De Agostini Picture Library, Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), 1886 engraving, Germany.

Riding the Whale’s Tail

Herman Melville, when not otherwise occupied by life’s rigors aboard his whaling ship, the Acushnet, stared out to sea and mentally composed his masterpieces. In Chapter 111 of Moby Dick, he wrote:

“There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John. And meet…