As you can see in the copyright information concluding each week’s post, I am now recording songs that I wrote nearly a year ago. In itself, that’s not a strange situation at all for a musician, except that the high-volume nature of this project has meant that for most of these songs, I haven’t thought about them at all since I wrote them. I only bring this up because I can’t remember why I wrote two songs for “The Albatross” — in the same day, at that — but I did.
I tried hard to remember some intentional reason for writing two songs, but I think simply that two different aspects of the chapter inspired me separately. In addition to dealing with superstition, “The Albatross” also discusses the idea of voyage in a finite space. As Ishmael and his crew-mates embark on what will be a fairly long voyage, they pass a crew returning home. The returning crew vividly wears the hardships of their voyage in torn clothing, long beards, and distant countenance. The sight of this crew gives Ishmael reason to reconsider his ideas of self-discovery. He realizes that a finite world can only offer a finite discovery, and that the longest voyage from home brings the voyager right back where he started, adding to life nothing but mortal danger, and “barren mazes” of understanding.
So soon after he advocates adventure as cure to life’s tumult (in “Loomings,” or “The Lee Shore”), Ishmael seems to suggest that physical voyage can offer nothing but fruitless and superficial change. Perhaps we see in Ishmael a man hemmed in by the physical limits of thought and action, a man recognizing his own insatiable demons, pulling him (or pushing him) onward in search of a limitless freedom that the world could never offer. Buck up, Ishmael. Finite space offers infinite possibility; new worlds await in ground past-trodden.
Chapter 52: The Albatross (part 2)
When you leave your family behind,
You’ll end where you started
Or die while you’re trying.
The sea presents an abyss,
The mouth of a labyrinth,
The end of a tryst.
‘Round the world is coming back to you.
‘Round the world will take me back to you.
If the world spread out like a table,
Forever an eastward
Direction to take,
The wanderer would be able
To think of a better
World yet to come.
Don’t you know your demons aren’t at sea?
Demons are the circle that binds you.
The circle of our world is just a cage.
The circle of our chests is just a cage.
(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 July 12, 2009