Below are the (slightly edited) opening paragraphs of the epic, classic novel Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. Published in 1851, this story is studied in schools as one of the Great American Novels, and its opening line, “Call me Ishmael” is one of the most famous in English literature. As a classic, it uses advanced and sometimes archaic language, making it good practice for formal (and difficult!) prose. To give you an extra challenge, this passage has missing prepositions, and it’s up to you to complete the text. Blank spaces show where there should be prepositions, the answers are given below.
There’s some very interesting words and phrases in this passage, some which are not really used in English. The following should help with understanding, though there may be plenty more worth looking up:
- Regulating the circulation – helping with blood flow
- Involuntarily – against your will
- If they but knew it – an archaic form using ‘if…but’ similarly to ‘if only’
- Waterward – towards the water
- Circumambulate – walk around
- Reveries – daydreams
Moby-Dick Advanced Reading and Prepositions Exercise
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely–having little or no money 1. _____ my purse, and nothing particular to interest me 2. _____ shore, I thought I would sail 3. _____ a little and see the watery part 4. _____ the world. It is a way I have of driving 5. _____ the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim 6. _____ the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing 7. _____ coffin warehouses, and bringing 8. _____ the rear of every funeral I meet. Whenever my condition get such an upper hand of me, that requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping 9. _____ the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats 10. _____ –then, I account it high time to get 11. _____ sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself 12. _____ his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising 13. _____ this. If they but knew it, almost all men, some time or other, cherish the same feelings towards the ocean 14. _____ me.
There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round 15. _____ wharves – commerce surrounds it 16. _____ her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed 17. _____ waves, and cooled 18. _____ breezes, which a few hours previous were out 19. _____ sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city 20. _____ a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go 21. _____ Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?–Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands 22. _____ thousands of mortal men fixed 23. _____ ocean reveries. Some leaning 24. _____ the supports; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking 25. _____ the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster–tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they do 26. _____?
- about (around would also work)
- off (away would work, and arguably out)
- about (around would also work)
- as (in the original text the archaic version is ‘with’)
- on (in the original the archaic version is ‘of’)