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

Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet


by Tony Hoagland

Reading Moby-Dick at 30,000 Feet Man and the Natural World Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Line)

Quote #1

At this height, Kansas
is just a concept,
a checkerboard design of wheat and corn (1-3)

The poem opens from a perspective of great distance from the earth. Our speaker doesn't even feel that the earth below him is real, since he's so far up. As the poem unfolds, we see how this sense of detachment from the world (especially the natural world) is a big part of what our speaker fantasizes about changing, when he imagines how much better if would be on the Pequod. We also can't help but notice that not only is our speaker 30,000 feet away from the ground, but the place right below him isn't even very wild or natural—it's a bunch of neatly-ordered fields.

Quote #2

no larger than the foldout section
of my neighbor's travel magazine. (4-5)

This comparison isn't very flattering for the fields. It's like human cultivation and control has turned the natural world into something as small and as neat as a page in a travel magazine. Bummer, right?

Quote #3

Better to feel the salt wind
spitting in your face, (43-44)

Here's where our speaker is most direct about his desire to feel some contact with the natural world. He fantasizes about being on the boat, feeling the ocean spray on his cheeks. We also notice that the wind "spits" in his face; but rather than this being offensive, it's exciting. It's a challenge, Man vs. Nature. We think maybe part of our speaker's dissatisfaction with square fields and with airplanes is that there's no balance anymore, no contest in Man vs. Nature, because man has essentially already won.

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