A Palavering Answer to a Simple Question

17 Apr

Jeannette asked about our favorite MD quotes the other day.  Mine comes from Chapter 64 “Stubb’s Supper,” and while the cook, Fleece, delivers many humorous lines in his sermon to the sharks feeding upon the whale’s corpse, the most poignant line was given in response to a serious question by Stubb.  Here’s the entire dialog leading up to his answer.  Let me set the stage, Stubb is unhappy with his whale steak, and asks Fleece to take a taste of it himself to see if it passes his muster:

Faintly smacking his withered lips over it for a moment, the old negro muttered, “Best cooked ‘teak I eber taste; joosy, berry joosy.”
“Cook,” said Stubb, squaring himself once more; “do you belong to the church?”
“Passed on once in Cape-Down,” said the old man sullenly.
“And you have once in your life passed a holy church in Cape-Town, where you doubtless overheard a holy parson addressing his hearers as his beloved fellow-creatures, have you cook!  And yet you come here, and tell me such a dreadful lie as you did just now, uh?” said Stubb. “Where do you expect to go to, cook?”
“Go to bed berry soon,” he mumbled, half-turning as he spoke.”

Excuse me, I want to quickly interrupt to say that I think this is where Melville is a timing genius.  This is comic stuff, right?  And then – BOOM!  He smacks us with this great follow-up:

“Avast! heave to!  I mean when you die, cook.  It’s an awful question.  Now what’s your answer?”
“When dis old brack man dies,” said the negro slowly, changing his whole air and demeanor, . . .

and ours too, but we don’t even know it yet.  Just wait, here it comes:

“he hisself won’t go nowhere;

Got that?  He won’t go anywhere?!?!?!  Shocking!!  Don’t worry, he’s not finished!!!  Here:

“but some bressed angel will come and fetch him.”

Yes!!!  Preach it, cook!!!  When I die won’t be going anywhere, but the blessed angels will take me.

The power of this line was strengthened for me as I first listened to this chapter on Good Friday morning, when I was preparing to play for the services celebrating the death of Christ.  In our church’s tradition we conclude the Passion reading from John, and the congregation sings in full voice

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,
That I might die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these min eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.
____________Martin Schalling, as found in Lutheran Service Book

See you there, Fleece.


Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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3 responses to “A Palavering Answer to a Simple Question

  1. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    April 17, 2012 at 8:30 am

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jeannette

    April 17, 2012 at 9:32 am

    That was one of my favorite chapters – I could just picture the “Sermon to the Sharks.” My favorite “law” quote from the chapter was Fleece saying, “You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern the shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not’ing more dan de shark well goberned.” Sometimes I think that is a picture of our life-long struggle – to “gobern” the shark. Thankfully, we have grace for our failures!

  3. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    April 17, 2012 at 11:31 am



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