Hitherto, in descriptively treating of the Sperm Whale, I have chiefly dwelt upon the marvels of his outer aspect; or separately and in detail upon some few interior structural features. But to a large and thorough sweeping comprehension of him, it behoves me now to unbutton him still further, and untagging the points of his hose, unbuckling his garters, and casting loose the hooks and the eyes of the joints of his innermost bones, set him before you in his ultimatum; that is to say, in his unconditional skeleton.

Chapter 102, A Bower in the Arsicides

In descriptively treating

my perception on this life I have

dwelt upon the marvels of


outer aspect

perpetually mistaken for our value, seducing us into believing this is our power and because they bring us power mistaking them for knowledge

some few interior features

are paid lip service but

to a thorough sweeping comprehension

to be reached we must

unbutton. . . further

untagging. . .hose

unbuckling garters

casting loose the hooks and eyes

to set before you. . .


This you would cut from the high schooler’s reading and think they will still be swept up into the impassioned and seductive voice of Ishmael?

This is how the temple is entered, with a ravishing carried out by a gentleman.

Pardon if I have dwelt upon the marvels of the outer aspect and given but a paltry nod to but a handful of interior features.

But now I will tell you of the bones of the whale and the sanctuary to be found when all the covering is thrown aside.

Is it not in our bones that we hold our most intimate self, covered in layers upon layers of social conditioning?  Lost behind the reflexive survival instincts which arise in response to environmental influences.

I love how this chapter begins with an invitation to undress.

To find the most primal and sacred core of the being. Primal and sacred.  The bower in the Arsicides holds the skeleton of a whale, brought onto land by the natives, sheltering an altar in its skull.

The priests kept up an unextinguished aromatic flame, so that the mystic head again sent forth its vapory spout.

The unextinguished flame . . .

With ball of twine–a 19th century Theseus–

Ishmael attempts to navigate the labyrinthine bones,

but its riddle does not unfold to him.
Life’s riddles,

life’s unextinguished flames–

even after the mad unbuttoning, the unhooking of hook and eye, the unbuckling and the hastily dropped hose–

remain, unresolved.

The remnants of an answer

sent in smoke

on air.

This is what it is to be human and to worship, to be human and to love, to be human and to yearn and all to what end?

 the trees stood high and haughty,

feeling their living sap;

the industrious earth beneath was as a weaver’s loom,

with a gorgeous carpet on it,

whereof  the ground-vine tendrils formed

the warp and woof,

and the living flowers the figures.

all the shrubs, and ferns, and grasses;All the trees, with all their laden branches;

the message-carrying air;

all these unceasingly were active.

Chapter 102

When do we first feel the warp and woof? When do we first detect the messages carried on the air?  A lingering look,

a voice closer, softer and deeper whispered into our ear.

A stranger steps inside our carefully defined boundary and we feel their presence in a form of electricity–

and we unbuckle seeking to know what it wants to tell us.

We all answer to the weavers rhythms for they are the rhythm of life and procreation, and, too, of death.  And foolishly we spend our energy seeking some sort of sense of it all.  Some path through the labyrinth of bones.  We set up rules and traditions and ceremony and  structure and then we think because we have tended the flame that it will burn unextinguished by the rules we have set up.  But the twine runs short and we are left to read the vapor.

Unresolved aching longing and wonder which propels us to continue the mad undressing seeking to quench a thirst for understanding.

To be understood,

to be loved,

in all our vulnerable nakedness,

the nakedness that goes to the bones

and speaks in the vapors

of an inextinguishable flame.

 wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver! – stay thy hand! – but one single word with thee! Nay – the shuttle flies – the figures float from forth the loom; the freshet- rushing carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice;