblets, Ishmael
had sworn bloody vengeance upon the whale.
His future now belongs to Moby Dick.

A whale that terrorized the world’s oceans,
whose tremendous bulk instilled fear in all
men and marine life, even the sharks fled.

He became as god in whalemen’s legend,
ubiquitous, occupying all seas,
and immortal, no harpoon could harm him.

His great bulk, his forehead, wrinkled and white,
his deformed jaw, twisted and cruel, a scythe,
and a conscious, intelligent malice.

The were the fearsome features Ahab fought,
when from a shattered boat he pulled a blade
against the whale, in blood soaked seas, bodies,
lost comrades, swirled around him, Moby Dick,
who reached out with his reaper’s jaw and took
all that Ahab was, and also his leg.

In the throws of madness Ahab subsumed
his demons, leaving behind a monster-
filled captain, unyielding in his vengeance.

And the crew that sails with him, Savages,
Cannibals, Mongrels, broken men. Ishmael’s
oath is to this bloodthirsty endeavor.

Finding Melville’s Whale: The four Coffins

The Essex being struck by a sperm whale

Nested within the story of Ishmael, Queequeg, Herman Melville, and Moby Dick are four Coffins. The first two are within the story itself – Peter Coffin, the innkeeper who unites Ishmael with Queequeg, and Queequeg’s Coffin, built on premonition of death, that carries Ishmael to safety after the Pequod is destroyed. These two coffins bookend the epic voyage of the Pequod and it’s crew, but their occurrence parallels two other Coffins, and the fate of the whaleship Essex.

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Finding Melville’s Whale: The first 16 chapters

Thanks to everyone who’s followed along with us on our journey through the maritime classic – Moby Dick. I hope the pace is not too slow or too fast for anyone.

For those just joining us, we’re reading through Moby Dick a few chapters a week. You can follow along with your own copy or use the excellent Power Moby Dick website, complete will full text and annotations. Updates are posted every Tuesday and Thursday, with occasional Sundays. Each update includes a short summary (in verse) of the chapter. Reproduced below are the entries from chapters 1 through 16:

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Finding Melville’s Whale: Chapter 4 – The Counterpain

Chapter 4 of the classic Moby Dick by Herman Melville, summarized in verse. Read along with us and discuss this chapter or the book as a whole in the comments.

The Counterpain

He awoke to find the great harpooner’s
arm draped over him. The patchwork tattoos
became his comfort. Not wanting to rouse

the sleeping Queequeq, Ishmael remained still.
As a child, his mother would punish him
by forcing him to bed while still daylight.

With no such embargo, he nudged the man
awake. The cannibal rose and began
to dress, as if unaccustomed to clothes

and unused to strange customs, manners which
seem sensible to us. He soaps his face,
and smooths his beard with a harpoon’s steel edge.