Chapter 106: Ahab’s Leg

Ahab has not been good to his ivory leg. In a rage, he banged it and twisted it around in such a way that although it didn’t break or fracture, the internal stress weakened it, and made it unreliable. Ahab thinks back to a full leg breakage prior to the Pequod departing Nantucket. He fell, and his leg splintered, which nearly pierced his groin. The image of the wound brilliantly conjures The Illiad as Ishmael begins to ruminate on the gods’ role in the happiness and sorrow of humans, and in recognizing that Ahab’s wound could never have happened but for prior injury (the loss of his leg), as all epic tales tend to go.

Simply put, Ishmael muses that joy begets joy, and misery begets misery, with one moral catch — many earthly pleasures send a soul to eternal suffering in hell, while the “heart-woes” of man carry a mystic and profound significance that point us toward the gods. In other words, many moral systems carry an assumption that the gods are not happy, and furthermore that the gods, and not some force of evil, are the source of human misery.

Ahab’s friends in Nantucket face the discomfort of this spiritual implication by sweeping Ahab — an all too strong reminder — under the rug, and then out to sea, swallowing the bitter truth by ignoring it. Ahab takes a more practical tack, nursing his misery, protecting it and keeping it intact like any other part of himself. I’m not sure which approach is supposed to be the healthy one, but out on the edge of the world, grappling with the spiritual aftermath of such a bleak moral system, only Ahab has a leg to stand on.

Chapter 106: Ahab’s Leg

Joy from joy,
And misery from misery!
Sadness suckles at your breast again.

The weight of depth,
Enough to crack your deadened half,
Could never leaven with felicity.

And on through the endless history of the seeds of pleasure,
Belayed to the promissory of despair, oh!

So we’re caught,
Contemplative, but for our lot —
Each ambition with decent of pain.

Brace us now,
And live we for the where and how!
With practicality I stand, estranged.

And on through the endless history of the seeds of pleasure,
Belayed to the promissory of despair, oh!

Credit given in forbearance’s name;
Nothing given to enjoy the same.

And on through the endless history of the seeds of pleasure,
Belayed to the promissory of despair, oh!

Joy from joy,
And misery from misery!
Snakes and songbirds do beget the same.

Brace us now,
And live we for the where and how!
With practicality I stand.

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea June 28, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea March 7, 2010

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://callmeishmael.org/2010/04/11/chapter-106-ahabs-leg/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: