Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker

Ishmael opens “The Mat-Maker” with a ponderous description of his afternoon’s labor — the weaving of something called a sword mat.* As he weaves throughout the lazy afternoon, Ishmael thinks about fate and free will, deciding that all life is a result of “chance, free will, and necessity — no wise incompatible — all interweavingly working together.”

As one might expect, we see Ishmael’s rumination play out in several ways in the rest of the chapter. For example, the chance spotting of a school of whales calls the men into the necessity of the work they signed onto by free will, but otherwise trumps their free will to continue undisturbed with their afternoon activities. Ishmael also notices a similar relationship between the rhythmic necessity of whales to breathe, the chance of being spotted by hunters, and the free will they can exercise in which way they swim once they have sounded and are out of sight.

Just as we get the hang of this sort of analysis, all eyes turn to Ahab, who brings to deck the secret crew he stowed on board to man his personal whale boat. Ishmael leaves his readers hanging on this image as the chapter closes, which serves to point a giant finger at the man who fused chance, free will, and necessity into one impossible monster, and called it Moby Dick.

*Strangely, though many online sources were willing to explain that a sword mat provides “an additional lashing” to a whale boat, those are actually the words of the book, and don’t help much for a reader like me who wants to know what a sword mat looks like or functions as. Do we have any nautical types out there who can comment below and help me out?

Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker

Lazing on a cloudy afternoon,
While away the minutes, weaving.
Working at the warp of Time,
Summoning a life of my own dealing.

And chance drives the ribbon!
And chance drives the ribbon!
And chance drives the ribbon askew!

Then, by simple happenstance,
The mast-head cried, our destiny remembered.
Hop to stations, one, two, three,
Choice at bay, and free-will fully censured.

So chance drives the ribbon!
So chance drives the ribbon!
So chance drives the ribbon askew!

More than one way,
More than one way through,
More than one way through necessity!

We see it in the whale, as well;
He spouts with regularity, intriguing.
But beneath the surface he’s
Free to follow any path he’s leading.

But chance drives the ribbon!
But chance drives the ribbon!
Oh, chance drives the ribbon askew!

(c) and (p) 2009 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea September 7, 2009
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea November 6, 2010

Published in: on December 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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