It Was A Damp November in My Soul

A few rainy days had me feeling glum and achy. And I spent a few days in and out of doctors' offices seeking yet another white whale. And this recently past November seemed particularly like a damp one in my soul with all the election bad weather moving in.

I'm reading a book about Orson Welles. I became a big Welles fan when I discovered his films in my college days. I read a lot about him later and found that he was not a very nice person in real life. That happened with many of my heroes from the arts. It dulled the shine they had for me.

Net surfing last night I searched Moby Dick and Orson Welles and turned up a clip of Welles reading the opening of the novel. That is a section that always comes to mind this time of year. I love Welles' voice.

I'm reread Moby Dick just about every year and I find that I am not alone with that odd habit. I may watch the old film version of Moby Dick too. That version and the Classics Comic version were my first entry points to Herman Melville. I was surprised to find that the comic version is available in new editions (though at about 100 times the price I paid for the original comic book).

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. 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. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. 

People have asked me "Is Moby Dick your favorite novel?" I don't like "best of" or "favorites" lists. I can tell you a bunch of novels I really like, but I won't rank them. Moby Dick is in that top group, but I know it's not a beloved book by the majority of readers. It's not easy. It feels very old. So what keeps me coming back to it?

I am not clear myself what it is about the book - or the whale - that keeps me coming back. Even Ishmael was unsure about what it was about the whale.

What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid...

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way?

And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues — every stately or lovely emblazoning — the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without...

I wrote a short poem, "The Pequod and the Rachel," about one aspect of the story.

It was the Pequod that pursued Moby-Dick,
but in the end Melville wanted us
to remember that it was the Rachel,
searching again for her own missing children,
who came upon Ishmael – yet another orphan.

Do I feel orphaned these days? "Orphaned" is not a bad choice for how I feel. To stay in the watery world, "shipwrecked" might also be a good way to describe how I was feeling. Key word there: "was." It passed. Time has a way of doing that in most cases. Maybe reading some Melville helped. Maybe I needed a sunny, dry day and a good hot cup of tea.

Slowly crossing the deck from the scuttle, Ahab leaned over the side and watched how his shadow in the water sank and sank to his gaze, the more and the more that he strove to pierce the profundity. But the lovely aromas in that enchanted air did at last seem to dispel, for a moment, the cankerous thing in his soul... From beneath his slouched hat Ahab dropped a tear into the sea; nor did all the Pacific contain such wealth as that one wee drop.

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