Albert Pinkham Ryder, Moonlight, 1917; oil on mahogany panel, 15 7/8 x 17 3/4 in.
I have been reading that monumental work of American literature, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. It is remarkable, full of humor and pathos, information and elegiac prose. Melville can wax eloquent on the mundane aspects of whaling such as the rope used with the harpoon––"All men live enveloped in whale-lines." He brings a deep yearning to unimaginable sights, such a vast herd of Sperm whales, whose calm center brings forth this beautiful language and mood:
....amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still forever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.In writing of entering the Pacific ocean, Melville's prose rises and falls, swells and rolls in rhythms of ocean waves:
And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures,wide-rolling watery prairies and Potter's Fields of all four continents, the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness.Yet amid all this glorious writing, there is one sentence that I keep going back to, that encapsulates for me the condition of our human species:
Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe.