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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 70 The Sphynx.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 70 The Sphynx. Post by :frogknight Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :1369

Click below to download : Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 70 The Sphynx. (Format : PDF)

Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 70 The Sphynx.

It should not have been omitted that previous to completely stripping
the body of the leviathan, he was beheaded. Now, the beheading of
the Sperm Whale is a scientific anatomical feat, upon which
experienced whale surgeons very much pride themselves: and not
without reason.

Consider that the whale has nothing that can properly be called a
neck; on the contrary, where his head and body seem to join, there,
in that very place, is the thickest part of him. Remember, also,
that the surgeon must operate from above, some eight or ten feet
intervening between him and his subject, and that subject almost
hidden in a discoloured, rolling, and oftentimes tumultuous and
bursting sea. Bear in mind, too, that under these untoward
circumstances he has to cut many feet deep in the flesh; and in that
subterraneous manner, without so much as getting one single peep into
the ever-contracting gash thus made, he must skilfully steer clear
of all adjacent, interdicted parts, and exactly divide the spine at a
critical point hard by its insertion into the skull. Do you not
marvel, then, at Stubb's boast, that he demanded but ten minutes to
behead a sperm whale?

When first severed, the head is dropped astern and held there by a
cable till the body is stripped. That done, if it belong to a small
whale it is hoisted on deck to be deliberately disposed of. But,
with a full grown leviathan this is impossible; for the sperm whale's
head embraces nearly one third of his entire bulk, and completely to
suspend such a burden as that, even by the immense tackles of a
whaler, this were as vain a thing as to attempt weighing a Dutch barn
in jewellers' scales.

The Pequod's whale being decapitated and the body stripped, the head
was hoisted against the ship's side--about half way out of the sea,
so that it might yet in great part be buoyed up by its native
element. And there with the strained craft steeply leaning over to it,
by reason of the enormous downward drag from the lower mast-head, and
every yard-arm on that side projecting like a crane over the waves;
there, that blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod's waist like the
giant Holofernes's from the girdle of Judith.

When this last task was accomplished it was noon, and the seamen went
below to their dinner. Silence reigned over the before tumultuous
but now deserted deck. An intense copper calm, like a universal
yellow lotus, was more and more unfolding its noiseless measureless
leaves upon the sea.

A short space elapsed, and up into this noiselessness came Ahab alone
from his cabin. Taking a few turns on the quarter-deck, he paused to
gaze over the side, then slowly getting into the main-chains he took
Stubb's long spade--still remaining there after the whale's
Decapitation--and striking it into the lower part of the
half-suspended mass, placed its other end crutch-wise under one arm,
and so stood leaning over with eyes attentively fixed on this head.

It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so
intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx's in the desert. "Speak, thou
vast and venerable head," muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished
with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak,
mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all
divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper
sun now gleams, has moved amid this world's foundations. Where
unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot;
where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with
bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land,
there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver
never went; hast slept by many a sailor's side, where sleepless
mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw'st the
locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart
they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven
seemed false to them. Thou saw'st the murdered mate when tossed by
pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper
midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on
unharmed--while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that
would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms.
O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an
infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!"

"Sail ho!" cried a triumphant voice from the main-mast-head.

"Aye? Well, now, that's cheering," cried Ahab, suddenly erecting
himself, while whole thunder-clouds swept aside from his brow. "That
lively cry upon this deadly calm might almost convert a better
man.--Where away?"

"Three points on the starboard bow, sir, and bringing down her breeze
to us!

"Better and better, man. Would now St. Paul would come along that
way, and to my breezelessness bring his breeze! O Nature, and O soul
of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not
the smallest atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning
duplicate in mind."

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