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23. The Lee Shore
Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, newlanded mariner,
encountered in New Bedford at the inn.
When on that shivering winter's night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the
cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked
with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from
a four years' dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another
tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are
ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the
stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-
tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give
succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm
blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is
that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but
graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she
crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would blow
her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again; for refuge's sake forlornly
rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!
Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth;
that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open
independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast
her on the treacherous, slavish shore?
But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God--so,
better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee,
even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land!
Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington!
Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing--straight up, leaps
thy apotheosis!