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February 19, 2024

The Whaler

By John Anthony Fingleton

The Whaler

In eighteen-hundred and forty-two I sailed out from Plymouth with the rest of the crew,
Our ship was well rigged and we hoisted all sails, our course set for Greenland, to follow the whale.
We sailed by the Faeroes past the land of the sheep, then into Tórshavn, where the Viking lord sleeps.
With our bow turned for Iceland, through those pillars of glass, but my thoughts were in Plymouth and of Catherine my lass;
For we had been married just one month to the day, when I signed on 'The Neptune' for sixpence day.
And one guinea the bounty for every whale that we harpooned, may the good Lord forgive me for those great creatures I ruined.

Now the cold Greenland Sea is for brave men to sail, then up into the Arctic to hunt down the Right Whale,
When you're up in the Crow's Nest, that terrible place, and the icicles hang off your clothes and your face.
Fifty leagues onward, then fifty league's more, and it's still ice and fog and no sign of the shore.
And I've heard big men call out in anguish and pain, a prayer to their god like a child, without shame.

Three days out of Iceland past the last great ice flow, when the first watch called out: "Avast lads! Ther! Ther! She Blo-ws!!!"
Then the whaleboats were lowered; and we rowed with all might, for it's the cat o' nine tails if we lose this Great Right.
While up in the bow his eyes as cold as the sea, our Inuit harpooner, Enoch Ooki.
She rose up from the waves as other boats closed on in, and our coxswain cried out: "Steady boys!! Keep her trim!"
Then the first spear was thrown, but the distance too great, and fell into the sea with the dark curse of the Mate.
While Enoch in our boat whispered under his breath: "Far too soon, far too soon, for the time is not yet."

For another two hours I pulled on that oar, my hands were red raw, and my body was sore;
Then Enoch stood up as the coxswain's proclaimed: "Take us in alongside lads, but watch out for her tail!"
As she surfaced and blew Enoch took up his aim and I felt in my heart this was all to men's shame;
He braced his left knee in the 'clumsy-cleat' style and aimed his harpoon behind her left eye,
Then with all of his might he let the spear go and it ripped into the creature and I watched her blood flow.
The other boats followed and she tried to escape, but the lines were wound tight around the loggerhead stake;
She dived and then surfaced with our whaleboats in tow, for we knew if we lost, it was us down below;
For nine hours we followed -- with five spears in her head -- until at last came the flurry - then the cold sea turned red.
And I wished I was somewhere; anywhere now but here, and I heard Enoch saying an old Taoist prayer.

So that was my reason for hunting the whale, and also my season, my season of shame.
When we docked back in Plymouth I had pockets of gold, but in that cold Arctic Ocean I blackened my soul.
Now I'll stay home -- no more whaling for me, you'll never find me again on that cruel Greenland Sea.

© Fingleton (Bealtaine 2018) (Löst Viking)

Article © John Anthony Fingleton. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-09-10
Image(s) are public domain.
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