Chapter 28: Ahab

Chapter 28, “Ahab,” profiles the captain of the Pequod focusing on the central image of a scar that runs the length of Ahab’s body. Through this image, Ishmael weaves a complicated mash-up of Christian and pagan mythologies.

Tashtego, a non-Christian Native American, attributes the scar to an “elemental strife at sea.” In one sense, this conjures a greater idea Ishmael has built, associating each officer of the Pequod with on of the four natural elements. It makes sense for Ahab, god of fire, to be damaged by the sea. In another sense, Tashtego is simply saying that Ahab was born whole or pure, and that any blemish on this purity must be the existential result of natural forces.

The Manxman takes a very different view of the scar, insisting that Ahab must have been born with the mark, implying something much more akin to a Christian idea of original sin — a soul marred to begin with.

These kinds of contradictions coexist throughout Moby-Dick in a tenuous way that seems, to me at least, at the same time impossible and honest. This mash-up often leaves me thinking that both perspectives seem valid, but also that sometimes a scar is just a scar.

Chapter 28: Ahab

All but consumed by fire,
As in spirit, the body tempered — a cast alive.
Scar from tip to toe
From a battle, perhaps with his very birth.
But the wise man points to the elements.
As the fire locked jaws with the ocean, hence.

Stands on an effigy
Of the jaw that did undermine his stability.
Anchored upon the tip
In an auger hole of his firm resolve.
With a gaze clamped tight on the infinite,
Could a faltered captain lose his grip?

High times for all!

Still but to watch and wait,
No excitement of purpose to drive the clouds away.
Creases upon his brow
From the weight of a wrecked principality.
But the tropic air dances casually
‘Round the crags of Ahab, softening.

High times for all!

But the wise man points to the elements.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea October 25, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea January 24, 2010

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