Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

Chapter 26, “Knights and Squires,” is somewhat enigmatic. Ishmael uses this and the next two chapters to introduce the mates, harpooneers, and captain of the Pequod. The first half of Chapter 26 does just that, profiling Starbuck in all his complexities of circumstance, nature, and life experience. But then the chapter takes a sharp turn, as Ishmael launches into a beautiful but not clearly related ode to the ideal of the common man, democracy, and “the great God absolute.” Can Ishmael not resist a good musing, or does he want to present Starbuck in two concepts of mankind — physical being versus Platonic form?

Thinking along these lines reminds me of Walt Whitman, and his obsession with the body, not in negation of the soul, but as part in parcel of man; i.e.: “Of physiology from top to toe I sing, / Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse, I say the Form complete is worthier far.” Western Civilization has a long recorded history full of discord between body and soul — religious, philosophical, artistic, political, and scientific — but in these two contemporaries, perhaps we see an outright rebellion against the conflict itself, a refusal to recognize any separation between ideal and existential man. Think how daring this would have been, taking the third, not offered stance, and simultaneously alienating oneself from so many intellectual communities, all for a grand statement of Humanism.

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

His skin’s a blotter
Drawn tight, memory of the water.
Stalwart beacon of courage
Raised in the day.

He’s superstitious
But smart, blessed with inner visions.
Full sail, brave with the horrors
Staged from the Earth.

I sing of stronger
Degrees of honor
Than kingly riches,
Shone from the work of man!

But, lo, he falters!
Faced with supernatural horrors.
Come, friends, brace him with his blemish,
As one we fall!

In every fellow
Exalt purity of spirit
From dust, rising to the glory
Of functional.

I sing of stronger
Degrees of honor
Than kingly riches,
Shone from the work of man!

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea October 21, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea January 17, 2010