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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 40: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 37: Day 40: Sunset

“Oh! time was, when as the sunrise nobly spurred me, so the sunset soothed. No more. This lovely light, it lights not me; all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can ne’er enjoy. Gifted with the high perception, I lack the low, enjoying power; damned, most subtly and most malignantly! damned in the midst of Paradise! Good night—good night! (waving his hand, he moves from the window.)”




We begin with stage directions again: “The cabin; by the stern windows; Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out.”  Ahab will give another soliloquy, though how Ishmael hears all of this is never something we learn. I simply accept that I am hearing the inner thoughts of Ahab. It works for me.

The correlation between Shakespearean characters such as Lear, have always been made with Moby-Dick, but Melville was also fascinated with Milton and Paradise Lost.  Here we have Ahab saying that the pleasures of life, beauty and sunsets, and, if you recall, his pipe, no longer move him.  I immediately thought of Wordsworth this time and his poem “Intimations of Immortality”:

It is not now as it hath been of yore;—

                      Turn wheresoe'er I may,

                          By night or day.

The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

[ . . . ]

The Moon doth with delight

Look round her when the heavens are bare,

Waters on a starry night

Are beautiful and fair;

The sunshine is a glorious birth;

But yet I know, where'er I go,

That there hath past away a glory from the earth.



Where Wordsworth ends with a turn, our lives can be happy in other ways with “Strength in what remains behind,” it is clear that Ahab has resigned himself to his “duty,’ which is to find the white whale – to seek vengeance.  

In a very dramatic moment, Ahab lets go and lets us know that he understands the end is near. He accepts that he is damned and almost seems committed to the idea that this journey is his fate. But he does not yet suggest that the lives of others are damned because of Ahab as well. Will we get there?

How have I read this book six complete times and still have so many questions? I don’t know, but stay tuned.

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