[Milton-L] Whales and the sea

Nancy Charlton charltonwordorder1 at gmail.com
Mon Feb 3 15:10:38 EST 2014

I added the following to my previous post, then decided it should be a separate topic, which would conveniently let me mention a book which I was reading when the nautical thread was going a couple weeks ago. 

A few days ago I signed a Facebook petition to free the orcas specially caught and shipped to Sochi. I put it on my FB page, with a couplet inspired by Blake:

To coop up mighty killer whales,
Offense beside which all else pales.

 I think Milton admired birds and animals but didn't give them much thought, not even the elephant with his "lithe proboscis" or the halcyon birds or even the serpent. Much the standard Calvinist view that "dominion" per Genesis meant domination and justified cruelty and exploitation rather than responsibility and nurture. But possibly the specific mention of the great whales that God created was not lost on him. 

Now the book: MingMing & the Art of Minimal Ocean Sailing by Roger D. Taylor. Taylor is a business manager who makes an ocean voyage for two months out of the year in his 21' junk-rigged boat. More than just a log, it morphs into prolonged meditations on loneliness vs. independence, and on the real nature of what is necessary. 

It verges on poetry in many places, and Taylor lets his erudition show unobtrusively. He knows his way around the canon of English poetry. In one remarkable chapter he describes a calm, not a nice one, "a petty, delinquent kind of calm, a window-breaking, car-scratching kind of calm ...MingMing is at her noisiest in such a calm."

He invites you to "think of any onomatopoeic words you like and make up a few more. Run them together, change the order, add accents, and remember this is in2 or 3 part harmony. Years of musical training "had habituated me" to finding rhythm and pitch and melody. To compensate for this he tends to the mainsail, and sets in in case a breeze comes to move the boat. He writes down the music he is hearing, a high treble in six sharps, a mezzo in three flats and a natural, a a bass that goes under the piano. 

But the whales! To the NW of the Faroe Islands 500 fin whales swim alongside, are gone as suddenly as they came, and the same much farther south on the return leg. In the Azores the next summer he he sees a rare sight: a yellow whale. 

The thread here touched upon whaling activity and what Milton may have known about it. This book sent me to the dictionary many times for its nautical terms, and I found that most of these originated in the 17th century and the Dutch language. The Dutch and Scandinavians pioneered in whaling in the north seas, with important stations at Spitzbergen and in Iceland, latterly in England. So the allusion discussed would have been well-known in government and financial circles, and Milton would certainly known of it. 

All three of Taylor's books are available on Amazon. (I'd look at Powell's but they are remodeling and the place is a mess.)

You'd enjoy this book, even to the second or third reading. There is a lot here. 

Nancy Charlton

Sent from my iPhone
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