Excerpt of the week: Moby Dick

My all-time favorite book, dating back to the fifth grade, when I read it clandestinely in class, held under my desk. Probably explains the perennial overuse of semicolons in my writing as well. Moby Dick even appears in one of my short stories, “Airlock,” (to be published later this month, stay tuned for more details) as a prop.

whale bw


Moby Dick

Herman Melville

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely–having

little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on

shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of

the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating

the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;

whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find

myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up

the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get

such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to

prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically

knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea

as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a

philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly

take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew

it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very

nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.


There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by

wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs–commerce surrounds it with

her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme

downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and

cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land.

Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.


Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears

Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What

do you see?–Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand

thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some

leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some

looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the

rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these

are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster–tied to

counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are

the green fields gone? What do they here?


But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and

seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the

extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder

warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water

as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand–miles of

them–leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets

and avenues–north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite.

Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all

those ships attract them thither?


CR Hodges

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