20 February 2011

Know ye, now, Bulkington?

It was a lovely and warm week—the sun even shone daily. But as I look out of my window now the snow is falling heavily (though the flakes are quite small) and the forecast suggests that the storm will continue through at least tonight and even perhaps, into tomorrow. The clear paths I have walked over the past week are filling with new-fallen snow, and the boots and gloves that were made for shoveling have been regretfully, inevitably and reluctantly removed from their storage and put again to early use.
Every year I get fooled. I anticipate Spring weeks before I have any right to do so. I let down my guard. I relax my body, and I start looking up rather than down. And then an enormous storm descends and I must close myself up and again carefully watch my footing. And I begin to wonder of what this situation might be metaphor. And I think (always) of Dylan: Here I sit so patiently, waiting to find out what price/You have to pay to get out of/Going through all these things twice.” And I think there is not enough gold in the world!
     Know ye, now Bulkington? I am drawn to Chapter 23, in Melville’s Moby Dick. Bulkington can not stay ashore, but must continually put out to sea. His existence is endangered, by the Lee Shore. Now, the Lee Shore is the shore toward which the wind blows; it is dangerous because the winds will blow the craft towards the shore where the boat may run aground. I think Thoreau’s description of the shipwreck at Cape Cod offers some perspective regarding the dangers of the lee shore. And though there seems great comfort on the shore, though that shore seems to beckon welcome, it represents a deceptive safety.  And so the fascination with Bulkington for Ishmael:
Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again; for refuge's sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!
Know ye, now, Bulkington? Glimpses do you seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?
But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God -- so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing -- straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!" (Chapter 23, "The Lee Shore")
Ishmael wonders if Bulkington has learned what Ishmael has learned: that though the shore offers "all that’s kind to our mortalities,” it is at sea alone where resides ‘the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God. ” The Lee Shore, that one touch of land, one approach to “safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, swarm blankets, friends,” would make the ship shudder through and through.” On shore, truth may not be found or even sought. No, “Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing--straight up, leaps thy apotheosis,” Ishmael cries. Only at sea can Bulkingtonah, and Ishmael and all of us, perhapsachieve our highest glory though the voyage end in tragedy.
     Life is a storm, and the winds that would blow us towards the shore threaten our safety. Though we would be in the comfort of our home and amidst all the warmth that there derives, if it is truth we seek then it must be found at sea, and we must beware of dangers attendant on the Lee Shore.  Better to perish at sea in search of truth then to die upon the lee shore seeking comfort and ease. Ah, Ishmael, what a glorious and tragic knowledge to which you arrive.
     How Bulkington might understand this late winter storm.
     I don my hat, my coat, gloves and boots, and head back out to sea.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the painting you have showing for this post?

27 March, 2011 00:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the proper punctuation is
"Know ye now, Bulkington?"

30 September, 2013 09:20  
Blogger Alan A. Block said...

Indeed, one would think so, but no, the punctuation is accurate. I have quoted from the 1962 edition edited by Mansfield and Vincent. See page 105.

30 September, 2013 09:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the proper punctuation is
"Know ye now, Bulkington?"

30 September, 2013 09:36  

Post a Comment

<< Home