Herman Melville to Sophia Hawthorne: “Life is a long Dardenelles”

From a letter, a beautiful metaphor for life and heaven.

[T]ho’ we know what we ought to be; & what it would be very sweet & beautiful to be; yet we can’t be it. That is most sad, too. Life is a long Dardenelles*, My Dear Madam, the shores whereof are bright with flowers, which we want to pluck, but the bank is too high; & so we float on & on, hoping to come to a landing-place at last—but swoop! we launch into the great sea! Yet the geographers say, even then we must not despair, because across the great sea, however desolate & vacant it may look, lies all Persia & the delicious lands roundabout Damascus.



*The Dardenelles is the Hellespont, a narrow strait leading to the Aegean Sea.

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Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    That is wonderful. A lot of people portray Melvile as an atheist, but reading Moby Dick last year (not the first or second time) I think they’re wrong.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    Melville an atheist? That’s crazytalk. That’s academics reading things into him, just like they try to make him gay. He was not conventionally religious, but he was steeped in Christianity and no atheist.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    That’s my conclusion too. There’s that Hawthorne quote about him uncomfortable in believing and yet not believing. I haven’t read everything from Melville or even a third, but everything I’ve read suggests he does believe in God, albeit unconventionally.

  • http://www.parafool.com/ victor

    That was beautiful. And I’m really happy to learn that “Dardenelles” wasn’t a 19th-century euphemism for anything bad.