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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 90: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 86 The Grand Armada

“And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the center freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely reveled in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still forever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.”




This is truly an odd chapter. Beautiful and terrifying at the same time.


Long story short - The Pequod spies whales and goes after them only to see that they are being followed by other whale hunters. While there is frenzy between ships, there is also something that happens to whales when they panic. They panic, then they freeze up. Ishmael is watching sheer panic and then, as Ish describes it: “Witness, too, all human beings, how when herded together in the sheepfold of a theatre’s pit, they will, at the slightest alarm of fire, rush helter-skelter for the outlets, crowding, trampling, jamming, and remorselessly dashing each other to death. Best, therefore, withhold any amazement at the strangely gallied whales before us, for there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”


In the midst of all this chaos, Ishmael notices that beneath the surface of the water, female whales are nursing their babies. The mother and babes all looking up to the surface calmly, going about the business of life.

Ish says that he is like the mothers and children beneath the fray. He stays filled with joy and worries not about the others around him all freaking out on the daily. Perhaps that is why Ish is a survivor.


A chapter ostensibly about whales, but really about life. Beautifully written too. Such a joy to read.



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