Chapter 60: The Line

“The Line” begins with technical accounts regarding the harpoon line in a whale boat — its length, how it’s made, what it’s made of, how it’s coiled into the tub, and how it is set-up for use in the boat. The last of these technical points is actually quite complex and, as is his wont, sends Ishmael philosophizing.

After the line is carefully coiled into the tub, the tub is placed at the front of the boat. The harpoon end of the line is then passed up the middle of the boat, around the loggerhead, and back down the center of the boat. Presumably, though Ishmael does not specify, this makes the boat more stable when being pulled at by a harpooned whale. From there, the line passes out of a notch at the prow, loops back into the boat, and is attached the the harpoon. “Thus the whale-line folds the whole boat in its complicated coils, twisting and writhing around it in almost every direction,” and putting every man in the boat in great mortal danger from a tensioned rope being snapped around when the harpooneer finds his mark and the whale flees for his life.

Ishmael points out that no man alive can sit in among the ropes of a whale boat without imagining the worst and fearing for his life. Clearly, however, many men do sit among these ropes, and often at that, and here Ishmael takes a ponderous turn. Routine tends to turn danger into the banal — escaping the same danger over and over makes that danger seem less threatening. Such is the case, certainly, for the oarsmen in a whale boat, but it’s also the case for each of us every moment of every day. Common life carries such a saturation of danger that we too sit, metaphorically speaking, among the slack coils of a whale-line, not noticing the potential for death until something goes awry.

Chapter 60: The Line

From the bow, to the far aft end,
Where you loop it ’round that post, my friend,
And then up the middle, touching every hand,
Ahh-oop! We’re back again!

Now to the notch in the pointed prow,
Let it droop a little, down across the bow,
Coil a loop into the box for now
And then tie it to the harpoon, pow!

Each man sitting in a noose —
It’s a funny feeling!
Precarious and quite perverse,
But it’s life, it’s every life.

Do your job in the counting house,
It’s still a noose if you smile or grouse,
Or sitting quiet by the fire, I’d rather be you,
But you’re still in a noose.

Each man sitting in a noose —
It’s a funny feeling!
Precarious and quite perverse,
But it’s life, it’s every life.

Always threatened by the perils, love,
Of this mortal world, though you push or shove,
Or if you tiptoe around with new kid gloves,
Or you pray to the Lord above.

So, take advice from the lofty stacks,
And never worry, never watch your backs.
You’ll never know it ’til you feel the ax,
So relax! You have to relax!

Each man sitting in a noose —
It’s a funny feeling!
Precarious and quite perverse,
But it’s life, it’s every life.

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 19, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea September 4, 2010

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 10:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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