In the tumultuous business of cutting-in and attending to a whale, there is much running backwards and forwards among the crew. Now hands are wanted here, and then again hands are wanted there. There is no staying in any one place; for at one and the same time everything has to be done everywhere. It is much the same with him who endeavors the description of the scene. We must now retrace our way a little. It was mentioned that upon first breaking ground in the whale's back, the blubber-hook was inserted into the original hole there cut by the spades of the mates. But how did so clumsy and weighty a mass as that same hook get fixed in that hole? It was inserted there by my particular friend Queequeg, whose duty it was, as harpooneer, to descend upon the monster's back for the special purpose referred to. But in very many cases, circumstances require that the harpooneer shall remain on the whale till the whole tensing or stripping operation is concluded. The whale, be it observed, lies almost entirely submerged, excepting the immediate parts operated upon. So down there, some ten feet below the level of the deck, the poor harpooneer flounders about, half on the whale and half in the water, as the vast mass revolves like a tread-mill beneath him. On the occasion in question, Queequeg figured in the Highland costume- a shirt and socks- in which to my eyes, at least, he appeared to uncommon advantage; and no one had a better chance to observe him, as will presently be seen.
Being the savage's
bowsman, that is, the person who pulled the bow-oar in his boat (the
second one from forward), it was my cheerful duty to attend upon him
while taking that hard-scrabble scramble upon the dead whale's back. You
have seen Italian organ-boys holding a dancing-ape by a long cord. Just
so, from the ship's steep side, did I hold Queequeg down there in the
sea, by what is technically called in the fishery a monkey-rope,
attached to a strong strip of canvas belted round his waist.
was a humorously perilous business for both of us. For, before we
proceed further, it must be said that the monkey-rope was fast at both
ends; fast to Queequeg's broad canvas belt, and fast to my narrow
leather one. So that for better or for worse, we two, for the time, were
wedded; and should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more, then both usage
and honor demanded, that instead of cutting the cord, it should drag me
down in his wake. So, then, an elongated Siamese ligature united us. Queequeg was my own inseparable twin brother; nor could I any way get
rid of the dangerous liabilities which the hempen bond entailed.
strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that
while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive
that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of
two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another's
mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster
and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort of interregnum in
Providence; for its even-handed equity never could have so gross an
injustice. And yet still further pondering- while I jerked him now and
then from between the whale and ship, which would threaten to jam him-
still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation of mine was
the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most
cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality
of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary
by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True, you may say
that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the
multitudinous other evil chances of life. But handle Queequeg's
monkey-rope heedfully as I would, sometimes he jerked it so, that I came
very near sliding overboard. Nor could I possibly forget that, do what I
would, I only had the management of one end of it.*
monkey-rope is found in all whalers; but it was only in the Pequod that
the monkey and his holder were ever tied together. This improvement upon
the original usage was introduced by no less a man than Stubb, in order
to afford to the imperilled harpooneer the strongest possible guarantee
for the faithfulness and vigilance of his monkey-rope holder.
have hinted that I would often jerk poor Queequeg from between the whale
and the ship- where he would occasionally fall, from the incessant
rolling and swaying of both. But this was not the only jamming jeopardy
he was exposed to. Unappalled by the massacre made upon them during the
night, the sharks now freshly and more keenly allured by the before pent
blood which began to flow from the carcass- the rabid creatures swarmed
round it like bees in a beehive.
And right in among those sharks
was Queequeg; who often pushed them aside with his floundering feet. A
thing altogether incredible were it not that attracted by such prey as a
dead whale, the otherwise miscellaneously carnivorous shark will seldom
touch a man.
Nevertheless, it may well be believed that since
they have such a ravenous finger in the pie, it is deemed but wise to
look sharp to them. Accordingly, besides the monkey-rope, with which I
now and then jerked the poor fellow from too close a vicinity to the maw
of what seemed a peculiarly ferocious shark- he was provided with still
another protection. Suspended over the side in one of the stages,
Tashtego and Daggoo continually flourished over his head a couple of
keen whale-spades, wherewith they slaughtered as many sharks as they
could reach. This procedure of theirs, to be sure, was very
disinterested and benevolent of them. They meant Queequeg's best
happiness, I admit; but in their hasty zeal to befriend him, and from
the circumstance that both he and the sharks were at times half hidden
by the blood-muddled water, those indiscreet spades of theirs would come
nearer amputating a leg than a tall. But poor Queequeg, I suppose,
straining and gasping there with that great iron hook- poor Queequeg, I
suppose, only prayed to his Yojo, and gave up his life into the hands of
Well, well, my dear comrade and twin-brother, thought
I, as I drew in and then slacked off the rope to every swell of the sea-
what matters it, after all? Are you not the precious image of each and
all of us men in this whaling world? That unsounded ocean you gasp in,
is Life; those sharks, your foes; those spades, your friends; and what
between sharks and spades you are in a sad pickle and peril, poor lad.
courage! there is good cheer in store for you, Queequeg. For now, as
with blue lips and blood-shot eyes the exhausted savage at last climbs
up the chains and stands all dripping and involuntarily trembling over
the side; the steward advances, and with a benevolent, consolatory
glance hands him- what? Some hot Cognac? No! hands him, ye gods! hands
him a cup of tepid ginger and water!
"Ginger? Do I smell ginger?"
suspiciously asked Stubb, coming near. "Yes, this must be ginger,"
peering into the as yet untasted cup. Then standing as if incredulous
for a while, he calmly walked towards the astonished steward slowly
saying, "Ginger? ginger? and will you have the goodness to tell me, Mr.
Dough-Boy, where lies the virtue of ginger? Ginger! is ginger the sort
of fuel you use, Dough-boy, to kindle a fire in this shivering cannibal?
Ginger!- what the devil is ginger?- sea-coal? firewood?- lucifer
matches?- tinder?- gunpowder?- what the devil is ginger, I say, that you
offer this cup to our poor Queequeg here."
"There is some
sneaking Temperance Society movement about this business," he suddenly
added, now approaching Starbuck, who had just come from forward. "Will
you look at that kannakin, sir; smell of it, if you please." Then
watching the mate's countenance, he added, "The steward, Mr. Starbuck,
had the face to offer that calomel and jalap to Queequeg, there, this
instant off the whale. Is the steward an apothecary, sir? and may I ask
whether this is the sort of bitters by which he blows back the life into
a half-drowned man?"
"I trust not," said Starbuck, "it is poor stuff enough."
aye, steward," cried Stubb, "we'll teach you to drug it harpooneer;
none of your apothecary's medicine here; you want to poison us, do ye?
You have got out insurances on our lives and want to murder us all, and
pocket the proceeds, do ye?"
"It was not me," cried Dough-Boy, "it
was Aunt Charity that brought the ginger on board; and bade me never
give the harpooneers any spirits, but only this ginger-jub- so she
"Ginger-jub! you gingerly rascal! take that! and run
along with ye to the lockers, and get something better. I hope I do no
wrong, Mr. Starbuck. It is the captain's orders- grog for the harpooneer
on a whale."
"Enough," replied Starbuck, "only don't hit him again, but-"
I never hurt when I hit, except when I hit a whale or something of that
sort; and this fellow's a weazel. What were you about saying, sir?"
"Only this: go down with him, and get what thou wantest thyself."
Stubb reappeared, he came with a dark flask in one hand, and a sort of
tea-caddy in the other. The first contained strong spirits, and was
handed to Queequeg; the second was Aunt Charity's gift, and that was
freely given to the waves.
In the United States, this week is one of celebration. Independence Day is celebrated on Wednesday. In my little area of this country, many people take the entire week off from work and spend the next seven days barbecuing and drinking. Oh, and also going to parades and setting off fireworks. So, this chapter on the virtues of spirits (and I'm not talking about the kind that show up for seances) is pretty apropos.
So, tonight, I will kick off Independence Day week by drinking some hard lemonade. Just one. I have to work tomorrow morning. And I do come from a family who has a penchant for substance abuse, so I always consume alcohol in moderation. I know that I have a high tolerance for it.
Of course, the stereotype for poets is that they write and drink and carouse. Think Dylan Thomas, who, aside from being a fantastic poet, was legendary for his bouts of drunken debauchery. Truth be told, most of the poets I know never drink heavily. For most, it's just a beer or two after a poetry reading. That's it. An occasional celebratory glass of wine or champagne on special occasions. I, myself, when I win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, plan to down some Bailey's Irish Cream, on the rocks.
If you haven't guessed by now, this post is not going to delve very deeply into metaphysical questions this evening. I'm too tired to wallow in the blood and boil, like Queequeg. Nope. After I'm done typing this post, I plan on getting into my pajamas, turning on the television to some mindless entertainment, and drinking a little.
Of course, my neighbors celebrate this week by setting off fireworks all night long. I wouldn't be surprised if alcohol is also a part of their week-long firecracker fest. That's what we Americans do: we get drunk and blow things up.
Sing with Saint Marty (and try not to think about who's running the country at the moment): "I'm proud to be an Americaaaaaannnnn!!!"
(DISCLAIMER: Please read this post in the spirit in which it was written--with a great deal of tongue-in-cheekness.)