Thursday, 21 April 2016

Melville and the seasons

Whilst other people write about water metaphors (Ishmael) and fire or sun metaphors (Ahab, and his dark shadow the prophet Fedallah), I'd like to draw your attention to something else in Moby Dick: Melville and the seasons and the months. 
From chapter 1: 
"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."
Same place:
"True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow."
From chapter 8:
"At the time I now write of, Father Mapple was in the hardy winter of a healthy old age; that sort of old age which seems merging into a second flowering youth, for among all the fissures of his wrinkles, there shone certain mild gleams of a newly developing bloom—the spring verdure peeping forth even beneath February's snow."
From chapter 28:
"Nevertheless, ere long, the warm, warbling persuasiveness of the pleasant, holiday weather we came to, seemed gradually to charm him from his mood. For, as when the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April and May, trip home to the wintry, misanthropic woods; even the barest, ruggedest, most thunder-cloven old oak will at least send forth some few green sprouts, to welcome such glad-hearted visitants; so Ahab did, in the end, a little respond to the playful allurings of that girlish air."
From chapter 29:
"Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which, at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic."
From chapter 68:
"But more surprising is it to know, as has been proved by experiment, that the blood of a Polar whale is warmer than that of a Borneo negro in summer."
From chapter 81:
"For young whales, in the highest health, and swelling with noble aspirations, prematurely cut off in the warm flush and May of life, with all their panting lard about them; even these brawny, buoyant heroes do sometimes sink."
From chapter 85:
"While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflected there, a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere over my head. The invariable moisture of my hair, while plunged in deep thought, after six cups of hot tea in my thin shingled attic, of an August noon; this seems an additional argument for the above supposition."
From chapter 97:
"See with what entire freedom the whaleman takes his handful of lamps—often but old bottles and vials, though—to the copper cooler at the try-works, and replenishes them there, as mugs of ale at a vat. He burns, too, the purest of oil, in its unmanufactured, and, therefore, unvitiated state; a fluid unknown to solar, lunar, or astral contrivances ashore. It is sweet as early grass butter in April."
From chapter 105:
"Furthermore: concerning these last mentioned Leviathans, they have two firm fortresses, which, in all human probability, will for ever remain impregnable. And as upon the invasion of their valleys, the frosty Swiss have retreated to their mountains; so, hunted from the savannas and glades of the middle seas, the whale-bone whales can at last resort to their Polar citadels, and diving under the ultimate glassy barriers and walls there, come up among icy fields and floes; and in a charmed circle of everlasting December, bid defiance to all pursuit from man."
(My emphasis). 

I can see how silent and passive I have been in my Moby Dick series, offering nothing new or interesting. If you want more of my voice, go back to my series on Middlemarch or The Portrait of a Lady or The Woman in White or Frankenstein or something. 
I'm too much in awe of Melville's towering genius, and overwhelmed by all the brilliant essays I've come across, to write down anything worthwhile. 

1 comment:

  1. it's all a mater of relativity: a few persons know more than you, but a whole lot know more than me, so i for one find your explications fascinating. this one about time i sure didn't notice when i read the book, in addition to lots more i didn't notice. even my hi school english teacher asked me why i didn't notice the biblical language...