Monday, August 23, 2010


Following up on yesterday's post I'd like to give you an example of Herman Melville's writing, least you've forgotten what it was like. The following paragraph in modern times would be summed up by saying there was a painting of a whale in the room.

Melville stated it by saying:
"But what most puzzled and confounded you was a long, limber, portentous, black mass of something hovering in the centre of the picture over three blue, dim, perpendicular lines floating in a nameless yeast. A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to drive a nervous man distracted. Yet was there a sort of indefinite, half-attained, unimaginable sublimity about it that fairly froze you to it, till you involuntarily took an oath with yourself to find out what that marvellous painting meant. Ever and anon a bright, but, alas, deceptive idea would dart you through.- It's the Black Sea in a midnight gale.- It's the unnatural combat of the four primal elements.- It's a blasted heath.- It's a Hyperborean winter scene.- It's the breaking-up of the icebound stream of Time. But last all these fancies yielded to that one portentous something in the picture's midst. That once found out, and all the rest were plain. But stop; does it not bear a faint resemblance to a gigantic fish? even the great leviathan himself?"

It was when I read this in Chapter three that I knew I was going to love this book.


Blogger darev2005 said...

There was a line in "National Treasure" that I loved. When Ben Gates got done quoting a section of the Declaration, Riley said "People don't talk like that anymore." Can you imagine someone today standing in a gallery and talking like that about a painting? People would wander away halfway through the description. Only in the leisure of literature do we have time for that sort of long-windedness.

6:36 AM  
Blogger mark said...

OK, you've convinced me. I'm going down to the library today -- nope, tomorrow because they're closed on Monday -- to check out Moby-Dick. I'll have to renew it at least a couple of times because I'm such a slow reader. The Count of Monte Cristo took me about 5 weeks, and some overdue fines.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The picture is perfect for that passage... too funny.

11:32 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

The language is simply amazing, but exhausting to translate into modern terms and sentiments.

7:06 AM  

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