Chapter Forty One

From In That Howling Infinite – Poems of Paul Hemphill,Volume 5

© Paul Hemphill 2013.  All rights reserved.

Named for Chapter 41 of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, an  allegorical saga of the Mad Captain and his nemesis. On one level it could be the ultimate tribute song. Jack Sparrow, Tom Waits, Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, Nietzsche, Der Fliegende Holländer, Peter Paul and Mary, Otis Reading, The Ancient Mariner, and Bob Dylan rise from the raging waters. It is a song that is part sea shanty, part treatise on madness and obsession. “Down, down, deep we dove, in a tangle of rigging and rage, down to the deep where the dead sailors sleep, in the darkness of Lucifer’s cage”.

For long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched out in one hammockas his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another, and so interfusing, made him mad.   Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 41 

And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks back at you.  Friedrich Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil (Jenseits von Gut und Boese)

 Be not afraid of madness; some are born mad, some achieve madness, and some have madness thrust upon them. After William Shakespeare

Prologue

 

 Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen   white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.   Moby Dick, Chapter 135

I met a drunken sailor who sang strange songs to me,
Of acid trips on phantom ships upon the endless sea.
He spoke of brave old Ulysses who’d drifted years and more;
And the lean and hungry Hollander forever barred from shore;
And stories too of the Wandering Jew, cursed by his god to roam.
Exiles all, in pride did fall, long lost to folks back home.

One

I met with Captain Jack as he came limping back
From an all-night drinking party In New York.
And he told to me a tale of a great albino whale
That sunk his pirate schooner west of Cork.
“That’s a tall tale” says I, but He looked me in the eye
And said that He’d seen stranger sights at sea.
So here all its glory is that drunken sailor’s story,
Of a chase that has gone down in mystery.

Two

We found the whale fish off Brazil;
And chased him down to Brazzaville;
I swore an oath that whale to kill –
And that was how it started.
From Galway Town to Killybegs,
We tracked the whale to Winnipeg.
He broke my boat and took my leg,
And left me broken-hearted.

Heave ho and away we go,
If only god could see us.
Bound to the boat for eternity
Or ‘till the sea shall free us.

We chased the whale to Petrograd;
The need for take him drove me mad
From Grozny, south, to Old Baghdad –
He left me empty handed.
We stalked the whale to Marrakech,
He drew me deep into his mesh –
He drank my blood, he ate my flesh,
And with his mark, I’m branded.

Heave ho and away we go,
If only god could see us.
Bound to the boat for eternity
Or ‘till the sea shall free us.

Heave ho and away we go,
If only god could see us.
Bound to the boat for eternity
Or ‘till the sea shall free us.

Three

My broken body and my bleeding soul
Together in anguish lay,
With blinding obsession, unholy procession,
Chasing my reason away.

Down, down, deep down we dove
In a tangle of rigging and rage –
Down to the deep where the dead sailors sleep
In the darkness of Lucifer’s cage.

Down, down, deep down we drove
In the harness of hubris and hate –
For such was the power and such was the pain
Of our tortured and intertwined fate.

The whale and me, in the depths of the sea,
Where only god could see us.
Tied to the mast for eternity
Or ‘til the sea shall free us.

Four

Now, my friend Nietzsche told me this
(and I do believe its’ true):
If you look too long into the abyss,
The abyss looks into you.
And to do thus would not be wise,
For surely that way, madness lies.
You’ll never sail to Honalee,
And you will not be free, no, you will not be free.

The whale and me, in the depths of the sea,
Where only god could see us.
Tied to the mast for eternity
Or ‘til the sea shall free us.

Now some folk say that he’s sailing still;
And some say he’s in heaven;
Some people say he’s on the Dock of the Bay
Or outside the Seven Eleven.
But out on the formless ocean,
Where lovely mermaids go,
Captain Jack, with the whale upon his back,
Is walking Desolation Row.

Ahab's Paranoia, The New Yorker

Ahab’s Paranoia, The New Yorker

 

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