Tuesday, April 17, 2018

April 17: The Brimming Pewter, Some Kind of Meaning, Lemon Cookies

But in his joy at the enchanted, tacit acquiescence of the mate, Ahab did not hear his foreboding invocation; nor yet the low laugh from the hold; nor yet the presaging vibrations of the winds in the cordage; nor yet the hollow flap of the sails against the masts, as for a moment their hearts sank in. For again Starbuck's downcast eyes lighted up with the stubbornness of life; the subterranean laugh died away; the winds blew on; the sails filled out; the ship heaved and rolled as before. Ah, ye admonitions and warnings! why stay ye not when ye come? But rather are ye predictions than warnings, ye shadows! Yet not so much predictions from without, as verifications of the fore-going things within. For with little external to constrain us, the innermost necessities in our being, these still drive us on.

"The measure! the measure!" cried Ahab.

Receiving the brimming pewter, and turning to the harpooneers, he ordered them to produce their weapons. Then ranging them before him near the capstan, with their harpoons in their hands, while his three mates stood at his side with their lances, and the rest of the ship's company formed a circle round the group; he stood for an instant searchingly eyeing every man of his crew. But those wild eyes met his, as the bloodshot eves of the prairie wolves meet the eye of their leader, ere he rushes on at their head in the trail of the bison; but, alas! only to fall into the hidden snare of the Indian.

"Drink and pass!" he cried, handing the heavy charged flagon to the nearest seaman. "The crew alone now drink. Round with it, round! Short draughts- long swallows, men; 'tis hot as Satan's hoof. So, so; it goes round excellently. It spiralizes in ye; forks out at the serpent-snapping eye. Well done; almost drained. That way it went, this way it comes. Hand it me- here's a hollow! Men, ye seem the years; so brimming life is gulped and gone. Steward, refill!

"Attend now, my braves. I have mustered ye all round this capstan; and ye mates, flank me with your lances; and ye harpooneers, stand there with your irons; and ye, stout mariners, ring me in, that I may in some sort revive a noble custom of my fishermen fathers before me. O men, you will yet see that- Ha! boy, come back? bad pennies come not sooner. Hand it me. Why, now, this pewter had run brimming again, wert not thou St. Vitus' imp- away, thou ague!

"Advance, ye mates! Cross your lances full before me. Well done! Let me touch the axis." So saying, with extended arm, he grasped the three level, radiating lances at their crossed centre; while so doing, suddenly and nervously twitched them; meanwhile glancing intently from Starbuck to Stubb; from Stubb to Flask. It seemed as though, by some nameless, interior volition, he would fain have shocked into them the same fiery emotion accumulated within the Leyden jar of his own magnetic life. The three mates quailed before his strong, sustained, and mystic aspect. Stubb and Flask looked sideways from him; the honest eye of Starbuck fell downright.

"In vain!" cried Ahab; "but, maybe, 'tis well. For did ye three but once take the full-forced shock, then mine own electric thing, that had perhaps expired from out me. Perchance, too, it would have dropped ye dead. Perchance ye need it not. Down lances! And now, ye mates, I do appoint ye three cupbearers to my three pagan kinsmen there- yon three most honorable gentlemen and noblemen, my valiant harpooneers. Disdain the task? What, when the great Pope washes the feet of beggars, using his tiara for ewer? Oh, my sweet cardinals! your own condescension, that shall bend ye to it. I do not order ye; ye will it. Cut your seizings and draw the poles, ye harpooneers!"

Silently obeying the order, the three harpooneers now stood with the detached iron part of their harpoons, some three feet long, held, barbs up, before him.

"Stab me not with that keen steel! Cant them; cant them over! know ye not the goblet end? Turn up the socket! So, so; now, ye cup-bearers, advance. The irons! take them; hold them while I fill!" Forthwith, slowly going from one officer to the other, he brimmed the harpoon sockets with the fiery waters from the pewter.

"Now, three to three, ye stand. Commend the murderous chalices! Bestow them, ye who are now made parties to this indissoluble league. Ha! Starbuck! but the deed is done! Yon ratifying sun now waits to sit upon it. Drink, ye harpooneers! drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat's bow- Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!" The long, barbed steel goblets were lifted; and to cries and maledictions against the white whale, the spirits were simultaneously quaffed down with a hiss. Starbuck paled, and turned, and shivered. Once more, and finally, the replenished pewter went the rounds among the frantic crew; when, waving his free hand to them, they all dispersed; and Ahab retired within his cabin.

Starbuck does not get swept up in Ahab's speech to the crew.  Doesn't buy into the drinking or backslapping.  The name Moby Dick seems to plant in Starbuck seeds of discomfort.  He seems to know something that the other men don't.  Perhaps he recognizes the spark of madness in Ahab's eyes.  Or maybe he's had an encounter with the white whale before.  It could simply be a sense of unease, a premonition of what is to come.

The snow has finally stopped falling.  The university where I teach has finally reopened.  It has been closed since Sunday morning.  Slowly, the Upper Peninsula is returning to business as usual.  Tomorrow, all the kids will return to school.  I hear a snowblower coughing down the street.  One of my neighbors digging out from last night's/today's snowfall.  Everyone is trying to return to normal.

I'm a little at sea right now.  Both of my children are gone--my daughter at her boyfriend's house, my son on yet another trip with his aunt.  My house is absolutely silent, except for tapping bursts of my fingers on the keyboard and the steady cracking of the clock on the wall.  This makes me uneasy.  I'm not used to unstructured time in the middle of the week.  My week days and nights are usually very regimented. 

And now, without the driving force of teaching and work and children this evening, I am overcome with a kind of exhaustion.  In the last three sentences, I have drifted off into a twilight doze four or five times.  Like Ahab, I've had to take a few turns around the decks of my home, to shake off this torpor.  Stuffed a lemon cookie into my mouth.  Stared out the kitchen window.  Eaten a chocolate egg.  Gone to the bathroom.  Peed.  Washed a dirty glass that was in the sink. 

I'm searching for some kind of meaning this evening, I guess.  A Bigfoot to chase.  A poem or essay to write.  Words of hope for a friend who's struggling with hopelessness at the moment.  Eggs and toast for my wife when she wakes up from her nap.

It's easy to go a little crazy, become obsessed with loss and pain and misfortune and loneliness.  Just now, in the middle of my tiredness, I found myself profoundly sad and angry at the universe,  My swampy brain started cataloging the Moby Dicks of my life--my dad's death, my friend's illness, my financial struggles . . . So many white whales out there.

I think I need to take a page out of Starbuck's book.  Recognize that I've contracted a little Ahab fever.  Dial it back a notch.  Go easy on myself.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for lemon cookies, chocolate eggs, a clean glass, and the end of snow.

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