Chapter 91: The Pequod meets the Rose-bud

Something smells awful. Is it the rotting, bloated whales a neighboring ship has chained to her sides? Is it the unscrupulous deceit with which Stubb tricks the captain of the neighboring ship into giving him a valuable, though rotting, whale? Or is it simply all the smelly Frenchmen on board this ship, along with their cologne-making captain?

These are the circumstances with which we meet the Rose-bud, a French whaling vessel almost as incompetent as the German vessel we met a few chapters earlier. Unlike the German ship, whose crew furiously chased whales but couldn’t apprehend them, the Rose-bud has chosen to scavenge for whales already dead in the water. Ishmael identifies both of the whales found by the Rose-bud as “blasted” whales, or whales which have “died unmolested on the sea.” Despite all evidence to support Ishmael’s assessment, Stubb insists that one of the whales in question was harpooned and drugged by the Pequod in an earlier chase and, though lost to them at the time, should not belong to the scavenging Frenchmen. Identifying the other scavenged whale as potentially containing valuable ambergris, Stubb plots his revenge.* Though played out as humorous, the trick Stubb plays on the French captain, with the help of a Guernsey-man on board, is not only deceitful, but insulting, demeaning, and cruel.** In short, like the rotting whales, Stubb’s behavior turns both the nose and the stomach.

Our culture uses a variety of metaphors to optimistically suggest goodness in the heart of badness — pearl in the oyster, oasis in the desert, diamond in the rough, clouds with silver linings***, etc. — but Stubb’s trickery and greed turns the metaphor on its head somewhat. What do we make of a situation where a sweet smell found amidst a stench suggests a deeper, far less superficial kind of rot? Has the self-serving ethos of capitalism deprived us of any true optimism?

*Ambergris is a fatty, oily substance found in the intestines of sick whales, possibly a sort of lubricant for ingested irritants. Used for cosmetics and perfumes, ambergris was even more valuable than oil.

**Guernsey is an English island off the coast of France.

***Or Zinc linings, according to Alex P. Keaton.

Chapter 91: The Pequod meets the Rose-bud

From the heart of the stench
A rose-bud blooms,
A rose-bud blooms for the day.

The brilliant devise,
A posture to prize,
The moment’s luck from dismay.

As adjoining streams
Join as one, kneeling
Through the banks of probable decay,
Cannot claim perfume
Into rotten wounds,
May your sweetness live above the day!

Tides of the stench
Will ebb and flow,
And you, untouched, my Amber-Gray.

As adjoining streams
Join as one, kneeling
Through the banks of probable decay,
Cannot claim perfume
Into rotten wounds,
May your sweetness live above the day!

From the heart of the stench
A rose-bud blooms,
A rose-bud blooms for the day.

Tides of the stench
Will ebb and flow,
And you, untouched, my Amber-Gray.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea October 9, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea November 7, 2009

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://callmeishmael.org/2009/11/29/chapter-91-the-pequod-meets-the-rose-bud/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: