December 25, 2013

"At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided. It was a short, cold Christmas..."

"...and as the short northern day merged into night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean, whose freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armor."
The long rows of teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like the white ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curving icicles depended from the bows. Lank Bildad, as pilot, headed the first watch, and ever and anon, as the old craft deep dived into the green seas, and sent the shivering frost all over her, and the winds howled, and the cordage rang, his steady notes were heard,—
"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,
Stand dressed in living green.
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between."
Never did those sweet words sound more sweetly to me than then. They were full of hope and fruition. Spite of this frigid winter night in the boisterous Atlantic, spite of my wet feet and wetter jacket, there was yet, it then seemed to me, many a pleasant haven in store; and meads and glades so eternally vernal, that the grass shot up by the spring, untrodden, unwilted, remains at midsummer.
From Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" found as I search for "Christmas" in my ebooks, here on Christmas morning on a short northern day in Wisconsin ,where spite of this frigid winter, it seems to me, there are meads and Meade eternally vernal.

10 comments:

harrogate said...

Lovely passage! Merry Christmas to you!

Bob Boyd said...

Meade E.V.

surfed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
surfed said...

William F. Buckley didn't read Moby Dick until the autumn of his life. Buckley was an avid sailor (along with his son Chris) and wrote several books on sailing most notably Atlantic High [there's an inside joke about the title I won't go into here]. He was once quoted (paraphrased closely) on his love of the book: "I didn't read Moby Dick until my mid 50's. To think I might have gone through life having never read that wonderful book!"

traditionalguy said...

I knew it was Melville after one sentence. His writing style is "Amurican."

pm317 said...

@traditionalguy.. I tested my husband on it -- he loves the book and has read it many times. He was not as fast as you are and his explanation was that he thought Melville but got confused that it may be Spike Milligan.

Anybody here know who Spike Milligan is?

rhhardin said...

The story is about a world without women, according to Emily Burdick Engendering Romance.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

I sometimes think Bildad was a sly reference to one of my ancestors, Eliphas Weston, Sr., or his son Eliphas Weston, Jr. In the early 18th-century, the Westons (out of Duxbury, MA) were leaders in the shipbuilding and merchant industry. The Eliphases were sea captains who both were lost at sea. If I remember correctly, Elliphas Sr. was with a son on the shore of Plymouth Bay observing a a snowstorm when a giant wave swept them into the sea, drowning them. Eliphas, Jr., was lost when the ship he was sailing to Baltimore disappeared during a storm, I believe it was. The abolitionist Weston sisters, who were Eliphas, Sr.'s great-grandchildren, were fairly well connected in Boston literary society, and they were friends with Hawthorne's wife. (Maria was according to their friend Edmund Quincey the prettiest woman in Boston when she was young.) Eliphas Sr.'s mother was a granddaughter of John Alden, and his father's brother was a grandson of Miles Standish, so it could also be that the Courtship of Miles Standish was based on something that a Weston told somebody or another, maybe at the same time was told whatever story that was behind the Bildad business. Of course, it may all be a coincidence. The Weston Sister's biographer, Clare Taylor, thinks maybe Little Women was modeled on the Weston Sisters (with Jo being Maria Weston Chapman), which strikes me as probably even more unlikely, and that Henry James' the Bostonians might have cruelly modelled them (probably right).

Anyway, as regards the "Bildad" connection, there can't be too many named after Job's sketchy friends (Bildad, Eliphas, and Zophar), and the fate of the Eliphas Westons is somewhat emblematic of it being a bad idea to name children after sketchy Bible characters or even of it being a good idea to accept the seemingly unjust hardship God does not prevent from happening to oneself. The Weston's weren't Quakers like Bildad, but they shared their anti-war views. In fact, if I remember correctly, Maria Weston was for a while the editor of the Non-resistant, the mouthpiece of the Garrisonians on non-resistance ideas after her sister Anne convinced Garrison that it is best for reformers to keep anti-slavery ideas separate from non-resistant ideas on account of it being especially good to keep things separate. This separation proved to be felicitous in this particular case because most of the people wanting to read about abolition were strong-tempered types who were all for resisting violence with violence if necessary, as eventually happened with the war of the rebellion as the north called it. But this belief in separation may have had something to do with the women's rights movement being less integrated with the antislavery movement and with the Garrisonian machinery being abandoned after the war (because antislavery ideas are separate from racial civil rights ideas, and one wouldn't want merging because separation is good).

m stone said...

Great writing. Helps to purge from my mind the succeeding post with Obama's drivel.

Stephen A. Meigs said...

I meant to say Eliphas Sr.'s father's brother married a granddaughter of Miles Standish.