Sunday, March 1, 2020

Apostrophe to a Whale

From the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette (Devises, Wiltshire, England) October 30, 1851; found at The British Newspaper Archive <>.

Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette - October 30, 1851

— The following apostrophe, addressed by the whaling Captain to the head of a captured whale lashed to his ship's side, is from a publication entitled The Whale, by Herman Melville:—
"Speak, thou vast and venerable head," muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world's foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor's side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw'st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw'st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed—while swift lightnings shivered the neighbouring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms!"
Quoted from "The Sphinx" in the First British edition of The Whale (Volume 2, Chapter 28), this passage omits the blasphemous last sentence of Ahab's soliloquy which appears only in the American edition of Moby-Dick:
O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!"  --Chapter 70: The Sphynx
As explained by Merriam-Webster, apostrophe as a literary device means "a speech or address to a person who is not present or to a personified object, such as Yorick's skull in Hamlet." And Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away.

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