A marriage of heaven and hell?


As Ahab refused to help the woeful Rachel and her captain, it became ever clearer, that Ahab is mad. His pursuit is unbridled madness. Ahab had returned to the very part of the ocean where he had been ravished by Moby Dick in their first encounter. It was also where the captain of the Rachel had said he saw Moby Dick. It was the very place where with “demoniac indifference…the white whale tore his hunters.” At the same time and place where they had returned, “there lurked a something in the old man’s eyes, which it was hardly sufferable for feeble souls to see.  As the unsettling polar star, which through the livelong, arctic, six months night sustains its piercing, steady, central gaze; so Ahab’s purpose now fixedly gleamed down upon the constant midnight of the gloomy crew.”

Then, the crew could feel their doom approaching:

“Alike, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, seemed ground to fine dust, and powdered, for the time, in the clamped mortar of Ahab’s iron soul. Like machines, they dumbly moved about the deck, ever conscious that the old man’s despot eye was on them.”


The next morning however Captain Ahab was seen on deck on a day where the

“…the pensive air was transparently pure and soft, with woman’s look, and the robust and man-like sea heaved with a long, strong, lingering swells, as Samson’s chest in his sleep…the gentle thoughts of the feminine air; but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless blue, rushed mighty leviathans, sword-fish, and sharks, and these were the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea.”


This was the world of the Pacific visited by the crew of the Pequod. In a remarkable description of Ahab Melville continued the theme:

“Tied up and twisted; gnarled and knotted with wrinkles; haggardly firm and unyielding: his eyes glowing like coals, that still glow in the ashes of ruins; untottering Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl’s forehead of heaven.”

Ishmael, the narrator, keeps talking about the masculine and the feminine. Is this the marriage of heaven and hell? On the one hand there is the beautiful azure sea, but there is also “Ahab’s closed coiled woe” and “that burned out crater of his brain.” Ahab could stand at the edge of the ship, lean over the side and see his shadow sink in the water

“the more he strove to pierce the profundity. But the lovely aromas in that enchanted air did at last seem to dispel for a moment, the cankerous thing in his soul.”

Then astonishingly that azure blue sky had pity on the old man who had no pity for the captain of the Rachel whom he refused to help:

“That glad happy air, that winsome sky, did at last stroke and caress him; the step-mother world, so long cruel—forbidding—now threw affectionate arms round his stubborn neck, and did seem to joyously sob over him, as if over one, that however willful and erring, she could yet find it in her heart to save and to bless. From beneath his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop.”

After all the madness of the quest, this gentleness, so near the end, seems impossible. Maybe its a miracle?

Leave a Reply