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Reading <em>Moby-Dick</em> at 30,000 Feet

Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet

by Tony Hoagland

Lines 31-39 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 31-33

Imagine being born and growing up,
rushing through the world for sixty years
at unimaginable speeds.

  • Our speaker asks that we picture rushing through the world for sixty years at high speeds.
  • Remember that word "journey" that we pointed out earlier (and you probably rolled your eyes)? Call us crazy, but we think that might have been a sort of subtle setup for this idea—the idea of a plane flight as an allegory for a life.
  • "Unimaginable speeds" certainly makes us think of an airplane, going hundreds of miles an hour.
  • The airplane flight might be representative of the modern way of life, in which we're all rushing around from place to place, often not connecting with the world around us.
  • Is our speaker addressing us? Notice he doesn't say "I imagine being born […]" It's like he's commanding us, or suggesting something to us.
  • It kind of blends in, probably because our speaker has been so conversational in his speech that we already felt as though we were there with him. But it's a bit of a shift for him to suddenly address us more directly.

Lines 34-35

Imagine a century like a room so large,
a corridor so long

  • Our speaker asks that we imagine a century (a lifetime?) as a big room, or a long corridor.
  • Yup, it sounds like an airplane. After all, what is an airplane but a really long, skinny room? 
  • This image, combined with the boredom and inaction of earlier lines in the poem, suggests to us that our speaker might be trying to point out something like this:
  • Despite the fact that we're soaring through our lives at supersonic speeds, with our cars and our planes, we're actually kind of stuck in this one room (way of life) and are not actually doing much of anything.

Lines 36-37

you could travel for a lifetime
and never find the door,

  • Our speaker wants us to imagine that a century is a room so long you could move around in it your whole life and still never find the door.
  • There's that "you" that was implied before. We're so flattered that he's talking to Shmoop.
  • Is our speaker afraid of being stuck in this airplane forever? Well, we think it's more that he's concerned about being stuck in the sort of life that is represented by the airplane flight. A distant, bored, distracted, unfulfilled life that's out of touch with the natural world.

Lines 38-39

until you had forgotten
that such a thing as doors exist.

  • The worst part isn't even not finding the door—it's becoming so complacent in this corridor living that we forget there's a door in the first place. 
  • A door would be a way out, to a different sort of life, right? So it seems like a big problem for our speaker that we might lose sight of that door. 
  • This a scary idea: that we can forget there are other ways of living, ways that maybe aren't as out of touch with the world, ways that are active and fulfilling.
  • He definitely doesn't seem to think that 747s or movies or Muzak have the potential to actually fulfill us.
  • At least, they're not interesting enough to hold his attention.

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