Chapter 23: The Lee Shore

I remember taking a course in college (Grinnell) about Joyce’s Ulysses. The class was like three visits to the bar per week, minus the beer — it was a rollicking good time, and a good time I try to revisit every Bloomsday with my friend Sean and whoever else will join in. My point in saying all this here is that reading Moby Dick is much of the same kind of rollicking good time — the book is absolutely hilarious. So let’s lighten it up a bit this week, shall we? I present you with a song about death. The song doubles as the next dance sensation to sweep the nation, “The Lee Shore.” And yes, yeah, well, whatever, fine — this is not the most cheery song to ever pass my lips and fingertips, but I like it a lot and I want to share it with you this week because it’s been dancing in my head lately.

“The Lee Shore” is a weirdly beautiful chapter of Moby Dick.  There’s a man named Bulkington that Ishmael meets early in the book (Ch 2-ish), and we hear nothing more of him until Ch 23 when he falls overboard and dies.  In a very short (“6 in.”) chapter, Melville manages to pack in a lot of very important and very recurring extended metaphors: 1) there’s definitely a land/ocean dichotomy throughout the book that takes on various forms in various chapters (sanity/madness, conservatism/progressivism, status quo/revolution (or paradigm shift)), 2) throughout the book we often see voyages to sea being presented as the physical equivalent of deep, ponderous soul-searching.  “The Lee Shore” refers to a ship’s habit of staying within sight of the shore when possible because solid ground is safe.  But nothing, says Ishmael, is more dangerous than hugging to the lee shore in turbulent weather — one is more likely dashed against the rocks at shore than whelmed in the middle of the ocean.  Push out then, Ishmael advises, into freedom of thought and being when the going gets rough.  You can connect the spiritual dots from here.

Distilled to a pop song, I think this is all a way of saying enjoy the fair weather but let it go when you need to.  Don’t be tethered by the familiar — if you find yourself in turbulent times, the familiar is obviously not working out for you. If you have been reading along, some of this will sound a lot like what we hear from Ishmael in “Loomings.” Anyway, how better to enjoy good times than to dance?  How better to dance than to dance “The Lee Shore”?

Chapter 23: The Lee Shore

Your solemn eyes survive
As howled lullabies
By the hearthstone, in its comfort.
A ground to firmly stand.

There’s nothing to it!
It’s a safety dance.
When the weather’s fair,
Do the Lee Shore!

But when the storm arrives,
Turn your keel to sea.
The immensity is your safest bet
To find a better way.

There’s nothing to it!
Preconception’s fine.
When the sky is bright,
Do the Lee Shore!

There’s nothing to it!
When the tempest comes
Let your soul roam free.
From the Lee Shore!

There’s nothing to it!
There’s a higher truth.
If you break the chains
Of the Lee Shore!

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 4, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea October 18, 2008

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 9:07 am  Comments (6)  
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