Chapter 132: The Symphony

“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea! Look! see yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who’s to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar? But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the air smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new-mown hay. Sleeping? Aye, toil we how we may, we all sleep at last on the field. Sleep? Aye, and rust amid greenness; as last year’s scythes flung down, and left in the half-cut swaths—Starbuck!”

—The Symphony

The Symphony stands at the precipice of the Final Chase for the White Whale, and finds Ahab at the taffrail, looking down into the sea which will soon take him in its unfeeling arms. The tear he drops into it, by its very nature, contains ‘wealth’ beyond what is entirely contained in the whole ocean. What is the symbolism of this tear, and what kind of wealth is it that is contained there? Like so many of Melville’s themes and devices, its meaning is manifold, and numerous threads can be extracted, all united in the resignation of the man to his fate. Ahab ponders the cause of this inexorable track on which he finds himself: ‘Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?’

As to Starbuck, and his final, desperate plea to the mad Captain to turn the ship around: more and more can be written about the ranging successes and failures of this plea, and those infinitesimal chances that may or may not exist, moments in which this doomed quest may be ended in advance of its penultimate conclusion. There is, in fact, a Musket aboard the Pequod.

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