Chapter 97: The Lamp

After a chapter full of hellish images of industry, Ishmael walks us directly below the try-works into the forecastle, where the crew sleeps. Though an extremely short chapter, “The Lamp” brings a memorable beauty and calm out of the preceding chapter’s tumult. In “The Lamp” Ishmael shows us the crew at peace, sleeping in the full light of numerous oil lamps. Access to oil is a luxury to merchant crews, “but the whaleman, as he seeks the food of light, so he lives in light.”

“The Lamp” definitely speaks to the elevation and illumination born from labor — the men enjoying their “entire freedom” to dip as many makeshift lamps as they own into vats of pure, unprocessed oil — but I think it’s important to note that the chapter is part of a cycle that can hardly be called romantic. Though “The Lamp” finds workers at peace in an “illuminated shrine,” perhaps we can find a significance in the lamps illuminating the men as dead royalty, lifeless in the fruits of their labor. These are men liberated by their labor, but also men utterly spent in the process. Then again, perhaps the men in their labor have captured nature’s purity in a “fluid unknown to solar, lunar, or astral contrivances ashore.” In the end we may find the answer in a line from the next chapter, speaking to the entire cycle of work: “Oh! my friends, but this is man-killing! Yet this is life.” And so we live it.

Chapter 97, The Lamp

I’m bathed in the light.
I shine in the purity —
A tailor of right,
Equal luminosity.

And the vessels of light are the common vials
Of the everyday man
Emptied of their recipe,
Retooled to help us see.

I live at the roots,
The primal dichotomy —
A fork in the road,
A choice in its infancy.

And I’m filling our lamps with the murdered beasts.
Only nature can lead
From the fool’s eternity,
Untainted by human beings.

Sleep in the light as if I’m only
Closing my eyes for a while.

[instrumental]

I’m bathed in the light.
I shine in the purity —
A tailor of right,
Equal luminosity.

And the vessels of light are the common vials
Of the everyday man
Emptied of their recipe,
Retooled to help us see.

And the vessels of light are the common vials,
And the vessels of light are the common vials,
And the vessels of light are the common vials
Of the everyday man,
To help us see.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 13, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea March 2, 2009

Published in: on April 19, 2009 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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