There are only two books in being which at all pretend to put the living sperm whale before you, and at the same time, in the remotest degree succeed in the attempt. Those books are Beale's and Bennett's; both in their time surgeons to the English South-Sea whale-ships, and both exact and reliable men. The original matter touching the sperm whale to be found in their volumes is necessarily small; but so far as it goes, it is of excellent quality, though mostly confined to scientific description. As yet, however, the sperm whale, scientific or poetic, lives not complete in any literature. Far above all other hunted whales, his is an unwritten life.
Now the various species of
whales need some sort of popular comprehensive classification, if only
an easy outline one for the present, hereafter to be filled in
all-outward its departments by subsequent laborers. As no better man
advances to take this matter in hand, I hereupon offer my own poor
endeavors. I promise nothing complete; because any human thing supposed
to be complete must for that very reason infallibly be faulty. I shall
not pretend to a minute anatomical description of the various species,
or- in this space at least- to much of any description. My object here
is simply to project the draught of a systematization of cetology. I am
the architect, not the builder.
But it is a ponderous task; no
ordinary letter-sorter in the Post-Office is equal to it. To grope down
into the bottom of the sea after them; to have one's hands among the
unspeakable foundations, ribs, and very pelvis of the world; this is a
fearful thing. What am I that I should essay to hook the nose of this
leviathan! The awful tauntings in Job might well appal me. "Will he (the
leviathan) make a covenant with thee? Behold the hope of him is vain!
But I have swam through libraries and sailed through oceans; I have had
to do with whales with these visible hands; I am in earnest; and I will
try. There are some preliminaries to settle. . .
So Melville/Ishmael continues with his whale discourse, appointing himself as the drafter of a classification system for whales. As he points out, ". . . it is a ponderous task," made even more ponderous by the severe lack of scientific inquiry. Indeed, at the time Melville wrote Moby-Dick, I imagine whales were still seen as sea monsters, barely removed from mythology.
Last night, I attempted a revision of an essay. Note the word "attempted." I didn't get it done. The essay requires a fairly substantial rewrite, so it is probably going to take me a couple of days. To paraphrase Melville, it is a ponderous task. I will put some more time into it this evening, after I go to a poetry reading at the university.
It is Holy Thursday, so I feel a little guilty that I'm forgoing the first part of the Easter Triduum to hear Kwame Dawes read his poems. But listening to poetry is sort of a religious experience for me. (Okay, I know I'm trying to justify my dereliction of Christian duty. Cut me some slack. I'm playing the organ and singing for Good Friday, AND I'm cantoring, playing the organ, and singing for the Easter Vigil Mass, which is going to be a three-and-a-half hour marathon of readings and baptisms and confirmations and incense. I deserve a little poetry.)
I'm hoping to get some inspiration tonight for my rewrite. Kind of struggled a bit last night. I thought that it was going to be easy, and it wasn't. The plan that I had in my mind sort of fell apart. Now I'm trying to pick up the pieces to see what I have left. It's one of those writing situations where I'm trying to force the essay in one direction, and it seems to want to go in another. I may just have to surrender and just let the words show me the way.
It is almost time for me to leave for the poetry reading. I have really said nothing in this blog post, aside from the fact that I'm a terrible Christian and, at the moment, a terrible writer, struggling, like Melville, with a seemingly gargantuan project.
Saint Marty is thankful for poetic distraction tonight.