I have always been overwhelmingly terrified of lying on my deathbed wondering “Where did all the time go?” In my more frustrated moments over the years with students I have sometimes found myself saying things like “An hour of your life is gone forever. You can never get that hour back. And you only wrote three sentences.” It always creeps my kids out, but it’s totally how I see the world. Production validates time.
Enter Chapter 112, “The Blacksmith,” a proletariat anthem for sure. I have to admit, it took me several reads to get any kind of plot out of the chapter, obscured as it is by all the trumpets flaring for capital L Labor. The story follows the Pequod’s blacksmith, a man named Perth, who was “an artisan of famed excellence.” Perth had it all — a loving wife, three children, a thriving business, and a “cheerful-looking church” to visit every Sunday. Perth’s workshop is connected to his home, and the beat of his hammer echos through the house as a heartbeat for his domestic life. Interesting here is the equation of productive industry and happiness. Perth’s wife listens with “…vigorous pleasure, to the stout ringing of her young-armed old husband’s hammer.” Ishmael also notes that “…to stout Labor’s iron lullaby, the blacksmith’s infants were rocked to slumber.” All was happy until Perth began to drink: “The blows of the basement hammer every day grew more and more between; and each blow every day grew fainter than the last; the wife sat frozen at the window, with tearless eyes, glitteringly gazing into the weeping faces of her children; the forge choked up with cinders…” and on and on until Perth’s wife and children are dead and buried, with Perth thinking of sending himself along soon after. As industry collapses, the very fabric of domesticity crumbles. Workshops and factories are the basement foundation of family life; the labor within its heartbeat.
Interesting then the death and rebirth metaphor as Perth moves into a kind of labor distinctly separate from any usual form of domestic life. Interesting how Perth’s hammer becomes the heartbeat of a different kind of family, a family of laborers, a camaraderie between workers, shall we say, hmm? We are breaking from labor as a support for self and moving to labor as a support for all, a communal life, if you will. And labor once again validates Perth’s existence. He is purposeful; he is alive.
And I meanwhile, live a great anxiety when I don’t manage to write a song every day, or only make it three-fourths of the way through a recording in a weekend. My heart seems to beat a little slower. My life seems a little less justified. Here’s to each man and woman; here’s to the hammer each of us patiently beats. Here’s to the collective effort towards a more thoughtful and more beautiful world. May our industry thrive.
Chapter 112: The Blacksmith
Find me the mercy of evasion,
My only testament taken
Upon the desolate sea.
The only merciful.
Beat with a stoical compassion:
I’ll bring my hammer to you,
I’ll bring my hammer to you.
Launch from everything tried.
Cast the living world aside.
It’s a fully sheltered lee
But how could you?
Ode to the infinite and drifting —
By possibility lured.
‘Cause it happened.
Oh, ’cause it happened,
My hammer patiently beats.
(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea July 28, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea July 29, 2008