Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When on that shivering winter's night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years' dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land.

What does the bolded it refer to here?

share|improve this question

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There is no antecedent in the foregoing passage, nor is one required. This is the same indeterminate "it" as when you ask your friend "How is it going?" "It" is a vague concept that can encompass "life", "fortune", "the universe"...

share|improve this answer

The "it" has no antecedent. It's being used in the same way as in "it turned out that.." or "it so happened that...", or even "it rained yesterday". The "it" in those sentences has no antecedent. The actual wording of the passage "it fared with him" is a very old-fashioned way of saying "it was his fate". He was destined to end up like a ship sailing too close to a leeward shore in a storm - that is, he was heading for destruction.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 Within the sentence, it's a bare expletive pronoun, as in "it rained". But in the larger context it's an expletive pronoun as in a cleft construction, representing a postcedent which is the entire remainder of the chapter. –  StoneyB Mar 14 at 19:11
    
+1: Exactly. It's the same as saying "How goes it with you?" to enquire how someone is getting along. –  FumbleFingers Mar 14 at 20:16
1  
This is often called the “weather it.” –  Bradd Szonye Mar 14 at 20:28
    
In fact, "How fares it with you?" would have been as common a question at one time (and still is among the elderly in some antique-ish regional dialects). –  bye Mar 15 at 0:21
    
@username901345 "In that gale" is a reference to the previously-mentioned storm. –  Terpsichore Mar 15 at 4:39

My guess is that it means that he endured the same fate as the 'storm-tossed ship'. And since the previous sentence mentions a 'stoneless grave' one supposes that both came to a watery end.

Who is the author, and what is the work?

share|improve this answer
1  
It's Moby Dick. –  Andrew Leach Mar 14 at 18:36
4  
I think this is the right answer; but you could mention that it here is the "dummy it" which doesn't actually refer to anything specific at all. It here is simply a marker for Bulkington's situation, which was the same as the storm-tossed ship. Unless you didn't mean that at all, of course. –  Andrew Leach Mar 14 at 18:39
    
@username901345 Because I misunderstood the question, before it was edited. –  WS2 Mar 15 at 7:26

I found the entire 6 inch chapter for context, and highlighted what I feel is relevant.

To me it's apparent that it is the land that seemed scorching to his feet. The land could only flirt with him but never draw him in, just as it could never lure the ship to its crunchy shores.

Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, new-landed mariner, encountered in New Bedford at the inn.

When on that shivering winter's night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years' dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again; for refuge's sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!

Know ye, now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God - so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing - straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!

share|improve this answer
    
We don't delete answers simply because the questioner decided that they are not the best answer. There is no "correct" answer, and the answers that you haven't accepted will remain here for future readers. –  Kirk Broadhurst Mar 15 at 3:28

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.