A tribute to Herman Melville (1819-1891)
It was the mid watch. A vigil throughout the night when all is quiet and life appears suspended.
It was cold. It was biting cold. A piercing, bone chilling, penetrating cold . A still, airless, blood chilling, body stiffening cold, showing no remorse.
It was my watch .I was the helmsman. Clad in a heavy reefer jacket and all the warm clothing I could muster I was lashed to the tiller trying to ignore cold and think warm.
Our course was due north to the hunting grounds of the Sperm Whale, the Nurse Whale and that killer of the deep, the Great Whale. Hopefully to find that great white whale, the object of our quest. Moby Dick.
The night was still and silent, apart from the gentle, lapping of the icy ocean against the boat and the creaking and straining of the ropes and halyards as the ship was keeling, cleaving its way through the foam, silently, smoothly, steadily, coursing towards the far horizon.
In the forecastle the work weary sailors swung gently from side to side in their hammocks,` locked in the arms of Morpheus and dreaming of!. Who knows what? Perhaps they were dreaming of their wives. Perhaps dreaming of some others wife? Perhaps they were embarked on past or future adventures, conquests or triumphs. Mayhap, having supped unwisely, their night was full of unspeakable horrors. Be what may, In the forecastle all was peaceful and serene.
In the cabins the officers too would be sleeping. One man only, Captain Ahab might still be wakeful, sitting, pouring over his charts and logs, plotting a further course on his relentless sweep of the ocean in search of his leviathan.
It was dark. It was black dark. The silvery moon and the constellation of jewelled stars obliterated by a huge black raven, wings outspread filling the night sky. It was the blackness of nothingness, the blackness of non-existence.
It was dark. It was the blackness of the chimney sweep and of his lad sweeping down black soot in the darkness of the chimney breast.
It was dark. It was the blackness of the cellar and the coal in the cellar. Of the dungeon or the oubliette, where the benighted prisoner lay, tortured and alone, fearfully awaiting his fate in total darkness.
It was dark, a funereal blackness, evoking widow’s weeds and undertakers top hats. black horses with black plumes, black drapery and finally the blackness when the coffin lid closes and the earth is shovelled back into the grave.
It was black. Pitch black,. black as tar, Black as sin. Black as hell.
Black was the night. The minutes crept with leaden feet around the clock face as hour gave way to hour and finally a gradually lightening, a hint of yellow and the welcome arrival of a new day and a breath-taking golden sunrise.
Praise be to God.