Ahab to Zorba

Moby Dick  Chapter 30  
The Pipe

When Stubb had departed, Ahab stood for a while leaning over the bulwarks; and then, as had been usual with him of late, calling a sailor of the watch, he sent him below for his ivory stool, and also his pipe. Lighting the pipe at the binnacle lamp and planting the stool on the weather side of the deck, he sat and smoked.

In old Norse times, the thrones of the sea-loving Danish kings were fabricated, saith tradition, of the tusks of the narwhale. How could one look at Ahab then, seated on that tripod of bones, without bethinking him of the royalty it symbolized? For a Khan of the plank, and a king of the sea, and a great lord of Leviathans was Ahab.

Some moments passed, during which the thick vapor came from his mouth in quick and constant puffs, which blew back again into his face. “How now,” he soliloquized at last, withdrawing the tube, “this smoking no longer soothes. Oh, my pipe! hard must it go with me if thy charm be gone! Here have I been unconsciously toiling, not pleasuring—aye, and ignorantly smoking to windward all the while; to windward, and with such nervous whiffs, as if, like the dying whale, my final jets were the strongest and fullest of trouble. What business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for sereneness, to send up mild white vapors among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I’ll smoke no more—”

He tossed the still lighted pipe into the sea. The fire hissed in the waves; the same instant the ship shot by the bubble the sinking pipe made. With slouched hat, Ahab lurchingly paced the planks.




“My father was a real Palikari (hero). Don’t look at me, I’m only a breath of air beside him. I don’t come up to his ankles. He was one of those ancient Greeks they always talk about. When he shook your hand he nearly crushed your bones to pulp. I can talk now and then, but my father roared, neighed and sang. There very rarely came a human word out of his mouth.

“Well, he had all the vices, but he’d slash them, as you would with a sword. For instance, he smoked like a chimney. One morning he got up and went into the fields to plough. He arrived, leaned on the hedge, pushed his hand into his belt for his tobacco pouch to roll a cigarette before he began work, took out his pouch and found it was empty. He’d forgotten to fill it before leaving the house.

“He foamed with rage, let out a roar, and then bounded away towards the village. His passion for smoking completely unbalanced his reason, you see. But suddenly – I’ve always said I think man’s a mystery – he stopped, filled with shame, pulled out his pouch and tore to shreds with his teeth, then stamped it in the ground and spat on it. ‘Filth! Filth! he bellowed. ‘Dirty slut!’

“And from that hour, until the end of his days, he never put another cigarette between his lips.”
“That’s the way real men behave, boss, Good night!”
He stood up and strode across the beach. He did not look back once. He went as far as the fringe of the sea and stretched himself out there on the pebbles.


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