Chapter 52: The Albatross (part 1)

I have yet to meet a superstitious person, including myself, who does not find his or her own superstitions a little silly. For example, when I set the volume on the stereo to twelve or fourteen, but find myself unable to stop at thirteen, I feel ridiculous, but I just can’t bring myself to settle at thirteen. I have trained myself to apply significance to insignificance, and can’t seem to break out of that singularity of mind, even though I recognize it as such — superstition is a kind of monomania, in other words.

“The Albatross” uses a well-worn superstition of sailors to explore a similar idea. As most famously explored in Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” for a sailor to mess with an albatross (the bird of good omen) means the worst of luck to come. Enter a whaling ship, on return voyage, called “The Goney” (another name for albatross). As the Goney sails past the Pequod, Ahab shouts his customary inquiry about the white whale to the Goney’s captain, whose response is hindered and overwhelmed by several happenings — the captain drops his speaking trumpet into the water, the two boats’ wakes cross with a thunderous clap, the wind picks up — all while a shoal of fish scatters away from the scene.

The crew and Ahab, of course, all interpret the events as omen — the crew horrifically, and Ahab with a “helpless sadness.” We as readers also can’t help but to apply a gravity to the cliched events that we have learned over the years to consider significant. Ishmael, however, does not seem shaken — in recounting the reactions of others, he gives no reaction of his own. Ishmael merely notes that “to any monomaniac man, the veriest trifles capriciously carry meanings.” In a single stroke, Ishmael points a finger at our Ahab-like tendencies as readers. As Ahab distorts his world with his singularity of purpose, so can we as readers distort a novel. In turning our learned behavior into red-herring, Ishmael asks us to untrain our habits as readers, to read as an observer and a thinker, rather than an interpreter, and escape with him to tell the tale.

Chapter 52: The Albatross (part 1)

A clap of thunder,
A bolt of lightning,
The crash of two wakes as they cross in open sea —
It’s foreshadowing
Death and destruction,
‘Cause the boat we passed was an Albatross by name.

A bird of good omen
Shot by Ahab —
What an arrow be the name of Moby Dick!
The captain faltering,
The Albatross dumbstruck,
Now we’re cursed to be the walking dead for sure.

Hasn’t he read
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
Doesn’t he know
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
Every good sailor knows you let the albatross be!

Somebody read
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Out to the captain
(The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)!
So we’re all on the very same page while we’re in the same boat.

Birds that scatter
As a portent,
Because of their supernatural sense of evil to come.
We had schools of fish
Scatter like birds.
Even Ahab noticed with sadness of our fate.

Hasn’t he read
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
Doesn’t he know
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
Every good sailor know that you let the albatross be!

Somebody read
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Out to the captain
(The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)!
So we’re all on the very same page while we’re in the same boat.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea September 1, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea June 21, 2009

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Patrick,
    What an amazing project you have going on ! Your mom sent me a link to your NPR interview and I enjoyed listening to it. It’s wonderful that the interviewer recognized you as a musician, songwriter and teacher. Three noble professions to be sure.
    All the best to you in your endeavors.
    Ellena McClain

  2. Readers: Mrs. McClain is not only a friend of my mom’s, she was my second grade reading teacher! She may have also taught me for spelling class. I think so!

    Thanks, Mrs. McClain!


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