The Compulsive Reader: The Quotable Herman Melville

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Quotable Herman Melville

Herman Melville is quite garrulous, and a lot of what he has to say is, in my opinion, completely useless. But part of what makes Moby-Dick so frsutrating to read is that he CAN write really well, and there are some really good quotes in Moby-Dick. HB and I compiled a few favorites:

"They asked him, then, whether to live or die was a matter of his own sovereign will and pleasure. He answered, certainly. In a word, it was Queequeg's conceit, that if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him: nothing but a whale, or a gale, or some violent, ungovernable, unintelligent destroyer of that sort." Ch. 110

"Wherefore, for all these things, we account the whale immortal in his species, however perishable in his individuality." Ch. 105

"Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer or infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye." Ch. 85

"Thus, while in life the great whale's body may have been a real terror to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to a world."

"Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began." Ch. 60

"You may think with what emotions, then, the seamen beheld this old Oriental perched aloft at such unusual hours; his turban and the moon, companions in one sky." Ch 51

"There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit therof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own." Ch 49

"But at this critical instant a sudden exclamation was heard that took every eye from the whale. With a start all glared at dark Ahab, who was surrounded by five dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air." Ch 47

"As a carpenter's nails are divided into wrought nails and cut nails; so mankind may be similarly divided. Little Flask was one of the wrought ones; made to clinch tight and last long. " Ch 27

"A man like Queequeg you don't see every day, he and his ways were well worth unusual regarding." Ch 4

"Starbuck was no crusader after perils; in him courage was not a sentiment; but a thing simply useful to him, and always at hand upon all mortally practical occasions." Ch 26

There you go, the one post you'll get out of us that proves Melville can be a great writer!


Unknown said...

It's rather unfortunate the whole book isn't like those quotes....

Mary Preston said...

My favorite quote is the opening line.

"Call me Ishmael."