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

Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet

by Tony Hoagland

Lines 48-52 Summary

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

Lines 48-50

What a relief it would be
to hear someone in the crew
cry out like a gull,

  • Our speaker thinks it would be great to hear a fellow crewmember cry out… (we'll get to what in the next line).
  • Saying that being on a whaling boat would be better than watching an in-flight movie on an airplane is probably already an unconventional stand to take. But to call it a "relief" is really weird.
  • It's almost like a reversal. Normally we think of relief as what you might get when you come in to shore: relief from danger, from the constant pitching of the boat, from the bad food. 
  • But, in this case, our speaker thinks going from a place of safety and calm (the airplane) to one of action and danger would be a relief. Well, relief from what?
  • We're guessing it's a relief from boredom and from an overwhelming feeling of passivity and purposelessness.

Lines 51-52

Oh Captain, Captain!
Where are we going now?

  • Our speaker imagines a crewman calling out to the Captain to ask where they're headed next.
  • So it seems that our speaker likes the idea of not having his course be so predetermined.
  • Maybe he'd rather not know that he's flying from Seattle to New York, and that he'll arrive at about 8:31PM, and that his flight will feature drink service, an in-flight movie, and finally a second drink service approximately 45 minutes prior to landing. 
  • And it doesn't seem so much about him being the one to control where he goes. Notice he doesn't imagine himself as the captain.
  • So, instead, we guess he just wants someone to be making it up. He wants some degree of flexibility, of wildness. He wants there to be room for the unknown.
  • After all, if you volunteer to work on a boat with a mad captain, you're pretty much guaranteed to not know what's gonna go down. Or whether you'll be around to see it.

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