Chapter 92: Ambergris

Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonor, but raised in glory.

In the previous chapter, Ishmael introduces his readers to a substance called ambergris. Ambergris fetches exceptionally high prices, both for its use as a fragrance in cosmetics, and to a lesser extent as a flavoring in wine and food. Some might find it ironic that such a luxurious substance comes from the bowels of a sick whale — a lubricant of sorts to help sharp bones and squid beaks pass through the intestines.

Ishmael — American, democratic — does not find the fact of luxury grown from base origins the least bit ironic, nor does he humor the reputations of whales (or whalemen) as smelling badly. These rumors, says Ishmael, are certainly based in truth — Northern whaling ships carry blubber back to port to try out the oil, rather than trying the oil out at sea, and the stored blubber stinks as it begins to decay. But in good health — in the freedom of the outdoors — a whale more often smells like “a musk-scented lady” who “rustles her dress in a warm parlor.”

Ishmael certainly points in metaphor here to the democratic gentility of hard work, an elevation of working men and women from an esteem of dishonor to one of new-found glory. To me, the metaphor also points at the inverse — a gluttonous, slothful aristocracy masking the smell of poor health with the smell of wealth and circumstance. In this metaphor, the smell of wealth is actually the smell of rot — digested waste from the innards of a creature majestic in its natural freedom, not unlike the American worker.

Chapter 92: Ambergris

Three cheers for the atmosphere,
To good health in the coming years,
To all smells foul, and to the sweet aroma
Born from the wretched, blossomed in the corner.

Hey, hey, we’re only what we own.
Hey, hey, we’re gonna own the form!

St. Paul dancing at the ball —
From dishonor to the glory tall.
Wake, baby, wake — it’s only in the water!
Change what you take, and change the holy order!

Hey, hey, we’re only what we own.
Hey, hey, we’re gonna own the form!

Wake, baby, wake — it’s only in the water!
Change what you take, and change the holy order!
Wake, baby, wake! Wake, baby, wake!
Wake, baby, wake! Wake, baby, wake!

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea July 25, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea May 29, 2010

Published in: on June 27, 2010 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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