Herman Melville’s classic tale of vengeance and tragedy is not just an entertaining yarn about seagoing men. He brings to the forefront the question of free will and man’s responsibility for his actions before God the judge. He ends by questioning how God can judge us when He has created the world we live in and the violence that exists.
Today’s post is the conversation Ahab has with his first mate Starbuck after their first encounter with the great whale and Ahab’s refusal to help a fellow Captain search for his missing son. I leave the link to the movie below. This version is in black and white but I am old school and this is how I first saw it.
It’s a mild, mild day Starbuck. A mild looking sky. On such day I struck my first whale. A boy harpooneer, 40, 40, aye, 40 years and a thousand lowerings ago
Why this madness of the chase? This boiling blood and smoking brow. Why pulls he the arm at the oar, the iron and the lance . . . I feel old Starbuck, and bowed, as if I were Adam staggering under the biled centuries since paradise.
Stand close Starbuck. Close to me. Let me look into a human eye. Is better than to look at sea or sky.
Captain, now for the last time I ask thee, I implore thee. Let us fly these deadly waters, let us home. Have they not mild blue days such as these in all New Bedford?
What is it? What nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing, commands me against all human lovings and longings. To keep pushing and crowding and jamming myself on all the time. Making me do what in my own natural heart I dare not dream of doing.
Is Ahab Ahab? Is it I – God – or who that lifts this arm? But if the great sun cannot move except by God’s invisible power, how can my small heart beat, my brain think thoughts, unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living – and not I.
By heavens man, we are turned round and round in this world like yonder windless and fate is the handspring. And all the time that smiling sky and this unsounded sea.
Look ye into it’s deeps and see the everlasting slaughter that goes on. Who put it into its creatures to chase and fang one another? Where do murderers go man? Who’s to doom when the judge himself is dragged before the bar?
But it is a mild, mild day, and a mild looking sky
I’ll chase him around Good Hope, and around the horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perditions flames before I give him up.
“I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up!