From Moby Dick…
“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.
Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!
Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. Tomorrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp—all others but liars!
Nevertheless the sun hides not Virginia’s Dismal Swamp, nor Rome’s accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth. So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true, or undeveloped. With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. ‘All is vanity.’ ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon’s wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing graveyards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men; and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing wise, and therefore jolly; not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon.
But even Solomon, he says, ‘the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain’ (I.E., even while living) ‘in the congregation of the dead.’ Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. 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.”
Perhaps “Tahiti” is the embodiment of what we lust (e.g. Melville’s “Tahiti”, and the “Tahiti” of Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou, and Laurie Anderson), a false illusion, while the ocean is a vast embodiment of the harsh truth in life, and the frozen poles are the infinite regions where mankind cannot extend nor proliferate, where time does not exist for mankind.
The human race has been working to melt polar eternities since we began and since we discovered fire. Ice is the boundary between mankind and infinity. The further away we push the polar eternities, the more we can expand and proliferate, in hope of reaching Tahiti. We expand into areas once covered by ice because we can: ice is water, and water supports life.
We gaze at the boundaries between land and ocean, the tropics and the poles, light and dark, and Earth and space.
Somewhere on the Moon, there is a high ridgeline hundreds of miles long, beyond which everything is in a shadow lit only by stars millions of light-years away. Can you imagine climbing to the top of this ridge, with your back to the setting sun as you pass into the infinite darkness of the Moon’s shadow?