Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No Stories after Supper

On several of my grade school report cards, teachers cautioned my parents: Don't tell her stories or read to her after dinner. Settle her down for bed. She gets riled up easily.

I think of that advice sometimes now, as I try to calm down after listening to the powerful stories my students write and read in my classes, which, guess what, meet after dinner. Sometimes long after everybody's gone home, I pace and toss into the wee hours, my mind flooded with narratives.

I'm on break for the month of August and am reading Moby Dick Settle down? Tonight? After ingesting this robust passage? Note to self: Read only in the morning.

". . . After a stiff pull, their harpooneer got fast, and, spear in hand, Radney sprang to the bow. He was always a furious man, it seems, in a boat. And now his bandaged cry was, to beach him on the whale's topmost back. Nothing loath, his bowsman hauled him up and up, through a blinding foam that blent two whitenesses together; till of a sudden the boat struck as against a sunken ledge, and keeling over, spilled out the standing mate. That instant, as he fell on the whale's slippery back, the boat righted, and was dashed aside by the swell, while Radney was tossed over into the sea, on the other flank of the whale.

"He struck out through the spray, and, for an instant, was dimly seen through that veil, wildly seeking to remove himself from the eye of Moby Dick. But the whale rushed round in a sudden maelstrom; seized the swimmer between his jaws; and rearing high up with him, plunged headlong again, and went down.

"Meantime, at the first tap of the boat's bottom, the Lakeman had slackened the line, so as to drop astern from the whirlpool; calmly looking on, he thought his own thoughts. But a sudden, terrific, downward jerking of the boat, quickly brought his knife to the line. He cut it; and the whale was free. But, at some distance, Moby Dick rose again, with some tatters of Radney's red woollen shirt, caught in the teeth that had destroyed him. All four boats gave chase again; but the whale eluded them, and finally wholly disappeared."

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