Tao Te Ching

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Moby Dick or The Whale

By Herman Melville

In spite of being poorly written, some books still capture our attention because the stories are entertaining and intriguing. We value reading others without entertainment because of the wisdom and life lessons that can be learned. When we find all three—well written, intriguing story, and deep wisdom—we find a great book. Such is Moby Dick, a book called “a true cultural icon” and widely adapted and represented in movies, books, cartoons, and comic books. The writing style alone makes it a joy to read. Bob Dylan said it was one of the 3 books (including All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey) that influenced him the most and sparked themes for many of his songs. Ken Kesey said, “Nobody had more class than Melville. To do what he did in Moby-Dick, to tell a story and to risk putting so much material into it. If you could weigh a book, I don’t know any book that would be more full.”

Quotes from Moby Dick or The Whale

Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death.”

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Themes: Old Age

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“A good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce of a good thing… the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure that there is more in that man than you perhaps think”

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“a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer; and come what will, one comfort's always left—that unfailing comfort is, it's all predestinated... I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.”

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“a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. … the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air… to lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.”

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“all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore”

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Themes: Openness

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“All of us are slaves… landsmen pent up in lath and plaster—tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks”

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“All that most maddens and torments… all the subtle demons of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified... in Moby Dick.”

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Themes: Projection

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“all the anguish of that then present suffering was but the direct issue of a former woe... as the most poisonous reptile of the marsh perpetuates his kind as inevitably as the sweetest songster of the grove; so equally with every felicity, all miserable events do naturally beget their like”

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Themes: Karma

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“All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks... If a man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is the wall.”

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Themes: Carpe diem

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“an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward… the most reliable and useful courage is that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril.”

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Themes: Courage Fear

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“And if the idea of peril so much enhances the popular conceit of the soldier's profession; let me assure ye that many a veteran who has freely marched up to a battery, would quickly recoil at the apparition of the sperm whale's vast tail, fanning into eddies the air over his head.”

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Themes: Warriors

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“Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”

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Themes: Christianity

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“But when a man's religion becomes really fanatic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of our an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.”

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“free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions modified by free will, though thus proscribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events.”

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Themes: Free Will

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“From Hell's heart, I stab… for hate's sake, I spit my last breath”

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Themes: Hate Aggression

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“God keep me from ever completing anything… For small creations may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity.”

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“How then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I.”

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Themes: God Egolessness

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“I am past scorching; not easily can you scorch a scar.”

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“Ignorance is the parent of fear and being so nonplussed and confounded about the stranger, I confess I was as much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself”

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Themes: Ignorance Fear

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“in landlessness alone resides the highest truth”

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Themes: Egolessness

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“in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy… Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”

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Themes: Shambhala

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“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”

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Themes: Travel

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“let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.”

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Themes: Kindness

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“Man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.”

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Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“Nothing exists in itself… there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast.”

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“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed; and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

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“Now would all the waves be women, then I'd go drown and chase with them evermore! There's naught so sweet on earth—heaven may not match it!—as those swift glances of warm, wild bosoms in the dance, when the over-arboring arms hide such ripe, bursting grapes.”

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Themes: Sex Butterfly

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“See how elastic our prejudices grow when once love comes to bend them.”

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“sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.”

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“that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The center and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!”

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Themes: Democracy

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“that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever and for aye. Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of all earthly effort.”

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Themes: Warriors Ambition

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“The most wonderful things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs”

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Themes: Inscrutable

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“There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.”

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Themes: Suffering

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“There is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of man.”

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“there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men”

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“though of real knowledge there be little, yet of books there are a plenty”

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Themes: Books

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“vain to popularize profundities, and all truth is profound”

Chapters: 73. Heaven’s Net

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“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”

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“We have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death… my body is but the lees of my better being, it is not me”

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“what are the comprehensible terrors of man compared with the interlinked terrors and wonders of God!”

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“what trances of torments does the man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own bloody nails in his palms.”

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Themes: Hate Desire

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“when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself.”

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Themes: Deception

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“Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling’s father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them”

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Themes: Evolution

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“Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness”

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Themes: Integrity

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“Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

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Themes: Water Meditation

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“For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness.... all mortal greatness is but disease.”

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Themes: Paradox

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“There is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid.

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Themes: Business

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Quotes about Moby Dick or The Whale (3 quotes)

“I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as the lamb.”

Herman Melville 1819 – 1891 CE

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“If you could weigh a book, I don’t know any book that would be more full. It’s more full than War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov. It has Saint Elmo’s fire, and great whales, and grand arguments between heroes, and secret passions. It risks wandering far, far out into the globe.”

Ken Kesey 1935 – 2001 CE
from Paris Review (1994)

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“You can imagine Herman Melville coming to his publisher with his new manuscript. They ask him what it's about, and he says, 'It's about a one-legged captain who's had his leg bitten off by a whale.' It wouldn't have sounded that promising. If a man cares intensely enough about tiddlywinks, his book about tiddlywinks will be a great novel.”

Matthew J. Bruccoli 1931 – 2008 CE

Themes: Inspiration

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