Chapter 70: The Sphynx

Most chapters in Moby-Dick either move the traditional story line forward, or use the explanation of whaling practices as metaphor for various aspects of contemporary life. “The Sphynx,” is a rare chapter that does both — Ishmael begins the chapter describing the practice of decapitating a whale before stripping the carcass, and ends the chapter following Ahab as he soliloquizes over the severed head.

In an interesting meta sort of way, after Ahab’s soliloquy he comments, “O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smallest atom stirs or lives in matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind.” Ahab draws some of these analogies clearly in his speech — the depth of the sea represents the depth time and of human experience; the calm of the breeze represents Ahab’s loss of faith and loss of hope.

Ishmael seems to draw his own analogy as well in preceding Ahab’s thoughts with a description of severing a whale’s head from its body. Like the whale’s head, Ahab’s mind has been separated from the rest of him — he’s all head and no heart — resulting in a man who, like the whale, has seen into the depths of experience, but can’t utter a coherent word to communicate the pain of that glimpse. Drawing on Ahab’s earlier images of God, one can imagine a giant cutting spade descending from the heavens to surgically make the cut, leaving Ahab dumbly buoyed in a solitary spiritual drift.

Chapter 70: The Sphynx

The deadliest calm,
A song indivisible
By the lonely.
Here is a man,
All alone. Oh!

The stillness of hearts,
We know as analogy
Drawn to nature.
Here is the sea,
Old and worn. Oh!

But love, ever blessed, is only known
Yet in our hearts!
Yet in our hearts!

The breeze of your touch,
A life to the miserable,
An elation.
Move me an inch,
Then a mile. Oh!

(c) and (p) 2010 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea July 27, 2010
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea February 5, 2011

Published in: on May 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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