The following is from a work-in-progress called "Moby Dick: a Book Report" in which I read each chapter of Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick, and write about what I read.
On a cold Christmas day, the Pequod makes ready to sail. The ship’s two owners, Bildad and Peleg, direct the crew members in their preparation tasks. The crusty, vulgar Peleg barks profane orders at the crew, the sailors sing bawdy sea-faring songs, and the pious Bildad sings psalms and hymns as they all work, like this chorus:
“Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green.
So to the Jews old Canaan stood
While Jordan rolled between.”
This hymn is a reference to the scene in the Old Testament when the Jews prepared to enter their “Promised Land” of Canaan, a place they had to take by conquest. This story sort of parallels the ship Pequod setting off on its voyage—many adventures and dangers are in store. Bildad’s hymn has a strong impact on Ishmael, who thinks to himself: “Never did those sweet words sound more sweetly to me than then. They were full of hope and fruition. Spite of this frigid winter night in the boisterous Atlantic, spite of my wet feet and wetter jacket, there was yet, it then seemed to me, many a pleasant haven in store.”
At last, the Pequod sets sail—Bildad and Peleg leave the ship to Captain Ahab and the first mate Starbuck. As the ship departs, Ishmael recounts: “We gave three heavy-hearted cheers, and blindly plunged like fate into the lone Atlantic.”
Given the numerous biblical references in Moby Dick, it feels significant that they depart on Christmas. As with the birth of Christ, the beginning of their journey is full of wonder, hope, and the promise of new things.