It needs scarcely to be told, with what feelings, on the eve of a Nantucket voyage, I regarded those marble tablets, and by the murky light of that darkened, doleful day read the fate of the whalemen who had gone before me, Yes, Ishmael, the same fate may be thine. But somehow I grew merry again. Delightful inducements to embark, fine chance for promotion, it seems—aye, a stove boat will make me an immortal by brevet. Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.
The worst card in the game, and indeed the worst outcome of a whale hunt, a stove boat necessarily removes a player from the hunt, except of course, against Moby Dick himself. One cannot hunt a whale when one’s boat is merely fragments of wood and rope floating in the water. The rallying cry ‘A dead whale or a stove boat!’ is repeated at several times in the work, meant to inspire the correct proportion of courage and fear, no doubt. Often, the Whale deck is seemingly hunted for this card, which when it arrives will correct that proportion as the fates sees fit.
Original Image Courtesy of the University of Washington Freshwater and Marine Image Bank.