Chapter 14: Nantucket

Ishmael is a moody cuss, and though I wouldn’t go so far as to call him misanthropic, he’s definitely an outsider. The Gregory Peck film version of Moby-Dick plays up a maritime fraternity — i.e.; a strong sense of belonging — as attracting Ishmael to whaling, but the book suggests otherwise: Ishmael wants to alienate himself from life on land.

“Nantucket” offers some insight into the nature of belonging. Ishmael describes Nantucketers as belonging to the sea in a way no other group could.  Merchants, war-ships, pirates and privateers use the ocean, but they don’t interact with it, and so remain mere extensions of the land, and not creatures of the sea. In contrast, the Nantucketer “alone resides and rests on the sea; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to it in ships; to and fro ploughing it as his own special plantation.” In “seeking to draw a living from the bottomless deep itself, ” Nantucketers become a part of the ecosystem, comparable to a landless sea gull. In other words, belonging runs deeper than habitation, down to the foundational interactions that sustain life itself.

Ishmael also mentions the inverse. A Nantucketer, he says, spends so little time on land that “when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more strangely than the moon would to an Earthsman.” In other words, belonging to the sea means alienation from the land. And this makes me wonder if Ishmael — observer and outsider that he is — really expects to be of the sea, or if he’s merely searching for a more distant vantage from which to see the truth on land.

Chapter 14: Nantucket

The thief who thieves from countrymen
Is a vicious criminal.
Heroes cast their empires wide
As a noble blanketing.
Mining yet through surfaces
To extract the best from all.
As oil on water brings a darkness
The heroes’ shadows fall.

An island born from Heaven stealing
The future of the Earth,
Rests its head atop the ocean,
A proxy one for each.
Friends and lovers laugh together,
The rape’s relentless cry,
A barren desert gilded with
A villain’s remedy.

Every surface serves as but
The monster’s wherewithal.
A push defined by that to push
Makes a gift of boundaries.
Life in placid infinite,
Though a paradise in form,
Tortures spirits’ needs to break
Into other peoples’ homes.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea October 18, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea December 31, 2009