from MOBY DICK...
Elijah: At sea one day, you'll smell land where there'll be no land, and on that day Ahab will go to his grave, but he'll rise again within the hour. He will rise and beckon. Then all -- all save one-- shall follow. (Slinking away with a smile on his face) Mornin', lads... mornin'. May the heavens bless you.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Starbuck: To be enraged with a dumb brute that acted out of blind instinct is blasphemous.
CaptainAhab: Speak not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
THAR SHE BLOWS!
It's funny, but three years ago I discovered one of my favorite contemporary poets, Tony Hoagland, simply because he had chosen to insert 'Moby Dick' into the title of one of his poems. See, 'Moby Dick' is one of the big buzz-words in my brain... has been since I was a ten-year-old in 1956. (I mean, if I see a reference to 'Moby Dick'...? I look. Can't help it! Any more than the frog who spies a lady bug flitting past his eyes can keep his switch-blade tongue in check and in cheek. It's automatic...).
In '56, my brother Denny and I were allowed to head down to Center Theatre to watch Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab... and I ended up imprinting on that movie like some freshly hatched duckling, even though it turned out to be a film that my still-developing, pea-sized brain (at that time) was ill-prepared to grapple with. It was loaded with FOREBODINGS, and SYMBOLS, LARGER-THAN-LIFE CHARACTERS and BIBLICAL as well as LITERARY ALLUSIONS. And it used a vintage vocabulary of a much earlier time...
Visually and emotionally, however, I was totally sucked in. There was Pinocchio's Monstro the Whale up there on the big screen, only this time... as MOBY...and he... meant... business! There was Mr. Clean, too, all covered with tattoos playing Queequeg, the killer harpoon-hurler. And then there was my own Bible-thumping Grampie, playing every part from Father Mapple (delivering up Noah-and-the-Whale sermon from the pulpit); the Pequod's righteous, God-fearing owners; and finally to Captain Ahab himself!
But more importantly, there was The Big Question: WHY did Ahab want to go and meet back up with the devil whale that had torn his leg off out from under him in the first place? Why didn't he fear Moby Dick? I would have! Hell... if that had happened to me, it would've taken Mom and a small army to wrestle me down into the tub to take my next bath, and if she ever tried it, I'd run away from home and move out to someplace like Witchita, Kansas to stay as far away from the ocean as I could get. The story just didn't make sense!
So... in the end, everybody ("save one") got killed by The White Whale, just like you know they were going to... and me? Then I had to waddle (limping) back out into the blinding Main Street sunshine (limping, because the movie, like some wild, white leviathan, had crossed my path and torn off one of the limbs of my ability to reason things out). I was damaged goods now. I was left unfulfilled, wondering, But why? Why? WHY!? What did it all mean? I asked everybody. Nobody knew. Nobody cared. How could they not? It was important! I was a bent little Ahab myself, now, and I was obsessing on finding The Answer! I... was on... a mission.
And, oh-- did I forget to mention that I'm an Obsessive-Compulsive...?
So I hunted down a copy of Melville's Moby Dick in Mayo Street Junior High School's puny library, and signed it out. But from the first page, I discovered I couldn't read half the words (and I was a great reader! I'd read Old Yeller in one sitting! ). After a week of off-and-on trying, I had to give up. Later, in eighth grade, I took it out again (Funny-- nobody'd signed it out since I had two years ago)...but I still couldn't fathom it. Tried again as a sophomore in high school, and once more as a senior. It was impossible! Why would somebody write a story of such IMPORTANCE...and then cloak it in some indecipherable language that would make the story seem... well, boring?
I gave up on reading the book.
In college as an English major, I began climbing the stodgy ladder of required classics, most more accessible than Moby.But the movie remained, for whatever reason, ensconced on its marble pedestal in my mind... until I found myself filling a vacant English teaching position in Belfast, Maine in 1968 and learned I was being charged with leading my College Prep juniors through the pages of Melville's signature masterpiece. At last! I was going to read the book. I would have to read it now. And read it before beginning it with the students. There would be no excuse! So once again, I cracked the hoary cover of of the 470-page book, marvelled at the 4-page, 135-chapter table of contents, waded knee-deep through the the Foreword, the maps, the 'Etymology' page, the 10 pages of exhaustive whale-related quotations entitled "Extracts," and landed, finally, upon page 12... Chapter 1, "Loomings"...
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago-- never mind how long precisely-- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing to particularly interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world."
...And suddenly... I really was Ishmael! It was like falling in love! (My brain had matured, apparently.) My eyes began hungrily rifling through the pages... and before I could say, 'Thar she blows!' I had already... checked myself into a 'room' at The Spouter Inn... which, I guess, for me, would be sort of like checking into The Hotel California today... (did I mention that I'm an Obsessive-Compulsive?). I settled in for the long voyage...
"With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship." Or... to the book, rather...
Weeks later when I bobbed up out of the Nineteenth Century for air, still deep in the throes of nitrogen narcosis, otherwise known as raptures of the deep, I had my answers! Hell, I had The Answer! And I was as elated as I was crazed. But it wasn't enough, not for me. I wanted more. I wanted to sign on to a three-year whaling voyage! I yearned to learn to tie knots. I longed for life within the microcosm that was The Pequod.And I wanted to see the world. Living now in Belfast as I was, I could see the sea, hear the gulls, smell the salt in the air...
Truth is though... I was just a useless English teacher. It was never going to happen...
So I did one thing I knew I could do: I hastened downtown to Laverdiere's Drug Store and, from the toy section, purchased a plastic, Revell scale model kit of the ship, Cutty Sark, and glued it together, meticulously painting each part. I'd wanted to find and build a whaler of course, but whaling vessels for some reason were apparently just not that popular in the scale model market that year. To further celebrate, I went right out and bought me a bottle of Cutty Sark scotch... and later that evening, one thing became glaringly obvious: I had undoubtedly been a whaler in my last life!
Now... to share the wonders of whaling with my students...!
What the...? My college-preppers in Belfast inexplicably and pathologically despised the book...!?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Over the thirty-four years of my high school English teacher career, I would occasionally attempt to play Ahab and rally my current classroom crew into a mad frenzy to go with me again after the White Whale! I would yearn to spin around from the blackboard, hold up the stub of chalk in my clamped fist like a detached harpoon blade, and beseech the classes...
What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?
"Sing out for him!" they'd cry in unison...
And what do ye do next, men?
"Lower away, and after him!"
And what tune is it ye pull to, men?
"A dead whale or a stove boat!"
And then of course I would nail a gold doubloon to the bulletin board and pass around a bottle of... blood-red strawberry soda, shouting, "Drink, ye harpooneers! Death to Moby Dick! And God hunt us all if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!"
But the truth is... 99.9% of all of my students pathologically hated Moby Dick, and cursed the name of Herman Melville for writing it. I guess... maybe. it might've seemed somehow... as difficult as this is to understand...irrelevant perhaps(?) to their lives. The truth is... it has turned out, in the long run, that I am a member of one of the most obscure and exclusive conclaves on the planet... those indelibly marked by a chance, literary run-in with the Pequod's intended prey... And I have to accept that. It helps to know that I am not (entirely) alone. I mean... well, there's Gary Larson for instance, creator of the ingenious comic strip, The Far Side. I personally have clipped and collected every one of his tributes to Melville and Moby Dick. My personal favorite? The one where Moby Dick has inadvertently rear-ended the car in front of him in the midst of downtown city traffic. The driver's side door of the rear-ended vehicle has opened, and stepping out of it onto the street is an angry man in a black top-coat and stove-pipe hat, a white wooden leg, and a harpoon... The cartoon balloon above Moby's head reads, "Crimony! Milliions of people in this city, and look who I rear-end!"
And then there's... well, there's... there's Tony Hoagland, who wrote the poem, "Reading Moby Dick at 30,000 Feet."
And there was that woman, the one from Connecticut, who came into our library last summer and hungrily checked out our brand-new copy of Moby Dick! Yeah... so... it's not like I'm... alone or anything....
Anyway... I've read Moby Dick completely three times through, and often I go right back and re-read specific portions whenever I feel a need. Chapter 1 has always had a soothing effect on me when I've felt depressed, the part about how important it is to get back to the water again... And being a dyed-in-the-wool chowder-addict, I can't tell you how many times I've re-read Chapter 15, aptly titled, "Chowder."
I do believe I've got at least one more read-through in me... at least I hope so.
In my poetry, references to white whales often slip themselves into my verses, as you will see by my very next blog entry. But until then.. Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Once again, I'm Tom and I'm a Moby Dickaholic..."