Chapter 76: The Battering-Ram

A strange fact about the sperm whale’s physiology: most of its head is a tough, boneless, unfeeling mass of flesh. All vital or sensitive organs of the head are protected away from the front of its body, leaving an impenetrable wall — a battering-ram if you will — preceding the whale as it passes through the world.

As is often the case, this simple fact of physiology carries ponderous implications for Ishmael, both practical and philosophical. On the practical side of things, Ishmael tells us that when we’re not believing that Moby DIck could sink the Pequod: believe it. Sperm whales can do that.

The philosophical implications, of course, carry well into the realm of human experience, pointing towards issues of interior life versus exterior life. It can be tempting for us to think that the true whale — the thinking, feeling whale — exists behind the battering ram, and that the battering ram is nothing more than an external wall protecting it. But the most delicate oil found in the whale resides inside that lifeless mass of flesh. How can we separate that flesh from the Truth of the whale?

People often talk about getting past exteriors, getting to know a person’s inner self, as if that were the true self. But people also build walls around themselves — images offensive or defensive — and perhaps in defining a person it isn’t fair to separate out from Truth the battering-ram that person uses to pass through life. Or perhaps the issue is more complex yet. Why does there have to be a true self? Must we always reduce the world to Truth?

Chapter 76: The Battering-Ram

May Truth reveal itself
In moth-fed predilections,
Furnished by the wealth
Experience conditions,
So we do it!

I can’t conceive your eyes,
But I don’t care.
Maybe another day.

In all, precedes a form —
A wall of indivision,
A cold protecting warm
In palpable commission,
And so we charge ahead.

Behind it all, amassed,
Tremendous life,
Or so I see in you.

But take, take, take, take, take, take, take it easy!
Now believe each fateful sight!
A wonder in every fold,
A truth waiting to be told!

A youth who steals the path
From timely revelation,
When sorrow takes it back,
Dies in observation
Of the only Truth.

I can’t conceive your eyes,
But I don’t care.
Maybe another day.

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea July 24, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea May 22, 2010

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