Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet
by Tony Hoagland
Lines 40-47 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Better to be on board the Pequod,
with a mad one-legged captain
living for revenge.
- Our speaker thinks it would be better to be out on the whaling ship from his book, the Pequod, than stuck in this airplane-corridor sort of life.
- He definitely likes the idea of joining the whalers from this famous American novel.
- This is a pretty bold claim. Normally learning about a crazed captain (that would be Ahab) is not something that makes people want to be on a boat.
- Plus, the Pequod—Moby-Dick spoiler alert—is not the safest place to be, and things end poorly for just about everyone on board. But still, our speaker thinks it's better than being on an airplane. Now that's saying something.
Better to feel the salt wind
spitting in your face,
- Our speaker would rather feel the ocean spray on his face, and that's definitely a sentiment we can get behind.
- Wind and moisture are exactly the sort of things that you don't feel in a passenger plane. It's a lot more re-circulated air in an environment like that.
- The idea of feeling the ocean spray, even if it is spitting at you, provides a rather opposite experience from what we saw in the beginning of the poem—the distance from the world, the detachment from feeling.
- So contact between man and nature seems to be a part of the appeal of the violent whaling life for our speaker.
to hold your sharpened weapon high,
to see the glisten
of the beast beneath the waves.
- Our speaker goes on explaining what would be better than living his passive airplane life: holding up a harpoon and spotting the whale down beneath the waves.
- Now here's a real sense of action and activity. And there's definitely not a sense of distance in this scene. That whale is way too close for comfort.
- The point here is that our speaker would much rather be acting all manly, facing down danger in a whaling boat than trapped on an airplane ogling the stewardess. To which we say, fair enough, dear speaker. Fair enough.