'Moby Dick' Quotes

Herman Melville's Famous Epic Novel

The cover of "Moby Dick: A Play for Radio," which features a drawing of a white whale surrounded by blue waves.
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio (1947). Reeding Lessons/ Flickr CC

Moby Dick, a famous novel by Herman Melville, is a classic tale about a ship captain's epic quest to find and kill a whale that bit off part of his leg on a previous voyage. Writing for The Guardian, Robert McCrum listed Moby Dick seventeenth in his ranking of novels written in English, and, in a set of rankings by 125 authors, Moby Dick was rated as one of the greatest works of fiction from the 1800s. The novel was first published in 1851 but didn't achieve acclaim until after Melville's death. Quotes from the epic novel show why it has endured as an American classic.


"The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run."

Ahab, the captain of the ship, is willing to risk everything—his ship, his crew, his own life—to seek revenge on the elusive whale. These quotes show the depth of his obsessive ocean quest. ​The riveting language still seeps into our culture; part of the third quote in this section was mouthed by Ricardo Montalbán as his character chased Captain Kirk throughout the galaxy in the 1982 movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

"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!"
"There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar."
"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee."​


"I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself!"

Ahab implies that he is ordained by God to destroy Moby Dick, the white whale that he believes to be evil incarnate. Of note, as Ahab is explaining his obsession in the first quote here, he refers to his chief mate, Starbuck, who served as the inspiration for the name of the well-known coffee chain.

"What I’ve dared, I’ve willed; and what I’ve willed, I’ll do! They think me mad—Starbuck does; but I’m demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and—Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer."
"All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it."
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Lombardi, Esther. "'Moby Dick' Quotes." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/moby-dick-quotes-740777. Lombardi, Esther. (2020, August 25). 'Moby Dick' Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/moby-dick-quotes-740777 Lombardi, Esther. "'Moby Dick' Quotes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/moby-dick-quotes-740777 (accessed May 28, 2023).