Bulkington

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!

—The Lee Shore

One of the greatest features of this book, in the opinion of this lowly sub sub, are the ebbs and flows of pragmatic humanism and lofty allegorical heights, infinitely contrasting and complementing one another in Ishmael’s tangential, highly emotional ramblings. As it is revealed throughout the work with startling intentionality, these are both sides of the same coin, and within the physical, pragmatic description of a paragon sailor (one Bulkington, new landed in the Grampus’ crew), there exist waymarkers on which are written the signs of the unsignable, and indeed within all human stories there echo the heartsongs of the multitudes of humanity passed before us, and unending cries of love and pain coming down through the ages to finally inhabit the monkey-jacket of a simple salt, who can’t bare the sight or smell or feel of land for more than a few days, without having to push off into the unknown, inhuman world once again, and forever. Melville’s second and last mention of Bulkington, his ‘six-inch grave’ is Chapter 23: The Lee Shore, which should be read over and over, because in its six inches resides some unspeakable truth, shouted at its reader through the haze of human memory as some small bit of land perhaps, discovered in the great unknown by a brave man, before he was ultimately destroyed by the rocky shore of bare truth on which he threw himself, and was annihilated.

More and better things are written about The Lee Shore, which was most likely a chapter added rather late in the writing of Moby-Dick, since Bulkington as a living member of the Pequod’s crew is wordlessly gone from the narrative beyond that Chapter, and it is believed that The Lee Shore was added to justify the erasure of Bulkington from the following story.[1] Whether a justification or not, Melville’s hint at why a man like Bulkington is doomed, fated, however you choose to designate it, where subtle allusions to Prometheus, Hercules and other classic stories are imbued in the freezing spray surrounding this heroic sailor, is perhaps one of the greatest single passages in American literature. Again, this is the humble opinion of a lowly sub sub, so take it for what it’s worth, which can’t be that much.


[1] Albert Weinstein, Lecture Series: Herman Melville and the Making of Moby-Dick, The Biggest Fish Story of Them All, Ahab and the White Whale, Moby-Dick—Tragedy of Perspective.

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