One thing I love about Ishmael is that he’s no romantic when it comes to the world of men, and he doesn’t hide it. From the very first chapter of Moby-Dick, Ishmael tells his readers how little he enjoys, or even trusts, the company of other human beings, and I think it is just this distrust that makes him such a perfect narrator for this particular story. Ishmael doesn’t take anything at face value — he watches, he thinks, and he analyzes, even with the most passing of human actions or customs.
“The Funeral” follows one such custom, likely taken for granted by every other man on the Pequod. After the killed whale is stripped fully and beheaded, the crew cuts it loose from the side of the ship, leaving the carcass to the pleasure of sharks and sea birds. Ishmael, of course, sees in this “most doleful and most mocking funeral” a greater perspective on the world of men and beasts alike.
As one might imagine, Ishmael sees no redemptive qualities in this custom of the whaling world. On the part of the feasting sharks and birds, he sees a greed and sought advantage over the weak that (based on his descriptive language) he no doubt parallels to the world of men. As for men, he sees a callousness and neglect that lives on to haunt men’s beliefs with false information. When killed whales are cut adrift in this manner, other passing ships misinterpret the scene in their ships’ logs as rocks, and other ships needlessly avoid the scene for years to come, much like sheep leaping over empty space “because their leader originally leaped there when a stick was held.”
Describing the effects of this whaling custom as such calls into question the custom itself. Ishmael begs a question that most whaling men would never consider: why such a disregard for the gifts of nature, upon which the whalemen survive? In such an unceremonious funeral, wherein lies the hunter’s spirit?
Chapter 69: The Funeral
Massive life to chalk,
And all foul inclinations rise.
The proof of a total disregard
In intemperate scavenging.
Of a death to fear,
As all grand intellection sums
To a nothing, to a phantom, a disgrace
To those remembering.
In the purview of Venus,
But out of the sky
Only frenzy and rape,
Not by design or divinity,
Only by absence of mind.
Every touch and glance
Dissolves, but not all agency relies
On existence; your specter lingers on
With false alacrity,
To scare our savagery.
(c) and (p) 2010 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea April 5, 2010
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea November 25, 2010