I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab’s quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.
The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;—Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. 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.
It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant rise at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment. Then, in darting at the monster, knife in hand, he had but given loose to a sudden, passionate, corporal animosity; and when he received the stroke that tore him, he probably but felt the agonizing bodily laceration, but nothing more. Yet, when by this collision forced to turn towards home, and for long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in mid winter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad.
But be all this as it may, certain it is, that with the mad secret of his unabated rage bolted up and keyed in him, Ahab had purposely sailed upon the present voyage with the one only and all-engrossing object of hunting the White Whale. Had any one of his old acquaintances on shore but half dreamed of what was lurking in him then, how soon would their aghast and righteous souls have wrenched the ship from such a fiendish man! They were bent on profitable cruises, the profit to be counted down in dollars from the mint. He was intent on an audacious, immitigable, and supernatural revenge.
Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job’s whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals—morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge. How it was that they so aboundingly responded to the old man’s ire—by what evil magic their souls were possessed, that at times his hate seemed almost theirs; the White Whale as much their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be—what the White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life,—all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go. The subterranean miner that works in us all, how can one tell whither leads his shaft by the ever shifting, muffled sound of his pick? Who does not feel the irresistible arm drag? What skiff in tow of a seventy-four can stand still? For one, I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and the place; but while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see naught in that brute but the deadliest ill.
Archangelbert Skullvalley arcs his long narrow fingers over the great pipe organ embedded in cold, uneven, sharp-peaked and coarse-valleyed castle-stones. The pipe organ in the immense, seldom-used SAWB cathedral fits, like the parched mudbrick estates of an Anasazi village, in the clifflike cathedral wall, some hundred feet above the worn oaken floorplanks and fifty feet below the vaulted rafters. On all sides stream multicolored light through immense stained glass windows, each in the outline of a giant’s door, and all telling all the stories that you grew up with and almost kind of believed as you sat at a rectangular wooden table with rounded edges and a white linoleum tabletop bound ‘round and clamped to its plywood mount by a two-inch-tall metal runner. You sat up straight in a plastic bucket chair with metal legs and feet that would slide and sometimes scrape the white linoleum floor. Light came in at the side of the room from tall square windows and from above via fluorescent lights shining through thin sheets of frosted-white corrugated plastic. You were there, even if your mind was wandering.
The deep winding oom-pah-pahing, rambling song of a distracted and melancholy organist hovers over Lower Manhattan as a giant dome of intricately-moody wide-brooding consternation
A joint endeavor
A reckless shove here
A selfish sneak there
A prideful twist hither
A self-preserving turn thither
We seek evil in one or a few
We suppose it incarnate and whole in our foe
But we’re all always just
A few threads of passionate momentums
And exhausted eddy-seeking collapses
Most evils need more than one soul
To weave those gowns of shattered glass
Woe to the bad apple who finds ready allies!
And how lucky you are
When young and foolish
No one takes you us up
on violent thought
Or weak indulgence —
No fellow fool
Rallies with ready weaponry
Nor goads with wild opiates
Increasing dishonesty, confusion, corruption, madness and meanness
Reducing honest, clear, calm, accurate, competent, gentle uplift and shared joy
How to stop the evil?
How to make things
Better for everyone?
Or at least divert the desperate mayhem
That makes things worse?
Thundration Whistletown is standing on the Manhattan Battery, fishing for great white sharks. Lassoing ocean-going fishing line over his head, he swings a large sharp hook upon which three bleeding eels writhe in righteous—albeit confused—indignation round and round. And then, with the deft touch and relaxed drop-back for which he’s famous among the Publishing TItan community, he lobs the hook and line out into the middle of the caribbean sea, where it splits the calm southern waters and slants down towards the soft seabed.
Clunk! It hits the head of the great white shark at which Tun had aimed. He hears it sink. How pointless was that? What kind of fishing is this? But you see, the eternal founders of Skullvally After Whistletown are at their ends. They’ve reached their limits and now—children up six hours past their bedtimes, chasing handfuls of store-bought icing with swigs of Mountain Dew and flipping between racy horror movies and racy music videos—they fold inward upon themselves.
But then he hears it.
Don’t you know he heard it!
On that late-September eve.
He hears Archangelbert
Reaching for a tune.
With a bend and toss of his long elastic torso, Tun flings himself after the sinking shark and hooked eels. After repairing the fish, Tun returns to Manhattan to consider Arch’s counterpointed considerations.
They speak later, on the penthouse lawn, coaching croquet—each coach is in charge of a team of toads, who together attempt to control the mallet and steer the balls through the wickets.
Tun: What do you think?
Arch: Kempt has gone for Bartleby and Amble.
Tun: What do you think?
Arch: They’ll all three be back here soon enough.
Tun: What do you think?
Arch: I think what’s the point of power when it doesn’t do anything?
Tun: So then?
Arch: But so many men of action would best serve the world by refraining from acting.
Tun: And we?
Arch: What is wisdom? Where is the revolving heart in mind that catches the piston and drives the train?
Tun: The good is also a joint enterprise.
Arch: But what’s the difference? How to together help rather than hurt? Knowingly.
Tun: And where to begin? How can we guide the whole towards wisdom when we ourselves are
only middling wise?
Arch: How can one who is only middling foolish drive the whole towards great folly?
Tun: Yes, we need that trick, but in reverse.
Arch: Ah Bartleby, ah humanity!
Tun: Ah Ambegris, ah eternity!
I mean: a child’s moment lasts forever
And so do even mortal siblings share
Time as endless as a God’s
Arch: In the thick of things —
those twisted roots
Of life and love
Where mayflies buzz
And bare feet bend
Green summer grasses:
There we’ll seek It,
That Light that leads
With no push nor pull
That Light that Knows
Tun: The trouble with us immortals
And I’ve said this before!
Is that we’re too blessed and eternal
To worry about humans
And their shortlived lives.
Arch: Back to the drawing board!
A thousand years of discipline
A few hundred of backsliding
And then the discipline
And then the give-up
We can’t keep this up.
But oh of course we can.
And yet I’d rather help
It’s less lonely that way
Tun: But how to help
With eyes open and forward
As the circumstances
Roll and writhe live wire
On all sides?
Arch: Gods are powerful
And powerful quick
But only the God is wise
Only the God Knows.
Tun: Still, that’s no excuse.
For we all know enough
To know that wisdom
Is honest, clear, calm, gentle, kind.
Arch: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Tun: Yes, let us return to the struggle, to the tension of living in and through and for love and those disciplines—honesty, clarity, kind resolve, and joyful sharing—that keep a mind/heart and its actions in, through, and for love.
Arch: Mmmm. I suppose Kempt, Bartleby, and Amble will be along presently.
Tun: Let’s clean the presses. Perhaps we’ll yet find the words to right the world.
Arch: Worth a shot.
Tun: Yes, hearts up!
Arch: Into the fray!
Tun: The toads completed the game long ago.
Arch: Who won?
Tun: No one wins when all the wickets and posts are knocked over and two or three of the players have to be rescued from forgotten mallets strewn at random over the lawn.
Arch: Oh, so I win! Because I won last time and the advantage belongs to the reigning champ.
Of that which was not authored by Herman Melville or Paul The Apostle (nee Saul of Tarsus):
Author: Bartleby Willard
Editor: Ambergris Whistletown
Copyright: Andrew Watson