Chapter 127: The Deck

Two summers ago, my wife and I traveled to Mystic, Connecticut for a twenty-four hour marathon reading of Moby-Dick. One of the highlights of the event for me was a vivid rendering of “The Deck,” performed by a man who could have been (and probably was) a cartoon voice actor. Reading “The Deck” again, more than a year later, I still hear it as performed in those early morning hours as we neared our conclusion.

My memory of that reading might be responsible for my seeing this chapter as one of the funniest things in print. The carpenter clearly wants to be left to his work in peace, and Ahab can’t seem to muster the social aptitude to clue in past the carpenter’s manners (and deference to his captain). Ahab peppers the poor carpenter with his quasi-deep thoughts, catching him constantly off guard and struggling for an appropriate response. The chapter is comic relief worthy of Shakespeare — funny and somewhat morbid all at once.

As with Shakespeare’s comic relief, which often also doubles as commentary on the writer’s life, I wonder if Melville sees something of himself in the carpenter — happy to write, finding a song in the tools at hand (whether they are bracing life or preparing for death), and wanting to be left alone to follow his work, without buffoons like Ahab harping on him about significance and metaphor.

Chapter 127: The Deck

Carpenter:
Sha na na na na!
No need to sing, the tools are ringing in song!
Sha na na na na!
But digging a grave, you bring the ditty along . . .
Still, indifferently, I cradle death, undone.

Sha na na na na!
I do as I do, you say to do it, it’s done!
Sha na na na na!
There on the way, I needs be having some fun!
And in courting laughter, bathe in tempers won.

Ahab:
A sounding board in the house of the dead —
Echoes untoward!
Hold now, opine — every vector a straight line
Paired with this force!

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 31, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea October 16, 2010

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