The Enchafèd Flood - Part Three - W. H. Auden


Ishmael - Don Quixote

Mes soeurs, n'aimez pas les marins:
La solitude est leur royaume.
- Jean Cocteau

What is a hero? The exceptional individual. How is he recognized, whether in life or in books? By the degree of interest he arouses in the spectator or the reader. A comparative study, therefore, of the kinds of individuals which writers in various periods have chosen for their heroes often provides a useful clue to the attitudes and preoccupations of each age, for a man's interest always centers, consciously or unconsciously, round what seems to him the most important and still unsolved problems. The hero and his story are simultaneously a skating and a solving of the problem.

Heroic Authority

The exceptional individual is one who possesses authority over the average. This authority can be of three kinds: aesthetic, ethical and religious.

Aesthetic Authority

Aesthetic authority arises from a necessary inequality of finite individuals in relation to one another. The aesthetic hero is the man to whom fortune has granted exceptional gifts. These may be within himself, e.g. A is more beautiful or cleverer than B, or in the situation in which he is placed, e.g. A is a king, B is a slave.

The inequality is necessary in the first case because beauty or brains are given qualities which cannot be produced of exchanged by any voluntary decision on either side, and in the second because, at any given moment of time in the situation, authority is given to the one.

Since, by virtue of his superior gifts, the hero can do what the average cannot do for themselves, he must do precisely that to be recognized by them as a hero. Thus, if victory over their enemies is what they most desire, he must lead them in a war; if victory is over nature, he must construct bridges, drain swamps, etc. In return they must give him admiration and obedience. The natural threat to the aesthetic hero is the passing of time, culminating in the inevitable fact of death, which brings him to the same level of nullity as everyone else.

There are also dangers within himself and within the others. For him the danger is pride, i.e. thinking that his superior qualities are not given him by the gods or fate or nature, but earned by him, i.e. that he is not merely luckier than others but intrinsically morally better. If he yields to this, he becomes a tyrant who demands admiration in excess and is insolent towards the powers that gave him his power. Vice versa, the danger for the average envy, i.e. denying that the inequality is necessary, and wishing to take the hero's place or, if that is impossible, at least to bring him down to their level.

The aesthetic hero is naturally thought of as being happy, for all desire to be as he. He only becomes unhappy when he ceases to be superior, i.e. when he dies, or suffers some great misfortune.

The Homeric kind of hero is pathetic, i.e. his death happens to him without any fault on his part. The hero of Greek drama is tragic because his death is due to pride on his part, and envy on the part of the gods.

Ethical Authority

Ethical authority arises from an accidental inequality in the relation of individuals to the universal truth. The ethical hero is the one who at any given moment happens to know more than the others. This knowledge can be any part of the truth, not only what is commonly called ethics.

- E.g. A is ethically superior in relation to B if he knows the multiplication table up to 11 when B only knows it up to 10, just as C is to D, if C knows that it is wrong to steal and D does not yet know it.

Here it is not a question of innate gifts (if A is cleverer than B he is aesthetically superior) but a remediable accident of time and opportunity, i.e. the hero is not one who can do what the others cannot, but one who does know now what the others do not but can be taught by him, which is precisely what he must do if he is to be recognized by them as a hero. In return they give him their attention, as a bridge between them and the truth, for what is required of both is exactly the same, to love and to learn as much about the truth as possible. It is quite possible, for instance, that if A teaches B the eleven times table, so making them equal, B now learns the twelve times table before A, and their positions are reversed. It is now B who is the hero.

Here again there are dangers both from without and within. "Without," however, now has a special sense, it means outside the mind, i.e. not from time or fate, but from matter, the needs and passions of the body which interfere with love and study of the truth.

The inner danger is the same for both hero-teacher and inferior pupil, namely, that they will both attempt to treat the situation as an aesthetic relation between them and forget or deny their relations to the truth, which is the important thing. Thus the ethical hero, desiring aesthetic admiration, is tempted to refuse to surrender his superiority and refuse the share his knowledge, treating it instead as a hermetic mystery, the consequence of which is that, thinking always of his relation to the ignorant, he ceases to think about the truth. The inferior, desiring ease and bodily pleasure, are tempted either to refuse to learn from the hero or adopt a passive attitude of admiration which takes what he says because he says it, and not because they can see for themselves that it is the truth.

The Ethical Hero, e.g. Socrates, is thought of as one who is happier than his inferiors because he is already in the movement away from the dark misery of ignorance and servitude to passion towards the bright joy of freedom in knowledge of the truth. Time is not the ultimately overwhelming enemy, but the temporary element through which men move towards immortality.

Religious Authority

Religious authority is like aesthetic authority in that it is not transferable from one individual to another and like ethical authority in that it arises, not from a relation between individuals, but from a relation to truth. But the religious definition of truth is not that it is universal but that it is absolute. The religious hero is one who is committed to anything with absolute passion, i.e. to him it is the absolute truth, his god. The stress is so strongly on the absolute that though he may be passionately related to what, ethically, i.e. universally, is false, he is a religious hero and has religious authority over the one who is lukewarmly or dispassionately related to what is true. Thus, the distinction between being absolutely committed to the real truth, and being absolutely committed to falsehood, is not between being a religious man or not being one, but between the sane and the mad.

In a sense, the religious hero is not related to others at all: his authority cannot command admiration, or transfer knowledge, it can only rekindle by example a similar absolute passion, not necessarily for the same god. (E.g. one has sometimes observed in education that a teacher with a passion for, say, mathematics, has aroused in an unmathematical pupil a passion for, say, Latin.)

The dangers of the religious hero are two: firstly, that he may lose his faith, and so cease to be absolutely committed, and secondly and much more seriously that while continuing to recognize the absolute commitment he should transmute its nature from positive to negative, so that he is committed to the truth in an absolute passion of aversion and hatred. In the first case, he simply ceases to be a religious hero; in the second, he becomes the negative religious hero, i.e. the devil, the absolute villain, Iago or Claggart. The temptation to either arises from expecting something in return for his commitment, i.e. the aesthetic hero may expect happiness so long as he possesses his gifts, but it is his happiness that is a temptation to pride, the ethical hero can look forward to more and more true happiness so long as he perseveres, but it is the pleasures of the body that tempt him to give up his quest, but the religious hero cannot demand happiness, except the happiness of the commitment itself; of love for love's sake. It does not follow that he must necessarily expect misery though, since few desire misery, it is usually misery and not happiness or pleasure that are his temptation; it is more correct to say that whatever he does not expect is temptation.

The Romantic Hero

In Wordsworth's dream, the hero is described as a combination of a Bedouin desert dweller and Don Quixote; his intention is to carry away symbols of imagination and abstract reason to hide them from the destructive deluge to come; his motive, to save them for future descendants of men, for the age after the Flood. His end is left in doubt, but it seems probable that it is tragic, that he is overwhelmed and fails to save the treasures entrusted to him. Why a Bedouin and why Don Quixote?


The Biblical story of the first Bedouin, Ismael, is given in Genesis (chapters XVI and XVII, and XXI). Abraham's wife Sarah is barren, so at her suggestion Abraham lies with a bond-maiden, Hagar. Sarah now becomes jealous and with Abraham consent treats the pregnant Hagar so badly that she runs away into the desert. But there an angel speaks to her and tells her to return to her mistress, and prophesies:

- Behold, thou shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael. He will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the midst of all his brethren.

God also speaks to Abraham:

- Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed and thou shalt call his name Isaac . . . As for Ishmael . . . Behold I have blessed him, and will make him a great nation. But my covenant shall be with Isaac which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

In due order first Ismael and the Isaac are born, but Sarah is still jealous - in fairness to her she has both before and now caught Hagar mocking at her - and says to Abraham:

- "Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for he son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac."
And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

Abraham accordingly gives Hagar and Ismael some bread and water and turns them out into the desert where they are about to die of thirst, when God shows her a well and tells her too that he will make a great nation of Ishmael.

- And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

Translating the story into terms of personality, we get someone who

(1) Is conscious of superior powers. (The first-born)
(2) Has a grievance, feeling that he is the victim of some wrong for which he is not responsible. (Illegitimate)
(3) Does not like and is not liked by the respectable fashionable and successful of this world (Sarah and Isaac). He despises them for not being gifted as he (Hagar's mocking of Sarah) and they envy and persecute him for the same reason. (Sarah's behavior towards Hagar)
(4) In consequence he is socially an outcast and not easily employable. If he does fall in love, it is an unhappy love. (He dwells in the wilderness)
(5) He prefers to spend his time with other social outcasts like himself, with crooks, whores, impressed sailors, etc., of whom there are a good many. (A great nation)
(6) In solitude and low company he develops the qualities of courage and tough endurance. (An archer)
(7) He is unhappy and lonely, yet cherishes his unhappiness and loneliness as proof of his superiority. (He chooses to live in the desert)

Don Quixote

When we are first introduced to Don Quixote he is

(1) poor
(2) not a knight but only the plain Alonso Quixano
(3) has had a sort of inclination for a good country lass, though 'tis believed she never heard of it
(4) has nothing to do except hunt and read romances about Knight Errantry
(5) is slightly mad, i.e. he sells land to buy these books.

Suddenly he goes really mad: i.e. instead of being content to content to project himself in imagination into the heroes of the books, he sets out to become in reality what he admires and rides off the restore to the fallen world the golden age of chivalry, and to challenge all comers to admit that the obscure country girl is the Princess Dulcinea del Toboso, the most beautiful woman in the world. Naturally enough, he fails in everything. When he thinks he is attacking giants, heretics and heathens he is not only worsted in combat, but attacks innocent people and destroys other people's property.

Further, his madness has two aspects: firstly, the nature of his resolution and secondly the moments in which he sees people and objects as other than they are. The first is constant, the second intermittent. Yet when his vision is sane, i.e. when he sees that the windmills are windmills and not giants, it does not change his original conviction, for he takes his moments of sane vision to be mad and says, "These cursed magicians delude me, first drawing me into dangerous adventures by the appearances of things as they really are and then presently changing the face of things as they please." Even when they meet a plain country wench, whom
Don Quixote correctly sees as such, and Sancho Panza for a joke describes her as his ideal lady, the Princess Dulcinea, he believes Sancho Panza against the evidence of his own feelings.

Finally, after many adventures, all of them unsuccessful, he falls sick, and suddenly he recovers his sanity. His friends wish him to go on being mad and to provide them with fresh amusement, but he says simply: "Ne'er look for birds of this year in the nests of the last: I was mad and am now in my senses: I was once Don Quixote de la Mancha but am now the plain Alonso Quixano, and I hope the sincerity of my words and my repentance may restore me the same esteem you had for me before." Whereupon he dies.

Don Quixote is, of course, a representation, the greatest in literature, of the Religious Hero, whose faith is never shaken and whose characteristics we have already discussed. The only point to consider here is why Cervantes makes him recover his sanity at the end. Does this mean tht he ceases to be a religious hero, that he loses his faith? No. It is because Cervantes realizes instinctively that the Religious Hero cannot be accurately portrayed in art. Art is bound by its nature to make the hero interesting, i.e. to be recognizable as a hero by others. Both the aesthetic hero and the ethical hero are necessarily interesting and recognizable by their deeds and their knowledge, but it is accidental and irrelevant if the religious hero is so recognized or not. Unless Don Quixote recovers his senses, it would imply that the Religious Hero is always also an aesthetic hero (which is what his friends want him to be). On the other hand, once he does, he has to die, for he becomes uninteresting and therefore cannot live in a book.

Ishmael and Don Quixote Compared

(1) Both are solitaries, despised and rejected by the world. But while Ishmael retreats from society, Don Quixote seeks a relationship with it and it is just this attempt that gets him into trouble. As long as he stayed in his library alone reading, he was free from misfortune.

(2) Both are unhappy. But while Ishmael has a grievance and is sorry for himself, Don Quixote is only unhappy because he is sorry the world is not the world which for its own sake it should be; he is not sorry for himself but ashamed of himself for being unable to cure the world of its sickness.

(3) Both are unsuccessful in love; but while Ishmael is sorry because his love is not returned, Don Quixote never thinks of reciprocation and is only ashamed because he cannot prove his love.

(4) Both consort with and enjoy low company; but while Ishmael enjoys it because it is low and vicious, Don Quixote enjoys it because he is persuaded that it is noble and virtuous.

(5) Both are brave and tough; but while Ishmael congratulates himself on this fact, Don Quixote takes it for granted without thinking.

(6) Both are wanderers; but while Ishmael is a wanderer because he lacks a definite commitment to any person or goal, it is just his mania of commitment which turns the peaceful stay-at-home Alonso Quixano into the pugnacious vagabond Don Quixote de la Mancha.

(7) Ishmael has gifts which he will not put at the service of others, i.e. he does not try to be recognized as the aesthetic or ethical hero which he is. Don Quixote, on the other hand, has no gifts yet tries desperately to be of use. He is not an aesthetic or ethical hero but goes on trying, in the face of constant failure, to become one.

The critical difference between them, in fact, is that Ismael is self-conscious and Don Quixote is completely self-forgetful.

The Heroic Action

The heroes of Classical and Renaissance literature (with the exception of Hamlet) are recognizable as heroic through the nature of their relations to other men, i.e. of their social acts. The hero is the one who conquers and rules others, or who teaches others. If he suffers a tragic fall, it is a social fall, he is overthrown by a stronger hero, or commits crimes which arouse public horror, or, like Socrates, is executed for being a political danger.

But our dream Ishmael-Don Quixote is quite alone. He is plainly not a conqueror. He is related to knowledge, i.e. he is the sole guardian of the imagination and the reason, the two human forms of knowledge, but he does not teach anyone else; he keeps the shell and the stone to himself. He is apparently performing a social act; he is trying to save these treasures for the sake of the future world, but there is no one around to recognize what he is doing, and even the I of the dreamer loses sight of him and does not know his end, whether or not he succeeded.

Taking such a figure as an archetype, we may now consider the romantic writers, their critical statements and the heroes of their books, and ask: What role does Ishmael play inn their work? What role does Don Quixote play? How are these two related? What is the romantic hero up to?

There is almost universal agreement that one of the distinguishing marks of the hero is that he is always unhappy. To be happy is almost a proof that one is not a hero. For instance:

- I have found a definition of the Beautiful, of my own conception of the Beautiful. It is something intense and sad, leaving scope for conjecture . . . A beautiful male head . . . will suggest ardours and passions - spiritual longings - ambitions darkly repressed - powers turned to bitterness through lack of employment - traces, sometimes , of a revengeful coldness (for the archetype of the dandy must not be forgotten here), sometimes, also - and this is one of the most interesting characteristics of Beauty - of mystery, and last of all (let me admit the exact point to which I am a modern in my aesthetics) of Unhappiness. I do not pretend that Joy cannot associate with Beauty, but I will maintain that Joy is one of her most vulgar adornments, while Melancholy may be called her illustrious spouse - so much so that I can scarcely conceive (is my brain become a witch's mirror?) a type of Beauty which has nothing to do with Sorrow. In pursuit of - others may say obsessed by - those ideas, it may be supposed that I have difficulty in not concluding from them that the most perfect type of manly beauty is Satan - as Milton saw him.
(Baudelaire, Fuseés)

- The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth. So therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true - not true, or undeveloped. . . . He who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing graveyards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men/ and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing wise, and therefore jolly; - not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon.
(Melville, Moby Dick, chapter XCVI)

- It is strange, too, that he most strongly enlisted my feelings in behalf of the life of the seamen, when he depicted his more terrible moments of suffering and despair. For the light side of the painting I had a limited sympathy. My visions were of shipwreck, famines, of death and captivity among barbarian hordes, of a lifetime dragged out in sorrow and tears upon some gray and desolate wreck, in an ocean unfathomable and unknown.
(Poe, Gordon Pym)

This is something new in the conception of the hero: that he ought to be unhappy. Unhappiness, to the classical aesthetic hero, is the sign that he is ceasing to be one; and to the classical ethical hero the sign that he has not yet become one.

There is also an agreement that the hero should be solitary, or if he does enter into relations with others, the relations should be very temporary. E.g. Childe Harold:

Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends;
Where rolled the ocean, thereon was his home;
Where a blue sky, and glowing clime, extends,
He had the passion and the power to roam;
The desert, forest, cavern, breaker's fowm,
Were unto him companionship; they spake
A mutual language, closer than the tome
Of his land's tongue, which he would oft foresake
For Nature's pages gloss'd by sunbeams on the lake.

* * *

But in Man's dwellings he became a thing
Restless and worn, and stern and wearisome,
Droop'd as a wild-born falcon with clipt wings
To whom the boundless air alone were home.
Then came his fit again, which to o'ercome
As eagerly the barr'd-up bird will beat
His breast and beak against the wiry dome
Till the blood tinge his plumage, so the heat
Of his impeded soul would through his bosom eat.
(III. 13, 15)

And Childe Harold says of himself:

I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
I have not flatter'd its rank breath, nor bow'd
To the idolatries a patient knee,
Nor conn'd my check to smiles, nor cried aloud
In worship of an echo; in the crowd
They could not deem me one of such; I stood
Among them, but not of them, in a shroud
Of thoughts which were not their thoughts, and still could,
Had I not filed my mind, which thus itself subsided.
(III. 113)

So Baudelaire:

- Many friends, many gloves - for fear of the itch.

The Ancient Mariner has no use for marriage and though he speaks favorably of praying in company:

O sweeter than the marriage-feast
'Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!

he really thinks that the hermit's solitary moss cushion in the wood is the proper church, and he himself wanders about and is only related to others when he tells them his story:

I pass, like night, from land to land,
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.

He doesn't care whether or not the other wants to hear it, and, the moment he has finished, has no further use for him.

The same lack of any permanent interest in others and their opinions is equally apparent in those who are outwardly socially involved. Ahab is only interested in getting his crew to do what he wants; he is entirely indifferent to their opinion of him except insofar that he needs their approval or at least assent to carry out his scheme.

Goethe's Faust and Ibsen's Peer Gynt both meet a lot of people, but the whole point about these heroes is that they always leave the others behind.

The same is true of both Da Ponte - Mozart's Don Giovanni and Bryon's Don Juan. At first sight it looks as if Don Giovanni, the seducer, must be intensely interested in women and their opinion of him, but this is really not the case. He doesn't care what they look like, once is enough, and he has no wish to be remembered by them. Indeed, what causes his downfall is that some of them do. What he is really interested in, in fact, is not women, but his list of women seduced, the number of names in his private diary. Byron's Don Juan, who is always the seduced one, allows it to happen over and over again, not because he is interested in the lady but because it is a new experience to remember.

This again is novel. The classical aesthetic hero must command others' admiration as long as he can, the classical ethical hero must teach them all he can. If he were left alone without admirers orwithout pupils, he would cease to be himself.

The Grievance

The classical aesthetic hero is pleased with the past, with his own record and his ancestor. If something tragic happens to him it is because he has been too pleased, too arrogantly happy.

With the Romantic Hero it is not so. The proof that he is the exceptional hero is that he comes of neurotic stock.

- My ancestors, idiots or maniacs, in the solemn houses, all victims of terrible passions.
(Baudelaire, Fus

or that his childhood was unhappy:

- And lastly, if you are hungry or thirsty, there is someone who chases you.
(Rimbaud, Les Illuminations)

- And if having surprised him in immodest acts of pity, his mother was alarmed, the profound tendernesses of the child fastened upon this astonishment. That's how it was. She had the blue-eyed look - which lies.
(Rimbaud, Les Poètes des Sept Ans)

Something catastrophic has happened in the past to all of them. Even if, in the case of the Ancient Mariner, he alone is responsible for his catastrophe - through his criminal acte gratuit of shooting the Albatross - he only becomes a hero through it. Before that he was just anyone. He has long repented, done penance and been shriven by the hermit for his crime. Repentance, penance and pardon are usually thought of as putting an end to the matter. Now the sinner can forget the whole thing and be one of the family, of God's children, and of society. The Ancient Mariner does nothing of the sort. He has to confess over and over again to prove that he is interesting. He doesn't want to forget or to have others forget.

It is noteworthy that three of the Mariner heroes, the most dedicated, the most Quixotic, are dedicated to Revenge. Captain Ahab, to revenge the loss of his leg, Captain Nemo the loss of his wife and children, the hero of the Voyage of Maeldune the death of his father.

The avenging hero is, of course, a very ancient figure; but several significant changes have taken place.

In the Oresteia, for instance, Orestes avenges his father's death and is pursued by the Furies set on him by the ghost of his mother, and is finally absolved by the Divine Court of Justice. But it is important to note that

(1) His murder of Clytemnestra is not a free choice of his own will, but a duty imposed upon him through his duty to his father.
(2) The suffering he undergoes at the hands of the Furies is unexpected by him, is not due to anything in him, for they are set upon him from without.
(3) He does not repent but is acquitted, on the grounds that the duty to the father takes precedence over the duty to the mother.
(4) He is a hero put into a tragic predicament, but if the situation were not tragic, he would still be a hero, only a happy one.

In most Elizabethan drama the revenge situation is similar. Shakespeare, however, had a new vision of the nature of revenge, and transformed the old Hamlet into the first hero of the romantic type. I.e. Shakespeare's Hamlet is made a hero b the situation in which he finds himself of having a mother who has committed adultery with his uncle, who has murdered his father. Before this happened he was no hero, just an ordinary pleasant young man. The result is that, instead of just avenging his father and getting it over with, he secretly cherishes the situation and cannot bear to end it, for who will he be than?

This conception of revenge as a vocation is made all the clearer when the revenge theme is combined with the quest theme. Traditionally, the quest is for some treasure, such as the water of life. Giants or dragons may get slain in the process because they stand between the hero and the treasure, but it is the obtaining of the treasure not the slaying of the dragon that is the hero's goal. The revenge as quest brings out the value of the hated object to the hero.

The Romantic Avenger Hero, in fact, is a person who is in dread of not having a vocation and yet is unable to choose one for himself as Don Quixote does (the proof that Don Quixote's decision to save the world is his own is that he has no idea what the world is like), and so has to be given it from without.

"My injury," he says, "is not an injury to me; it is me. If I cancel it out by succeeding in m vengeance, I shall not know who I am and will have to die. I cannot live without it." So not only does he cherish the memory of catastrophic injury, but also he is not lured forward by the hope of happiness at some future date.

The Ethical Hero of the Enlightenment, Prince Tamino in The Magic Flute, braves suffering, the ordeal by fire and water, because he knows that on the other side of it wait the Palace of Wisdom and the Princess Pamina. "The Religious Hero, Don Quixote, may accept suffering i the case of duty cheerfully without thinking of any reward, but he would much rather not suffer, does not congratulate himself on suffering not deliberately seek it.

But the Romantic Hero does not expect any ultimate relief. The hero of Bateau Ivre is not motivated by any hope of reaching the Islands of the Blessed; the Baker more than half suspects that the Snark may be a Boojum. Nor does Ahab believe for a moment that if he succeeds in killing the White Whale, he will be any happier.

Before discussing why this should be so, we should first see the hero in relation to those who are not, and perhaps the simplest way to do this is to take one group, the crew of the Pequod.


Ishmael cannot properly be called a member of the crew; for, from the moment that he steps on board, he only speaks or is spoken to once more when after his first ducking (baptism) he makes his will, i.e. consciously accepts the absolute finality of his commitment. From then on, he becomes simply the recording consciousness, the senses and the mind through which we experience everything.

This suggest that if we are identified with him then, we should also identiry ourselves with him during the prologue when he does have a certain personal existence.

One day in Manhattan Ishmael resloves to go whaling. To this resolution he is pushed from behind by the need to escape from a spiritual condition of spleen and powerlessness - Manhatten is for him the selva oscura of the Divine Comedy and the Sargasso Sea of the Ancient Mariner; and he is lured from in front by a vague but haunting image. He has never consciously heard of Moby Dick yet.

- in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, midmost of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in air.

But between this initial resolve and the actual decision, the irrevocable commitment of signing on the Pequod, he has a preliminary journey to make, during which he is subjected to various initiations from any of which he could draw back and return to the city.

He begins to move away from the safe centre of normal routine, convention and status (he has been a schoolmaster, i.e. a conventional authority) towards the edge of the land to the port New Bedford. The first test is a shock of fright. Imagining it to be an inn, i.e. a place of shelter and friendly companionship, he pushes open the door of The Trap and finds himself in a Negro church when the minister is preaching about hell, the wailing and gnashing of teeth. This is a warning that in his state of spleen from which he is trying to escape, it is easy to take a wrong turning - into despair. He rejects this and enters the Spouter Inn whose proprietor has the ominous name of Coffin. (It is finally a coffin that saves him from drowning - death and rebirth are two aspects of the same thing. Who would save his life must lose it.) Here he has a brief glimpse of the Handsome Sailor, Bulkington, who will play no part in Moby Dick, but will appear as a protagonist in a later work of Melville's under the name of Billy Budd, and the whole Queequeg episode begins.

Ishmael is a white man and a Presbyterian; Queequeg is a South-Sea Islander and a Pagan, formerly a cannibal. The Christian world of consciousness, i.e. the ethically superior world which knows the truth, both the artistic and scientific truths and the moral truth that one should love one's neighbor as oneself.

The pagan world is the unconscious world, which does not know the truth. The cannibalism it practices is a symbol of self-love, of treating one's neighbor as existing for one's own advantage. Queequeg left his island in order to become conscious of the truth, only to discover that those who are conscious of it do not obey it, and so has decided to live as a pagan in the Christian world.

Ishmael, like us, has two preconceived notions.

(1) That men who are not white are ugly, i.e. in the physical sense, aesthetically inferior. He has just had that notion reinforced by seeing the handsome white Bulkington.
(2) That pagans cannot obey the Christian commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself, because they have never heard the Word of the true God, i.e. they are ethically inferior.

Ismael is disabused of both notions. He admits that Queequeg is beautiful, and that he loves his neighbor; in fact, more than most Christians. When on the short voyage from New Bedford to Nantucket Queequeg rescues from drowning - again a test of Ishmael's courage (can he face the possibility of drowning?) - the man who had just insulted him saying "It's a mutual joint-stock world in all meridians. We cannibals must help these Christians," he exhibits Christian forgiveness and Christian agape without the slightest effort. He is a doer of the Word who has never heard the Word.

By accepting Queequeg - the symbolic act of acceptance is his joining in the worship of Queequeg's idol - Ishmael proves himself worthy of the voyage.

The last tests are the mysterious warning by Elijah not to sail on the Pequod, another test of courage, and the encounter with the owners, Captains Peleg and Bildad.

This pair are Quakers, i.e. people who seriously believe in applying the absolute law of love in time and the world. No man who is not a saint can do this; Ishmael has first to be made conscious through this pair of the discrepancy between Heaven's time and Jerusalem time, and then to be warned against falling into either of the two temptations which follow the moment one is so conscious - either of frivolity i.e. taking the contradiction too lightly, which is what Peleg does, or, more seriously, of hypocrisy, i.e. of pretending that there is no contradiction and that one is living in Heaven's time, which is what Bildad does. Bildad's besetting vice is avarice, which is the spritual version of cannibalism. He does not eat men, but he exploits them to the death. Avarice is worse than cannibalism because the latter is limited by natural appetite - you cannot eat more than a certain amount of flesh - but avarice has no limits - there is no end to the accumulation of money.

Father Mapple's Sermon

Standing apart from Ishnael's other tests is Father Mapple's Sermon. This is not, as has sometimes been said, a magnificent irrelevance, but an essential clue to the meaning of the whole book. The story of Jonah is the story of a voyage undertaken for the wrong reasons, of learning repentance through suffering and a final acceptance of duty. Jonah has ethical authority, i.e. he knows the Word; he is called upon to become more than that, to become an ethical hero with absolute passion, i.e. a religious hero; he flees from the divine command out of aesthetic pride, a fear that he will not be listened to and admired, not be an aesthetic hero. He is punished for his refusal by being confronted with the really aesthetically great, the storm and the whale, compared with which the greatest emporor is a puny weakling, and then, in the whale's belly, he is deprived even of the one gift he had, his ability to hear the Word. Humbled, he does not despair but repents and trusts in God whom he can no longer hear. God forgives him, he is cast up on the land, and sets off to fulfill his vocation.

In drawing the moral, Father Mapple says tow apparently contradictory things.

(1) If we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying of ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.
(2) Delight is to him, a far, far upward and inward delight - who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth stands forth his own inexorable self.

This is the same thing that the Button-Moulder says to Peer Gynt:

To be one's self is to slay one's self
But as perhaps tht explanation
Is thrown away on you, let's say,
To follow out, in everything,
What the Master's intention was.
(V. 9)

Man's being is a copulative relation between a subject ego and a predicate self. The ego is aware of the self as given, already there in the world, finite, derived, along with, related and comparable to other beings. It is further aware of the self not only as existing but also as potential, as not fully actual but as a self which becomes itself.

Being of itself unaware of its potentialities, the self cannot become itself of itself, cannot initiate anything; all it desires is to be in equilibrium, a self-enjoying, self-sufficient self: the responsibility for self-realization lies with the ego which can decide; the self can only welcome or resist the decision when it is taken.

The ego, on the other hand, has no potentialities, only existence. Further, it is isolated; it cannot compare its egoship with other egos, as it can compare the self it is related to with other selves.

The desire of the ego is a double one. As freely owning a self, it desires a self or which it can approve. As solitary it desires to be approved of for the self it has. This approval must have absolute authority, for the approval of finite beings whom the ego can see are not self-existent posits an ultimate authority which approves of their approval, i.e. the ego desires a God.

The ego, therefore, has three tasks:
(1) To know the self and the world, as they exist now.
(2) To know the true God and what He requires the ego to realize in the self as he knows it.
(3) To obey these commands.

The ego may err in three ways:
(1) It may refuse to look honestly at its given self and prefer a vague or a fantastic conception to the truth. The temptation to do so arises from the fear that if it should know the truth about the self, it would find that it had a self of which it did not approve, i.e. not the sort of self it would like to have to develop.
(2) It may prefer a false god to the true God. The temptation to do this arises out of a fear that if I knew the true God, the ego would encounter disapproval. A false god of idol is always one which the ego believes it can manage through magic; upon whose approval, therefore, it can, if it is smart enough, depend.
(3) Knowing the self and what God requires to realize in the self, it may disobey negatively out of weakness, yeilding to the opposition of the self to change, or positively out of defiance, in assertion of its autonomy.

The Voyage of the Pequod

The voyage of the Pequod is one voyage for Ishmael and with him us, and another for the rest of the crew.

For us the voyage signifies the exploration of the self and the world, of potential essences. Nothing happens to us, we survive, and we are the same people at the end as at the beginning except that we know ourselves and others better. We had to be tested first to see whether we were capable of such an exploration; once we have passed the tests, we have nothing to do but record.

For the rest of the crew, however, this is not the voyage of self-inspection before the act, but the act of historical existence itself. They learn nothing about themselves, but they are changed before our eyes, and reveal themselves unwittingly in what they say and do.

When we have finished the book, we realize why Father Mapple's sermon was put in where it was: in order that we might know the moral presuppositions by which we are to judge the speeches and actions of Ahab and the rest.

The crew of the Pequod are a society whose function is to kill whales. As such each has a specialized function of his own, arranged in a hierarchy of authority -

Captain: Ahab
Mates: Starbuck, Stubb, Flask.
Harpooners: Queequeg, Tashtego, Dagoo, Fedallah.
Then the crowd of seamen who man the whale-boats, of whom one or two appear for a moment, such as the old Manx sailor. Standing apart from them because their special functions are only indirectly connected with whales are:

Pip, Ahab's cabin boy.
Perth, the Blacksmith.]

In their motives for going on the voyage:

Ahab wants to kill one particular whale.
The Blacksmith wishes to escape his memories.
The Carpenter wants to carpenter.
Pip doesn't want to go because he is terrified, but has no option.

The rest have a common motive which makes them a community, they want to earn a living, in a way for which they are fitted and which they enjoy. Since they are doing what they like and are good at it they are a happy community, and for them killing whales is morally permissible and indeed a much better job than most. It may sometimes tempt to unnecessary cruelty - s when Flask deliberately pricks the abscess of the old whale - but it encourages courage and democratic comradeship - the atmosphere on the Pequod is very different from that of the Neversink.

They are therefore in the right in going on the voyage. The only ones who should not have gone are Ahab, because he has passed beyond killing whales in general, and secondly Pip, who lacks the courage which for whaling is essential, just as Captain DeDeer of the Jungfrau and the captain of the Rosebud lack the necessary knowledge and skill.

The Four Squires

The four squires are representatives of the four non-white Pagan races.

Queequeg is a South Sea Islander
Tashtego a North American Indian
Dagoo an African Negro
Fedallah an Asiatic

Queequeg, Tashtego and Dagoo form a trio related to and contrasted with the white trio Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, i.e. the three untormented by the problems of consciousness and the three who in different ways fail to live up to the challenge of consciousness.

Queequeg and Fedallah and opposites in their relation to Christianity. I.e. Queequeg is the unconscious Christian, Fedallah is the unconscious anti-Christian, the tempter of Ahab. In the Biblical story of Ahab, the Lord sends a lying spirit to his death. Such is Fedallah, who is Ahab's shadow and makes the Macbeth-like prophecies which finally persuade Ahab that he will not succeed in killing the White Whale and survive. Fedallah alone, though he has not suffered Ahab's catastrophe, intuitively shares Ahab's attitude. Like Ahab he is a fire-worshipper.

- He was such a creature as civilized, domestic people in the temperate zone only see in their dreams, and that but dimly; but the like of whom now and then glide among the unchanging Asiatic communities, especially the Oriental isles to the east of the continent - those insulated, immemorial, unalterable countries, which even in these modern days still preserve much of the ghostly aboriginalness of earth's primal generations, when the memory of the first man was a distinct recollection, and all men his descendants, unknowing whence he came, eyed each other as real phantoms, and asked of the sun and moon why they were created and to what end; when though, according to Genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of men, the devils also add the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane amours.

One thing all four have in common, a magnificent physique, To the romantics as a whole consciousness is usually held to upset the psychosomatic balance and to bring either ugliness or sickness. Those who are both beautiful and healthy belong to

- ces
époques nues
Dont Phoebus se plaisait à dorer les statues.
Alors l'homme et la femme en leur agilit
Jouissaient sans mensonge et sans anxiété,
Et, le ciel amoureux leur caressant l'
Exercaient la sant
é de leur noble machine.

- those old naked days
When Phoebus gilded torsos with his rays.
When men and women sported, strong and fleet
Without anxiety or base deceit,
And heaven caressed them, amorously keen,
To prove the health of each superb machine.

In Father Mapple's terms, all four are themselves; but, since they are unconscious, i.e. since they have not begun Ishmael's voyage nor been called by the Lord like Jonah, they are only potentially themselves. Queequeg is not only himself but obeys God without having to disobey himself. Fedallah obeys himself and the Devil, i.e. denies the true God.

The Three Mates

None of the three mates is an evil man. All are physically brave, loyal and free from malice. Yet all suffer from spiritual sloth, which is a form of cowardice, so that none is his complete self; all have refused to grow up. They have, as it were, started on Ishmael's voyage and then tried to draw back, but that voyage is like a sea voyage in that once the boat has left the shore, you cannot get off, you can only play the child's game of "let's pretend we are on shore." Each of them in his own way takes ship from Tarshish to flee from the presence of the Lord.


Starbuck has gone fatrthest and is the most fitted for the voyage so that he suffers most from his refusal to go all the way.

He has a religious reverence for life and death; he knows that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is why he will have no man in his boat who is not afraid of the whale.

He has mature self-control and authority in excitement.

- He did not say much to his crew, nor did his crew say anything to him. Only the silence of the boat was at intervals startingly pierced by one of his peculiar whispers, now harsh with command, how soft with entreaty.

He alone of the three has an inkling that Ahab's soul is in danger, and therefore looks at him not only with mingled fear and admiration but with pity and love.

He can tell Ahab the truth, as when he rebukes him for seeking "vengeance on a dumb brute that simply smote thee from blindest instinct," or again "Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou that madly seekest him."

He knows that in obeying Ahab he is disobeying God, yet before Ahab's passion his knowledge and righteous fear are powerless. "I think I se his impious end, but feel that I must help him to it. 'Tis my miserable office to obey, rebelling."

Because fear may be the right way to begin, but it is not enough to go on with. For in the fear which is reverence is mixed the fear which is cowardice, the fear that the whole truth may be too much to encounter, that too much will be asked of me, that in fact God will not add His grace to one's own powers. Thus, Starbuck remains in the childish religious state of believing in omens like the Squid. "Almost rather had I seen Moby Dick and fought him, than to have seen thee, thou white ghost," He dare not look at the Doubloon too closely. "This coin speaks wisely, mildly, truly, but still sadly to me. I will quit it. Truth shake me falsely." And looking down into the Ocean on a beautiful calm day he sees belief and reason, faith and knowledge as contradictory. He keeps to his belief but at the cost of refusing to experience. His faith is insufficient for that.

- Loveliness unfathomable as ever lover saw in his young bride's eye! - Tell me not thou of thy teeth-tiered sharks, and thy kidnapping cannibal ways. Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down and do believe


It is characteristic of Stubb that, of the three of them, he should be the one who is always describing himself to reassure himself.

"I guess he's got what some folks ashore call a conscience, it's a kind of Tic-Dolly-Row they say - worse than a tooth-ache. Well, well, I don't know what it is, but the Lord keep me from catching it. Damn me, it's worth a fellow's while to be born into the world, if only to fall asleep. Damn me, but all things are queer, come to think of 'em. But that's against my principles. Think not, is my eleventh commandment, and sleep when you can is my twelfth.

"A laugh's the wisest easiest answer to all that's queer."

"I know not all that may be coming but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing."

"It's against my religion to get mad."

"I am Stubb and Stubb has his history but here Stubb takes oaths that he has always been jolly."

For the comic always involves standing outside a situation, and so a man who makes a religion of the comic must be humorously self-regarding.

A man may laugh for pleasure or joy. Pleasure or joy are not comic, and the approprate response is song, i.e. the expression of gratitude and praise. If a man lacks the gift of song, then he may laugh as a substitute. The substitute is acceptable because there is no suffering involved, except the comic contradiction of being unable to sing in a situation demanding song and in which laughter is actually ridiculous.

For what is the comic? The comic is a contradiction that does not involve suffering, either directly in the subject or indirectly by sympathetic identification with those involved in the contradiction.

There is, however, a particular religious form of the comic in which suffering is involved, i.e. a man may laugh at suffering on one condition that (1) it is he who suffers, (2) he knows that, ironically, this suffering is really a sign that he is in the truth, that he who suffers is really blest.

But the suffering must be real, i.e. not enjoyed. When Stubb thinks about his wife, he says:

"What's my juicy little pear at home doing now? Crying its eyes out? - Giving a party to the last arrived harpooners, I dare say, gay as a frigate's pennant, and so am I - fa, la!"

It looks at first as if this might be humorous resignation, but the end of the sentence gives him away. He is not suffering at the thought of his wife's infidelity, either because he no longer loves her, or because he is not really imagining a real scene, but a comic French farce in a theatre.

A man who makes a religion out of the comic is unable to face suffering. He is bound to deny it or to look the other way. When Stubb looks at the Doubloon, he abstracts from it the features which can fit into his view of life and ignores the rest.

"There's a sermon now, writ in high heaven, and the sun goes through it every year, and yet comes out of it all alive and hearty."

Stubb, however, is not soulless, i.e. he knows that suffering and mysteries which are not comic exist:

"I wonder whether the world is anchored anywhere, if she swings with an uncommon long cable."

He senses, where Flask does not, the demonic qualities of Fedallah; but his solution is to put him away where he can't be seen:

"Who's afraid of the devil except the old governor who dares not catch him and put him down in double darbies as he deserves."

And he gives himself away in his dream about Ahab, which is a terror dream, but on waking he does not meet this fact but says, "The best thing you can do, Flask, is to let that old man alone; never speak to him, whatever he says."

Starbuck fears God; Stubb fears suffering. Starbuck knows what he fears; Stubb doesn't, which makes him all the more insistent in his defense. As in a characteristic moment of frankness - the frankness itself is a defensive theatre - Stubb confesses to Starbuck: "I am not a brave man; never said I was a brave man; I am a coward; and I sing to keep up my spirits. And I tell you what it is, Mr. Starbuck, there's no way to stop my singing in this world but to cut my throat."

When he does not or cannot sing, he turns away like a child from the frightening world to the comforting breast, i.e. to his pipe, which is never out of his mouth. The sight of the whale's blood is slightly disquieting to him so that he substitutes a pleasant image: "Would now it were old Orleans Whiskey," and his last thought in the moment of death is food. "Oh Flask, for one good red cherry wine ere we die."

In his relations to his neighbor, he substitutes good-fellowship for love. "I never hurt when I hit, except when I hit a whale or something of that sort." His method of talking to his boat crew is one of good-tempered banter: "Pull, pull, my fine hearts - alive; pull, my little ones . . . Pull, then, do pull; never mind the brimstone - devils are good fellows enough."

The difficulty about good-fellowship as a principle of social conduct is that one's must also be a good-fellow, i.e. not a sufferer. Thus Stubb, who prides himself on his kindness, is the one who becomes guilty of destroying an innocent boy's sanity, for he cannot understand Pip's kind of fear, which cannot be laughed off. He does not guess what the consequences of leaving Pip in the water will be, because he has never really looked at him.

The best comment on Stubb is an aphorism of Kafka's:

- You can hold back from the suffering of the world, you have free permission to do so and it is in accorcance with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering that you could have avoided . . .


Flask is the least sympathetic of the three. Stubb, when confronted with mystery and suffering, looks the other way: Flask denies that it exists. Stubb would never laugh at the spectacle of a wrecked boat. Flask does. In addition to others he has the child's shamelessness and lack of dignity. For instance, his conduct in a whale-boat:

"Lay me on - lay me on! O Lord, Lord! but I shall go stark, staring mad: See! see that white water!" And so shouting, he pulled his hat from his head, and stamped up and down on it; then picking it up, flirted it far off upon the sea; and finally fell to rearing and plunging in the boat's stern like a crazed colt from the prairie.

He is also the only one whom Peleg warns against fornication.

Towards animals he is cruel like a child.

"A nice spot, Just let me prick him there once."

Towards the mysterious, however, instead of a child's reverence, he has developed the underdog's Philistinism; he trivializes everything. The whale is only a magnified water-rat; the doubloon is only a round thing made of gold worth sixteen dollars or nine hundred and sixty cigars.

His reaction to imminent death is equally characteristic. Starbuck says, "May God stand by me now"; Stugg thinks of food; Flask thinks of his mother and money: "I hope my poor mother has drawn my part-pay ere this; if not, few coppers will now come to her for the voyage."

The Carpenter and the Blacksmith

Something has been said about these two in the first chapter, and there is not much to add here. If the harpooners have not started on Ishmael's voyage, and if the mates have started and tried to escape, for these all voyages are over. They are not children, nor childish, but senile. What catastrophe happened we do not know, for though we know that Perth's life went smash through drink, we do not know what made him a drunkard. Whatever the cause, though, they have lost themselves, and only exist in the tasks they are given to do. While Queequeg and Co. are potential selves, not consciously actual,m the Carpenter and the Blacksmith have lost their actual selves, and there are no potentialities left. They are simple passively waiting for physical death to be superimposed on the spiritual death which has already taken place.


Pip is more significant, as his despair is dialectically related to Ahab's. Between them they represent the two opposite kinds of despair which Kierkegaard defines as:

The despair of weakness i.e. The despair of willing despairingly not to be oneself.
The despair of defiance i.e. The despair of willing despairingly to be oneself.

Pip is a slave, i.e. the one who has no authority, aesthetic, ethical or religious. He should never have been taken on this voyage at all, and he is innocent, for he never wanted to, knowing that he lacks the qualitites required:

"Have mercy on this small Black boy down here. Preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear."

His proper place is in a fairy story where fairy godmothers and animals assist him against all probability to vanquish the giant (who kills himself by mistake) and marry the Princess. But it has not been so. Papageno has been made to go through the ordeal and it has destroyed him.

He is bound to Ahab because they have both suffered a catastrophe. Ahab through his own deliberate original attack on the whale, Pip through the thoughtless action of the decent fellow Stubb. But Ahab is the exception, for whom exceptional situations are made; Pip is not. Ahab, knowing that he is the exception, is outraged by a catastrophe he was not powerful enough to command; Pip is outraged by not being up to the command of the situation. Thus Ahab's madness is directed against the whale; Pip's is directed against himself. "Seek not Pip who's now been missing long. If ye find Pip, tell all the Antilles he's a runaway; a coward, a coward, a coward. Tell them he jumped from a whaleboat. I'd never beat my tambourine over Pip, and hail him general." Having lost himself, he can only exist through the self of another, and where should he find that but in Ahab, the defiant self, so that he cannot bear to be out of sight, and he only exists in obeying him.

- Here he this instant stood; I stand in his air, - but I'm alone. Now were even Pip here I could not endure it, but he's missing . . . let's try the door. What? neither lock, not bolt, not bar; and yet there's no opening it. It must be the spell; he told me to stay here . . . Hist! above there. I hear ivory - Oh, master! master! I am indeed down-hearted when ou walk over me. But here I'll stay, t hough this stern strikes rocks; and they bulge through; and oysters come to join me.


Kierkegaard defines despair as follows:

- with hatred for existence it will to be itself, to be itself in terms of its misery; it does not even in defiance or defiantly will to be itself; but to be itself in spite . . . Whereas the weak despairer will not hear about what comfort eternity has for him, so neither will such a despairer hear about it, but for a different, namely, because this comfort would be the destruction of him as an objection against the whole of existence. It is (to describe it figuratively) as if an author were to make a slip of the pen, and that clerical error became conscious of being such - perhaps it was no error but in a far higher sense was an essential constiuent in the whole exposition - it is then as if this clerical error would revolt against the author, out of hatred for him were to forbid him to correct it, and were to say, "No, I will not be erased, I will stand as a witness against thee, that thou are a very poor writer."
(Sickness unto Death)

Of this despair, Ahab is a representation, perhaps the greatest in literature.

Before he was born there were prophecies of some extraordinary destiny, which it caused his mother to name him Ahab, after the son of Omri, of whom it is written in the book of Kings that he "did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him," that reared up an altar for Baal, that he made a grove, and constructed an ivory house.

He himself declares that the prophecy was that he should be dismembered. Now a prophecy is either true or false, and in either case the only thing to do is to ignore it. If it is true, then it will happen and must be accepted when it occurs, and it is defiance either to try to make it happen or to try to avoid it. If it is false, it will not happen, and if one makes it happen one in not really fulfilling a prophecy at all but doing what one has chosen to do.

As a symbol of his uniqueness, he is distinguished from the rest of mankind by a scar. About this there is a mystery. An Indian relative of Tashtego's says that Ahab was forty before he received it; the old Manx sailor, on the other hand, declares that Ahab was born with it. Ahab himself makes a mysterious statement during the thunderstorm:

"Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship, til in the sacramental act so burned by thee, that to this hour I bear the scar."

Whether he was born marked, whether he received it by chance, or in some mysterious blasphemous rite is left vague. All we know for certain is that before his encounter with Moby Dick he was an exceptional man, an aesthetic hero.

So he encounters Moby Dick and loses a leg. That this is a castration symbol is emphasized by the story of how shortly before the present voyage he was found insensible in the street "by some unknown and seemingly inexplicable, unimaginable casualty, his ivory limb having been so violently displaced that it had stake-wise smitten, and all but pierced his groin." (Ahab's rival as a idolater of Moby Dick, Gabriel, worships the whale as the incarnation of the Shaker God, for whom the primal sin is sexual intercourse.) It is possible to attach too much importance to this as also to the sexual symbolism of the Whale as being at once the vagina dentata and the Beast with two backs or the parents-in-bed. The point is that the sexual symbolism is in its turn symbolic of the aesthetic, i.e. the Oedipus fantasy is a representation in aesthetic terms of the fantasy of being a self-originating god, i.e. of the ego (Father) begetting itself on the self (Mother), and castration is the ultimate symbol of aesthetic weakness, of not being an aesthetic hero.

Ahab, then, the exceptional hero, suffers a tragic fall in the Greek sense, he is reduced to being lower than the average. In a Greek story this would be a punishment by the gods for hybris, and would come at the end of the book. Here, however, it comes before the book starts, so we must take it differently. How should Ahab react? Repent of his past pride? Perhaps, but the important thing is the future. What is the catastrophe telling him to become? Here again we can only answer negatively and say, "At least, not to go on whaling." One might hazard a guess and say, "To will to become nobody in particular in an aesthetic sense," i.e. to be a happy husband and father, to enter the cloister, the actual symbol does not concern us; the decisive difference is between the kind of individuality which is being what others are not, and that defined as "becoming what one wills or God wills for one."

Ahab does turn into such an individual but in a negative sense. He neither says, "I am juistly punished" if he has been guilty not "Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him" but "Thou art guilty and shall be punished." His nature of self-certainty does not wish to go rushing off in his aged maimed state round the world chasing a whale. It wants, as he himself admits, peace, family and, above all, happiness. It is as if, knowing that this is also what God wills him to become, he, his ego, defiantly wills to be always at every moment miserable. His extra wounding of himself, mentioned above, may well have been, at least unconsciously, not an accident, but a goading of himself to remember his vow. It is interesting to note the occasion during the voyage when he breaks his leg, jumping off the Enderby, whose captain has also lost an arm to Moby Dick without despairing and whose doctor ascribes Moby Dick's apparent malice to clumsiness. The example of sanity with authority is too much for Ahab, and he must again goad himself to his resolution.

So in his defiance he takes his vow: "I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now then, be this great prophet and the fulfiller one. That more than ye, ye great gods, ever were."

The defiant man and the obedient man use the same words "It is not I but Fate," but their meaning is opposite.

- The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run . . . The whole act's immutably decreed. I am the Fates' Lieutenant. I act under orders.

So too, as we follow him on his unnecessary voyage, unnecessary because he has been on it before and nothing new, as he well knows, can happen to him, only, possibly, to the whale, we watch him enact every ritual of the dedicated Don Quixote life of the Religious Hero, only for negative reasons.

His first act is to throw away his pipe, an act of ascetic renunciation. But what should be done, so as not to be distracted from the task set one by God, is done to prevent distraction from a task set by himself.

Next he sets up the Doubloon which is to be a prize for whoever sights Moby Dick first. The motive is simple enough - to inspire the crew in terms of their interests to work for his - actually, however, Ahab hasn't the slightest intention of letting anyone but himself be the first. At the same time he makes the harpooners swear an oath to pursue Moby Dick to the death.

Now an oath is an individual's commitment of his individual future. It is an aesthetic form of the ethical, for if later its fulfillment should turn out to involve violating ethics, the one who took the oath cannot release himself, which can only be done by the individual or his representatives before whom the oath was made. It if right therefore to take an oath about a certain direction of the will, e.g. to vow at the altar that one will love one's wife till death. It would be all wrong to take an oath about a particular future act, e.g. that one will give one's wife a pound of candy every week, for the act which at this moment is an expression of one's love may not be tomorrow, she may get diabetes.

When it comes to persuading another to take an oath, not only must there be no coercion, the other must be completely free to refuse, but also he must understand exactly what is going on; he must have the right motive. Ahab violates these conditions both for himself and for the harpooners. He exercises his authority as captain, he weakens their will with drink, and they nave no motives for taking the oath at all, not could they understand his will if he told them.

Later he goes further and baptizes his harpoon itself. This is a perversion of the Knight Errant's act of dedicating his arms, so that he shall remember not to dishonor them. Ahab's act, however, is a pure act of black magic, an attempt to compel objects to do his will.

Three other acts are worth mention. He throws away the ship's quadrant with the words: "Science! Curse thee, thou vain toy; and cursed be all the things that cast man's eyes aloft to the heavens. . . . Level by nature to this earth's horizon are the glances of men's eyes; not shot from the crown of his head, as if God had meant him to gaze on his firmament." This is the defiant inversion in pride of the humility which resists the pride of reason, the theologian's temptation to think that knowledge of God is more important than obeying Him.

Next he places the child Pip in his place in the captain's cabin and takes the humble position of the lookout, an inversion of "He who would be greatest among you, let him be the least."

Lastly, in refusing the call for help of his neighbor, the captain of the Rachel, whom he has known in Nantucket and who asks him to help look for his young son, counterfeits the text:

- If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

His whole life, in fact, is one of taking up defiantly a cross he is not required to take up. Consequently, the normal reactions to pleasure and pain are reversed for him. Painful situations like the typhoon he welcomes, pleasant and happy ones like the calm day he regards as temptations. This is a counterfeit version of the saints' acceptance of suffering and distrust of pleasure. The aesthetic hero reacts normally, in that it is pleasure that tempts him to do wrong, and if he is doing wrong, suffering will dissuade him. Thus the hero of The Voyage of the Maeldune, who is also bent on vengeance but not for himself but for his father, is brought to his senses by suffering, i.e. by the disasters that happen to his men on each of the islands they come to. The Religious Hero, however, is related in exactly the opposite way, and if his god be his own defiant will, it is pain that tempts him further, and pleasure that could save him.

In the same way Queequeg is a saint, but he is not the Christ incarnate, the second Adam, for, though he goes down with the rest of the crew, he does not suffer uniquely as an individual. For Melville's treatment of the Religious Hero and the Devil or the negative Religious Hero in their absolute form, we must now turn to his last work, Billy Budd.

Billy Budd

If, when we finish reading Billy Budd, we are left with questions which we feel have been raised but not answered, if so to speak the equation has not come out to a finite number, as in a work of art it should, this is not due to any lack of talent on Melville's part, but to the insolubility of the religious paradox in aesthetic terms.

For any writer who attempts a protrait of the Christ-like is faced with the following problems. His central figure

(a) must be innocent of sin, yet a man like us in all things tempted as we are. If he is given any aesthetic advantages, he at once ceases to be the God-Man and becomes the Man-God, the Aesthetic Hero, Hercules, who must be admired, but cannot be imitated. His sinlessness must be the result of faith, not of fortune.

(b) He must be shown as failing in a worldly sense, i.e. as coming into collision with the law of this world, otherwise there is no proof that his sinlessness is due, not to faith, but to mere world prudence.

(c) Failure and suffering, however, are in themselves no proo of faith, because the collision with the law may equally well be the result of pride and sin. The crucified Christ is flanked by two crucified thieves.

(d) The suffering must at one and the same time be willed and not-willed. If it seems entirely against the will of the sufferer, he becomes pathetic, if it seems entirely brought about by his own actions, he becomes tragic, and it is impossible to distinguish between pride and faith as the cause of his suffering.

We have seen how Cervantes tackled these problems. His ironically comic approach solved all the problems, I think, except the last one. As long as Don Quixote is mad, the suffering is not quite real, but if he becomes sane and still resists he becomes tragically proud.

Melville, on the other hand, solves this problem. The Passion of Billy Budd is convincing, but fails in respects where Cervantes succeeds, and the ways in which he fails are interesting for the light they throw on the romantic conception of life. Like many other romantics Melville seems to hold:

(1) That innocence and sinlessness are identical, or rather perhaps that only those who are innocent, i.e. those who have never known the law, can be sinless. Once a man becomes conscious, he becomes a sinner. As long as he is not conscious of guilt, what he does is not sin. This is to push St. Paul's remark "Except I had known the Law, I had not known sin" still further to mean that "Except I had known sin, I would not have sinned." (In the Barrister's dream in The Hunting of the Snark the pig is charged with deserting its sty, i.e. the crime is not the eating of the tree but the expulsion from Eden. The Snark who is officially the counsel for the defence is also the accusor-judge and the sentence is repetition of the offence, "Transportation for life.") Thus when Billy Budd first appears he is the Prelapsarian Adam:

- Billy Budd in many respects was little more than a sort of upright barbarian, musch such perhaps as Adam presumably might have been ere the urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company.

He may have done things which in a conscious person would be sin - there appears to have been a certain Bristol Molly - but he feels no guilt.

(2) That the unconscious and innocent are marked by great physical beauty, and therefore that the beautiful are sinless. This is true for Billy Budd as is was for Bulkington and Queequeg.

If the story were to be simply the story of the Fall, i.e. the story of how the Devil (Claggart) tempted Adam (Budd) into the knowledge of good and evil, this would not matter, but Melville wants Budd also to be the Second Adam, the sinless victim who suffers voluntarily for the sins of the whole world. But in order to be that he must know what sin is, or else his suffering is not redemptive, but only one more sin on our part. Further, as long as Billy Budd is only the Prelapsarian Adam, our nostalgic image of what we would still be if we had not fallen, his beauty is a perfectly adequate symbol but the moment he becomes the Second Adam, the saving example whom we all should follow, this beauty becomes an illegitimate advantage. The flaw of the stammer will not quite do, for this is only an aesthetic weakness, not a deliberate abandonment of advantages. It succeeds in making Billy Budd the innocent who "as a sheep before the shearer is dumb so openeth he not his mouth," but it makes his dumbness against his will not with it. We can never look like that, any more than, once we have become conscious, we can go back to unconsciousness, so how can we imitate his example? He becomes an aesthetic hero to admire from a distance. Melville seems to have been aware that something must happen to Billy to change him from the unconscious Adam into the conscious Christ but, in terms of his fable, he cannot make this explicit and the decisive transition has to take place off-stage in the final interview between Billy and Captain Vere.


Similar insoluble paradoxes are raised by the demonic, the religious passion in reverse. For the demonic must be moved solely by pride, just as the religious must be moved solely by faith and love. Absolute pride cannot be manifested aesthetically because it tolerates no weakness except itself which thinks of itself as absolute strength.

Absolute pride denies that the six other deadly sins are its children and despises them as weakness, being incapable of seeing that it is the source of all weakness. The Devil therefore, cannot himself be lustful, gluttonous, avaricious, envious, slothful, or angry, for his pride will not allow him to be anything less than proud. He can only pretend in disguise to be any of these without actually feeling them; he can only "act" them. His acts must appear to be arbitrary and quite motiveless. No accurate aesthetic portrayal, therefore, is possible; Iago has to be given some motive, yet if the motive is convincing, he ceases to be demonic.

So with Claggart. Just as the bias in Melville's treatment of Billy Budd is a tendency to identify consciousness and sin, so he makes Claggart identify innocence with love; "To be nothing more than innocent," he sneers on seeing Billy Budd. This is no doubt what the serpent says to Adam, but it is not what he says to himself, which is rather, "To be nothing more than loving." For the difference between God and the Devil is not that God does not know the meaning of good and evil and that the Devil does, but that God loves and the Devil will not love. That is why the motive for Claggart's behavior, half-stated only to be withdrawn because no motive will really do, is homosexual desire.

In Moby Dick, where Ahab's pride revolts against lack of absolute strength, against being finite and dependent, the sexual symbolism centers round incest and the Oedipus situation, because incest is the magic act of self-derivation, self-autonomy, with the annihilation of all rival power.

In Billy Budd, the opposition is not strength/weakness, but innocence/guilt-consciousness, i.e. Claggart wishes to annihilate the difference either by becoming innocent himself or by acquiring an accomplice in guilt. If this is expressed sexually, the magic act must necessarily be homosexual, for the wish is for identity in innocence or in guilt, and identity demands the same sex

Claggart, as the Devil, cannot of course, admit a sexual desire, for that would be an admission of loneliness which pride cannot admit. Either he must corrupt innocence through an underling or if that is not possible he must annihilate it, which he does.

The Artist as Don Quixote

To understand the Romantic identification of sin with consciousness, we must take it together with two other romantic characteristics, the romantic image of the hero as mariner, an explorer of novelty, and the romantic contempt for the bourgeois and respectable, the churl who lives by conventional custom and habit. Is not this nostalgia for innocence precisely the characteristic of the man whose dedicated career is the exploration of the hitherto unknown and unconscious, who is by the very nature of his voyage traveling farther and farther away from unconsciousness; and would not the same man despise mos those who have started, cannot go back, yet dare not go forward?

In earlier ages it was the business of the artist to record the great acts and thoughts of others. Hector and Achilles are the heroes; Homer records them. Later the hero might be Truth, and the poet's business to set down what has oft been thought but ne'er so well expressed. The contribution of the poet, that is, was his gift for language.

The characteristic of the Romantic period is that the artist, the maker himself, becomes the epic hero, the daring thinker, whose deeds he has to record. Between about 1770 and 1914 the great heroic figures are not men of action but individual geniuses, both artists and, of course, scientists (but they are not our province) with a religious dedication to furthering knowledge and the kind of knowledge the artist could obtain was chiefly from himself. Characteristically, the subtitle of Wordsworth's epic poem is "The Growth of the Poet's Mind." Faust, Don Juan, Captain Ahab are not really the heroes of their respective books, but the imaginative projections of their creators, i.e., what they do is not really done as a man of action acts for the sake of the act, but in order to know what it feels like to act. Ahab is, so to speak, what if feels like to be Ishmael the recorder. The artist who has thus to be at once the subject of his experiment and the recorder enjoys excitement and suffers terrors hardly known before. He ceases to have an identity ad becomes like the Baker, who cannot remember his name and no longer bakes but hunts. He used to bake bridecake, i.e., his recording of glorious deeds and thoughts strengthened the bonds of community. Now he is a nomad explorer, whose one virtue is his courage that can

"joke with hyenas returning their stare
With an impudent wag of the head."

Further, to become so dedicated to a lonely task, done not for the public but for the sake of truth, mere talent is insufficient. The romantic artist is a poète maudit, i.e., an individual marked out by some catastrophe like Ahab's which supplies the driving passion to go ever forward, to the limits of exhaustion.

Nothing was not to be known, nothing: hysteria, debauchery, disorder, grief, nor despair.

What Rimbaud said of himself in Une Saison in Enfer before bidding good-bye to art is true, more or less, of them all:

I became an adept at simple hallucination: in place of a factory I really saw a mosque, a school of drummers composed of angels, carriages on the highways of the sky, a drawing-room at the bottom of a lake; monsters, mysteries; the title of a melodrama would raise horrors before me.

Then I would explain my magic sophisms with the hallucination or words!

Finally I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind. I was idle, full of a sluggish fever: I envied the felicity of beasts, caterpillars that represent the innocence of limbo, moles, the sleep of virginity!

Small wonder then if their capacity for experience was burned out quite early, like Wordsworth's, or if the ability to express vanished in a welter of feelings, like Coleridge's, or if the man himself suffered from spleen, like Baudelaire. More remarkable is the realisation by some of them that the artist is not, as he had thought, Don Quixote, the Religious Hero, but only Ishmael, the explorer of possibility, for whom the Button-Moulder and the Boojum are waiting on the next cross-roads where they will be asked to prove whether or no they have become their actual selves.

Thus Melville:

Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings; but whereto does all that circumnavigation lead? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started where those that we left behind secure were all the time before us.

Thus Rimbaud:

I! Who called myself magus or angel, dispensed with all morality. I am cast back to the soil, with a duty to seek, and enough actuality to grasp! Peasant! - I will ask pardon for having nourished myself on lies. And now, let us go.

We live in a new age in which the artist neither can have such a unique heroic importance nor believes in the Art-God enough to desire it, an age, for instance, when the necessity of dogma is once more recognised, not as the contradiction of reason and feeling but as their ground and foundation, in which the heroic image is not the nomad wanderer through the desert or over the ocean, but the less exciting figure of the builder, who renews the ruined walls of the city. Our temptations are not theirs. We are less likely to be tempted by solitude into Promethean pride: we are far more likely to become cowards in the face of the tyrant who would compel us to lie in the service of the False City. It is not madness we need to flee but prostitution. Let us, reading the logs of their fatal but heroic voyages, remember their courage.

Melville once wrote a Requiem for soldiers lost in ocean transports, which seems to me no less fitting a requiem for him and his brothers in France, England and America.

All creatures joying in the morn,
Save them forever from joyance torn,
Whose bark was lost where now the dolphins play;
Save them that by the fabled shore,
Down the pale stream are washed away,
Far to the reef of bones are borne;
And never revisits them the light,
Nor sight of long-sought land and pilot more;
Nor heed they now the lone bird's flight
Round the lone spar where mid-sea surges pour.


From "Adagia" - Wallace Stevens

* * *

To give a sense of the freshness or vividness of life is a valid purpose for poetry. A didactic purpose justifies itself in the mind of the teacher; a philosophical purpose justifies itself in the mind of the philosopher. It is not that one purpose is as justifiable as another but that some purposes are pure, others impure. Seek those purposes that are purely the purposes of the pure poet.

* * *

Literature is the better part of life. To this it seems invariably necessary to add, provided life is the better part of literature.

* * *

After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life's redemption.

Art, broadly, is the form of life or the sound or color of life. Considered as form (in the abstract) it is often indistinguishable from life itself.

The poet seems to confer his identity on the reader. It is easier to recognize this when listening to music - I mean this sort of thing: the transference.

Accuracy of observation is the equivalent of accuracy of thinking.

* * *

The collecting of poetry from one's experience as one goes along is not the same thing as merely writing poetry.

The relation of art to life is of the first importance especially in a skeptical age since, in the absence of a belief in God, the mind turns to its own creations and examines them, not alone from the aesthetic point of view, but for what they reveal, for what they validate and invalidate, for the support that they give.

A grandiose subject is not an assurance of a grandiose effect but, most likely, of the opposite.

Art involves vastly more than the sense of beauty.

Life is the reflection of literature.

As life grows more terrible, its literature grows more terrible.

* * *

The imagination wishes to be indulged.

A new meaning is the equivalent of a new word.

Poetry is not personal.

* * *

A dead romantic is a falsification.

The romantic cannot be seen through: it is for the moment willingly not seen through.

Poetry is a means of redemption.

Poetry is a form of melancholia. Or rather, in melancholy, it is one of the "aultres choses soalatieuses."

* * *

The real is only the base, but it is the base.

* * *

The poem reveals itself only to the ignorant man.

* * *

The relation between the poetry of experience and the poetry of rhetoric is not the same thing as the relation between the poetry of reality and that of the imagination. Experience, at least in the case of a poet of any scope, is much broader than reality.

To a large extent, the problem of poets are the problems of painters, and poets must often turn to the literature of painting for a discussion of their own problems.

* * *

Abstraction is a part of idealism. It is in that sense that it is ugly.

In poetry at least the imagination must not detach itself from reality.

Not all objects are equal. The vice of imagism was that it did not recognize this.

* * *

All poetry is experimental poetry.

The bare image and the image as a symbol are the contrast: the image without meaning and the image as meaning. When the image is used to suggest something else, it is secondary. Poetry as an imaginative thing consists of more than lies on the surface.

* * *

In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all.

* * *

It is the belief and not the god that counts.

* * *

What we see in the mind is as real to us as what we see by the eye.

Poetry must be irrational.

The purpose of poetry is to make life complete in itself.

Poetry increases the feeling for reality.

The mind is nothing in life except what one thinks of it.

There is nothing in life except what one thinks of it.

There is nothing beautiful in life except life.

There is no wing like meaning.

1.) That the whole world is material for poetry.
2.) That there is not a specifically poetic material.

One reads poetry with one's nerves.

* * *

Sentimentality is a failure of feeling.

The imagination is the romantic.

Poetry is not the same thing as the imagination taken alone. Nothing is itself taken alone. Things are because of interrelations or interactions.

* * *

The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe it willingly.

* * *

Wine and music are not good until afternoon. But poetry is like prayer in that it is most effective in solitude and in the times of solitude as, for example, in the earliest morning.

* * *

Poetry is a poetic conception, however expressed. A poem is poetry expressed in words. But in a poem there is a poetry of words. Obviously, a poem may consist of several poetries.

* * *

Ethics are no more a part of poetry than they are of painting.

* * *

As the reason destroys, the poet must create.

* * *

It is not every day that the world arranges itself in a poem.

* * *

The aesthetic order includes all other orders but is not limited to them.

Religion is dependent on faith. But aesthetics is independent of faith. The relative positions of the two might be reversed. It is possible to establish aesthetics in the individual mind as immeasurably a greater thing than religion. Its present state is the result of the difficulty of establishing it except in the individual mind.

* * *

Poetry is a purging of the world's poverty and change and evil and death. It is a present perfecting, a satisfaction in the irremediable poverty of life.

Poetry is the scholar's art.

* * *

To study and to understand the fictive world is the function of the poet.

* * *

God is a symbol for something that can as well take other forms, as, for example, the form of high poetry.

The time will come when poems like Paradise will seem very triste contraptions.

* * *

Reality is a vacuum.

All men are murderers.

The word must be the thing it represents; otherwise, it is a symbol. It is a question of identity.

* * *

In dramatic poetry the imagination attaches itself to a heightened reality.

* * *

There must be something of the peasant in every poet.

* * *

The poet is the priest of the invisible.

* * *

Metaphor creates a new reality from which the original appears to be unreal.

* * *

Romanticism is to poetry what the decorative is to painting.

* * *

A poem is a cafe. (Restoration.)

Poets acquire humility.

Thought tends to collect in pools.

* * *

Life is not free from its forms.

* * *

We have made too much of life. A journal of life is rarely a journal of happiness.

* * *

Poetry sometimes crowns the search for happiness. It is itself a search for happiness.

* * *

Esthetique is the measure of a civilization; not the sole measure, but a measure.

Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully.

The romantic exists in precision as well as in imprecision.

* * *

A change of style is a change of subject.

* * *

The romantic is the first phase of (a non-pejorative) lunacy.

* * *

The poet is a god, or, the young poet is a god. The old poet is a tramp.

* * *

I have no life except in poetry. No doubt that would be true if my whole life was free for poetry.

* * *

Nothing could be more inappropriate to American literature than its English source since the Americans are not British in sensibility.

* * *

French and English constitute a single language.

* * *

The momentum of the mind is all toward abstraction.

* * *

In the long run the truth does not matter.