Quiet descended on her, calm, content, as her needle, drawing the silk smoothly to its gentle pause, collected the green folds together and attached them, very lightly, to the belt. So on a summer’s day waves collect, overbalance, and fall; collect and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying “that is all” more and more ponderously, until even the heart in the body which lies in the sun on the beach says too, That is all. Fear no more, says the heart. Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking.
Celebrating the life of Herman Melville
Born a New Yorker in 1819 on August 1st, Herman Melville lived to the age of 72, until passing away on September 28, 1981. He spent most of his younger years working diligently to alleviate the debt that riddled his family, eventually finding himself aboard a merchant ship as a cabin boy. His life continued to be filled with sailing adventures, voyages to the South Seas and encounters with the present-day French Polynesian islands inhabited with cannibalistic civilizations. His writings were inspired mostly from his journeys, but were driven by a critical philosophy of American culture and society.
I recommend all adventurous youths who abandon vessels in romantic islands during the rainy season to provide themselves with umbrellas.
Melville wed Elizabeth Shaw in 1847, continuing on to have two sons and two daughters. He had a brief but pivotal friendship with American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and continued to publish short stories and novels throughout his life. In his later years, he worked as a customs guard on the ship harbors, writing as a habit on nights, and weekends, exploring the world of poetry too, up until the final moments of his life.
“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
“Nature is nobody’s ally.”
“Thou wine art the friend of the friendless, though a foe to all.”
Incomplete list of suggested reading:
- Typee (1846)
- Omoo (1847)
- Redburn (1849)
- White-Jacket (1850)
- Moby Dick (1851)
- Pierre (1852)
- “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853)
- “The Encantadas” (1854)
- “Benito Cereno” (1855)
- Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1855)
- The Confidence-Man (1857)
Melville’s New York publisher’s house underwent a devastating fire in 1853 that destroyed most of his books.
Share a quote or excerpt of Herman Melville today in the comments or with your online community using the tag #HappyDeathDayMelville
The twins returned home a short time before three, urgently summoned by their mother. They found Angela Vicario lying face down on the dining room couch, her face all bruised, but she’d stopped crying. “I was no longer frightened,” she told me. “On the contrary: I felt as if the drowsiness of death had finally been lifted from me, and the only thing I wanted was for it all to be over quickly so I could flop down and go to sleep.” Pedro Vicario, the more forceful of the brothers, picked her up by the waist and sat her on the dining room table.
“All right, girl,” he said to her, trembling with rage, “tell us who it was.”
She only took the time necessary to say the name. She looked for it in the shadows, she found it at first sight among the many, many easily confused names from this world and the other, and she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written.
“Santiago Nasar,” she said.
–Translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa
I was never young. Whoever I was then is dead. I’ve always figured it that you die each day and each day is a box, you see, all numbered and neat; but never go back and lift the lids, because you’ve died a couple of thousand times in your life, and that’s a lot of corpses, each dead in a different way, each with a worse expression. Each of those days is a different you, somebody you don’t know or understand or want to understand.
—No Particular Night or Morning
Joseph’s horse raised its head and sniffed the air. On top of the ridge stood a clump of giant madrone trees, and Joseph saw with wonder how nearly they resembled meat and muscles. They thrust up muscular limbs as red as flayed flesh and twisted like bodies on the rack. Joseph laid his hand on one of the branches as he rode by, and it was cold and sleek and hard. But the leaves at the ends of the horrible limbs were bright green and shiny. Pitiless and terrible trees, the madrones. They cried with pain when burned.
Joseph gained the ridge-top and looked down on the grass lands of his new homestead where the wild oats moved in silver waves under a little wind, where the patches of blue lupins lay like shadows in a clear lucent night, and the poppies on the side hills were broad rays of sun. He drew up to look at the long grassy meadows in which clumps of live oaks stood like perpetual senates ruling over the land. The river with its mask of trees cut a twisting path down through the valley. Two miles away he could see, beside a gigantic lonely oak, the white speck of his tent pitched and left while he went to record his homestead. A long time he sat there. As he looked into the valley, Joseph felt his body flushing with a hot fluid of love. “This is mine,” he said simply, and his eyes sparkled with tears and his brain was filled with wonder that this should be his. There was pity in him for the grass and the flowers; he felt that the trees were his children and the land his child. For a moment he seemed to float high in the air and to look down upon it. “It’s mine,” he said again, “and I must take care of it.”
“I have no idea how people function without near-constant internal chaos. I’d lose my mind.”
(A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius)
I think about pinball, and how being a kid’s like being shot up the firing lane and there’s no veering left or right;
you’re just sort of propelled. But once you clear the top, like when you’re sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen, suddenly
there’s a thousand different paths you can take, some amazing, others not.
Tiny little differences in angles and speed’ll totally alter what happens to you later, so a fraction of an inch to the right, and the ball’ll just hit a pinger and a dinger and fly down between your flippers, no messing, a waste of 10 p. But a fraction to the left and it’s action in the play zone, bumpers and kickers, ramps and slingshots and fame on the high-score table. My problem is, I don’t know what I want, apart from a bit of money to buy food later on today. Until the day before yesterday all I wanted was Vinny, but I won’t make that mistake again. Like a shiny silver pinball whizzing out of the firing lane, I’ve not got the faintest bloody clue where I’m going or what’ll happen next.
Through the thorny roses, between swaying bushes, down the dusty lawn, I run. I run like I’ve never run. The sun’s in my face and the wall’s not far. Halfway there, when I get to the trellis thing, I look back; he’s not running after me, like I dreaded, just standing there, a few steps from Ian and Heidi, who’re still lying dead so he’s letting me go–why who cares why he’s a mental psycho so run run run run run run, but, run, but, but, run, but . . . But I’m slowing, slowing, how, why, what, my heart’s straining like crazy, but it’s like the brake and accelerator are being pressed at the same time but whatever’s slowing down isn’t inside me, it’s not poison, it’s outside me, it’s time slowing up or gravity pulling harder, or air changing to water, or sand, or treacle . . . I have dreams like this–but I’m awake, it’s daytime, I know I’m awake . . . But, impossibly, I’ve stopped, like a statue of a runner, one foot raised for the next stride that’ll never come. This is mad. Infeckingsane. It occurs to me I ought to try to scream for help, it’s what people do, but all that comes out is this grunt spasm noise . . .
. . . and the world starts shrinking back towards the bungalow, hauling me along with it, helplessly.
One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious—because all men are created equal, educators will gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority. We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe—some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others—some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.
But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.
I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.
Seymour’s diary, Fort Monmouth, in late 1941 and early 1942:: J.D. Salinger
How I love and need her undiscriminating heart. She looked over at me when the children in the picture brought in the kitten to show their mother. M. loved the kitten and wanted me to love it. Even in the dark, I could sense that she felt the usual estrangement from me when I don’t automatically love what she loves. Later, when we were having a drink at the station, she asked me if I didn’t think that kitten was ‘rather nice.’ She doesn’t use the word ‘cute’ any more. When did I ever frighten her out of her normal vocabulary? Bore that I am, I mentioned R. H. Blyth’s definition of sentimentality: that we are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God undoubtedly loves kittens, but not, in all probability, with Technicolor bootees on their paws. He leaves that creative touch to script writers. M. thought this over, seemed to agree with me, but the ‘knowledge’ was’t too very welcome. She sat stirring her drink and feeling unclose to me. She worries over the way her love for me comes and goes, appears and disappears. She doubts its reality simply because it isn’t as steadily pleasurable as a kitten. God knows it is sad. The human voice conspires to desecrate everything on earth.”