Chapter 51: The Spirit-Spout

“The Spirit-Spout” reminds me of just how powerful the mood of one’s self or one’s surroundings can influence the way we interpret day to day events. Ahab, perhaps the most masterful manipulator of mood in literary history, having socked his crew with the one-two punch of Moby Dick and Fedallah, is left with a crew driven by dread and superstition. Consequently, even placid, moonlit nights take on an aspect of ghostly, supernatural foreboding.

Imagine this same crew rounding the Cape of Good Hope, also called Cape Tormentoso by less optimistic sailors of the past. The Pequod meets the rough waters of the cape with a dark outlook — the choppy waters become “demonaic,” the high winds “howl,” and the sea ravens that perch in the riggings do so not because they are birds in need of rest, but because “they deemed our ship some drifting, uninhabited craft; a thing appointed to desolation, and therefore [a] fit roosting-place for their homeless selves.”

Ahab, of course, thrives in this mood of misery begun by him and magnified in the many men of his crew. I sense in this chapter the beginnings of a negative feedback loop, with Ahab creating in his men the very misery that drives him further into madness.

Chapter 51: The Spirit-Spout

How now, Fedallah, you give us a fright
Up on the mast-head at night —
If you’re searching for misery,
You’ll find it alright.

Seen in the moonlight a silvery spout,
And followed, we utter devout —
Tranced by our misery
And beckoned without.

All in good time you’ll realize
That everything’s white in the moonlight;
It’s a trick of the night.

Birds beat the black air, relentlessly fleet;
Fish leap in tormented sea —
Trapped by their misery
And condemned to repeat.

Promise, exalted from deepest despair,
What else, a fountain so fair? —
It’s only our misery
Finally laid bare.

All in good time you’ll realize
That everything’s white in the moonlight;
It’s a trick of the night.

(c) and (p) 2010 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 19, 2010
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea July 15, 2011