April 28, 2010

pull, my little ones

I've been listening to LibriVox's recording of Melville's Moby-Dick. The reader is not the best voice actor but that's what you get for free and after the first few lines, as in any story read aloud, the reader's voice dissolves into the literature soon enough. I've read it many years ago, and it made a great impression on me of course. My ye olde Navy days reverberates in the novel to good effect. And why am I reencountering this classic? Just following my nose, I guess. I've had many a good experience doing just that.

Among the many dimensions that shine like jewels in Melville's work, are the moments when the headsmen of the harpooner's boats communicate with their crew. Stubb's style is particularly funny. All in all, the book reminds me of all the unique personalities I met at sea so many years ago.

The cadence call to the oarsmen also takes my mind to my fellow artists around the world breaking backs against the gunnels of our studios.

Here's a slice, me hearties:


The First Lowering

"Pull, pull, my fine hearts-alive; pull, my children;
pull, my little ones," drawlingly and soothingly sighed Stubb
to his crew, some of whom still showed signs of uneasiness.
"Why don't you break your backbones, my boys? What is it you stare at?
Those chaps in yonder boat? Tut! They are only five more hands
come to help us never mind from where the more the merrier.
Pull, then, do pull; never mind the brimstone devils are good
fellows enough. So, so; there you are now; that's the stroke
for a thousand pounds; that's the stroke to sweep the stakes!
Hurrah for the gold cup of sperm oil, my heroes!
Three cheers, men--all hearts alive! Easy, easy; don't be in a hurry--
don't be in a hurry. Why don't you snap your oars, you rascals?
Bite something, you dogs! So, so, so, then:--softly, softly!
That's it--that's it! long and strong. Give way there, give way!
The devil fetch ye, ye ragamuffin rapscallions; ye are all asleep.
Stop snoring, ye sleepers, and pull. Pull, will ye? pull,
can't ye? pull, won't ye? Why in the name of gudgeons and
ginger-cakes don't ye pull?--pull and break something! pull,
and start your eyes out! Here," whipping out the sharp knife
from his girdle; "every mother's son of ye draw his knife,
and pull with the blade between his teeth. That's it--that's it.
Now ye do something; that looks like it, my steel-bits. Start her--
start her, my silverspoons! Start her, marling-spikes!"

Stubb's exordium to his crew is given here at large,
because he had rather a peculiar way of talking to them in general,
and especially in inculcating the religion of rowing.
But you must not suppose from this specimen of his sermonizings
that he ever flew into downright passions with his congregation.
Not at all; and therein consisted his chief peculiarity.
He would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a tone
so strangely compounded of fun and fury, and the fury seemed
so calculated merely as a spice to the fun, that no oarsman
could hear such queer invocations without pulling for
dear life, and yet pulling for the mere joke of the thing.
Besides he all the time looked so easy and indolent himself,
so loungingly managed his steering-oar, and so broadly gaped--
open-mouthed at times--that the mere sight of such a yawning commander,
by sheer force of contrast, acted like a charm upon the crew.
Then again, Stubb was one of those odd sort of humorists,
whose jollity is sometimes so curiously ambiguous, as to put
all inferiors on their guard in the matter of obeying them.

...How different the loud little King-Post. "Sing out and
say something, my hearties. Roar and pull, my thunderbolts!
Beach me, beach me on their black backs, boys; only do that for me,
and I'll sign over to you my Martha's Vineyard plantation, boys;
including wife and children, boys. Lay me on--lay me on!
O Lord, Lord! but I shall go stark, staring mad! See! see that
white water!" And so shouting, he pulled his hat from his head,
and stamped up and down on it; then picking it up, flirted it
far off upon the sea; and finally fell to rearing and plunging
in the boat's stern like a crazed colt from the prairie.

"Look at that chap now," philosophically drawled Stubb, who, with his
unlighted short pipe, mechanically retained between his teeth,
at a short distance, followed after--"He's got fits, that Flask has.
Fits? yes, give him fits--that's the very word--pitch fits into 'em.
Merrily, merrily, hearts-alive. Pudding for supper, you know;--
merry's the word. Pull, babes--pull, sucklings--pull, all.
But what the devil are you hurrying about? Softly, softly,
and steadily, my men. Only pull, and keep pulling; nothing more.
Crack all your backbones, and bite your knives in two--that's all.
Take it easy--why don't ye take it easy, I say, and burst all your
livers and lungs!"
Posted by Dennis at April 28, 2010 5:12 PM

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