Essay on Man Versus Nature in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

Man Versus Nature in Herman Melville’s Moby DickI conjure him in the storm-clouds above the bell-tower– he is there, in that roiling expanse, the underbellies of the clouds like a huge celestial pod traveling with him. He is a shock of white against the mumbling sky– the kind of sky that appears as an illustration in the Bible when the clouds part and there, just there, above the waiting shepherds, above Mary’s bowed head, above the mountaintops, lo, the angel of the lord descends or even (beetle-browed and mighty) god himself is revealed. It is a sky of portent, its brooding skeins of unnatural, dusky blue. It is a sky worthy of the white whale.

I imagine Moby-Dick with his own accompaniment. Not a “Jaws” theme song, and not even the gentle eerie cries and clicks I’ve heard coming from the loudspeakers in a museum display on humpbacks. (Side note: Picture an auditorium filled with 700 school children, completely silent. The cellist, David Darling, holds his instrument before him and tells us the story of how he played for the whales. He was on a boat: the open ocean, a storm coming in– he anchored his end-pin in the wood of the boat’s deck and drew his bow across the strings. The whales sang back. I am perhaps five or six, and it is like he is telling us he has spoken to god.) No, Moby-Dick’s song is the absence of song– a complete and powerful silence that envelops and travels with him. It is the silence of snow, and twice as cold.

Sometimes I think of Ahab’s leg. For a while it pleased me to imagine the long fibula and the tibia gleaming in Moby-Dick’s stomach. I pictured the metatarsals like a string of pearls scattering; frozen milk; Ahab’s tears. The bones, washed clean by corrosive juices, were carried thr…

…ll each other and we lie to each other. Moby-Dick, you cannot lie. Teach me to tell the truth by simply living.

I imagine you beating in my chest instead of my heart, a quiet and strange white organ. This comforts me. I dream of curling up inside your ribs and listening to your heart. I want to hear the inexorable footstep of life in its lub-dub, and I want this to be my lullaby. Today, cheek cradled in the rough nap of my sweater, I have the urge to rub my face against your barnacled side to feel the scrape and know it is real. Keelhauled by time. Moby-Dick: agent of nature and truth, wrapped in your silence, you are zen (breathe in, breathe out, and all the while unaware of anything besides whaleness). Moby-Dick, this is all so strange– you are just one whale. Yet I conjure you, I call you up from the gray waves of my mind. Moby-Dick. I’m listening. Save me.

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