Writer's Blog

Transient Thoughts

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Moby Dick again, plus an excellent excerpt

I have again started reading Moby Dick. This time I hope I will be able to finish it. Every time I read it I wonder what made me stop mid-way last time.

All the talk about voyages on the high seas stirs something deep in me; my forefathers for several centuries lived on the west coast, maybe some of them were sea-venturing.

Something else also stirs something deep in me. Ishmael and his cannibal harpooner friend Queequeg eat hearty meat breakfasts - steaks done rare and clam and cod chowders (dictionary says, Chowder: soup or stew made of sea food with pieces of salted pork, tomatoes, onions, potatoes etc). I read mostly in the mornings while the maid is cleaning the house etc, so when I go to the office I am pretty charged up gastronomically. At the office awaits a relatively tame breakfast of cornflakes, idlis or aalu paratha. Well, that is life.

Moby Dick though a prose novel is more like a long poem. That brings me to a question: how does one declare if a well-written novel is poetical or prosaic? I guess it is just the inherent rhythm to the sentences; the numerous commas, the abrupt sentences, the long sentences, the semicolons, the un-written pauses, the re-saying of words, sentences and ideas for effect, the half-music the words evoke, the surreal effect. It's whether the writer wants to keep his feet firmly on the ground and deal with earthly issues or does he want to allow himself to soar the skies like a kite - his connection to the earth a mere string.

Okay, here's an excerpt:

The Lee Shore

Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, new-landed 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 bitterest foe!

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!