. . . these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it . . .
“The Gilder” begins with a subtle yet jarring change of voice, as the narration shifts to the third-person “they,” away from the first-person “we” predominant throughout the book. The shift is not without precedent — earlier chapters presented as script for the stage come to mind — but still I wonder, has Ishmael left us again as narrator, or just become momentarily detached from the events at hand?
The chapter describes not only an exceptionally beautiful day at sea, but the reactions such weather inspires in Ahab, Starbuck, and Stubb. Ahab leads with some typical (“the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm”) and atypical reflections. For example, here Ahab’s thoughts center on a cyclical nature of life and growth: “through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then skepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If.” This is a different Ahab, an Ahab much more like the manhood he describes than the adolescence in which he has spent most of the book. Is Ahab growing perhaps, or does he merely foreshadow his impending death from the cycle he describes?
Starbuck and Stubb, on the other hand, seem to be in very different stages of the cycle. Starbuck’s religious ruminations conjure “boyhood’s thoughtless faith” here and throughout the book. Stubb appears leaping “fish-like, with sparkling scales” as he thinks, “I am Stubb, and Stubb has his history; but here Stubb takes oaths that he has always been jolly!” Maybe it’s just me and my personal preference, but Stubb’s Budda-esque outlook seems the most appealing of all presented here — in “infancy’s unconscious spell,” we are perhaps closest to nature, and to each moment of which we are aware. May we all find an end in this stage of the cycle, and not in the throes of faith, doubt, or ponderousness.
Chapter 114: The Gilder
On and on,
The great golden sun
Gilds the vales and the hills like the heavens.
And on and on,
The sea rolls anon
How the grass in fields dip and leaven.
But ’round and around and around,
Our fortunes come tumbling down
Then raise to the peak of a crown,
Like the sea.
As cold is decayed from the warm,
The blessings come crossed by a storm
And orphan our floundering forms
In the sea.
Oh, give us a captain of woe
And we’ll row and we’ll row and we’ll row,
And we’ll face a magnificent foe
Such as He!
Starbuck and Stubb:
The sea coaxes me
To always believe
In the meadows
Of my old-fashioned home,
Like the gelding
Stretched in full gallop on.
(c) and (p) 2010 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 2, 2010
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea March 5, 2011