Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve
me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there.
Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails,
whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through
the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly
I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!
Ahab speaks these words in his soliloquy
in Chapter 37, daring anyone to try to divert
him from his purpose. Though he is defiant, he is also accepting
of his fate, asserting that he has no control over his own behavior—he
must run along the “iron rails” that have been laid for him. The
powerful rhetoric and strong imagery of this passage are characteristic
of Ahab’s speech. He uses his skill with language to persuade his
crew to take part in his quest for vengeance, stirring them with
suggestions of adventure (“unsounded gorges,” “rifled hearts of
mountains”) and inspiring confidence through his apparent faith
in himself as “unerring.” Just as Ishmael occasionally gets lost
in digressions, Ahab occasionally gets lost in language, repeating
the phrase “swerve me” until it becomes almost meaningless, merely
a sound. His speeches thus become a kind of poetry or music, stirring
the listener with their form as much as their content.