Eons ago, long before tides moved and moons shadowed everyone with their gloom, She Who Invites stirred the primeval ocean and birthed four sons. Free on the high seas they were bejewelled islands, a jaded necklace glimmering on the world’s breast. Floating far away from desert sands and dry land, caught like gulls in the westerly wind. She Who Invites was proud of her Creation; But good things come to pass. The sons withered, flaking away like driftwood scrags; festering flesh left to the depths. Did fish nibble on their magic dribble? Turned to foam? Buried by shifty layers of silt? No mortal man truly knows. Curiosity plagued the minds of men, and along craggy shores were dotted rumours. Like a fever dream caused by a tumour, villages saw things— Rising from crashing waves, rode nasty storms, edging closer and closer. Lightning flickered like tongues, their forks revealing in the salty dross the fleeting sight of a crushing dorsal fin. What beast could it be? My children I swear, that it was fifty hundred spans by a dozen leagues across! Such a spectacle could not be washed from the water, unless cleansed by human hands. Fishing villages quickly called forth their boats, a flotilla of golden keels and soft sails. Boys numbly fingered charms as priests prayed, as girls played tunes for their return. Only splintered masts floated back. Burned like incense, sown ashes; mocking funerary rite. Oh children, to hear the widows wail every night! Peg-legged Ahab did not ploy our seas for this spectral murderer; What man could? No, his honour goes to Chizue in our tale: Wife of Kinzei the Fisherman, Rotten Chizue was a tempest swearing to She Who Invites that she would find revenge. ‘This phantom monster will feel dread!’ Raven Haired Chizue uttered every night, dreams of great offerings to the dead, gashed skulls wrapped shut White skinned Chizue did not sleep, toiled under every flicker of light. From her lover’s hut, she crafted with calloused hands a hunting boat. Dark as the night, it reeked of fresh death, tarnishing slender sides the unholy varnish made everyone sick, leaving Red Eyed Chizue immune. Alone she went. A death dirge bade farewell, as the fog folded around her boat. Long Sight Chizue braved the high tides night and day, brow-beaten and tempting fate. She Who invites watched her sweat from the toil of challenging the sea’s broil. In a patch of foaming water, Stone Soul Chizue saw the shimmering tail. Splashing, before a quivering wail shook the boat’s sails. Knuckles turned white. Then a hail of bone rattles. It cruised under the hull. Such fright! Eyes widened at the ghostly sight, of what? A flowing skeleton-whale! Brushes went up her spine, jellied heart from a beating rush. What hope did she have, against a creature lighter than sand? Still she threw iron bolts, which flew mighty high! One. Two. Three. All passed through the skeleton-whale. Twelve. Eighteen. Nineteen spears tipped with steel didn’t leave a mark! Now, dear children, it was the whale’s turn. It flipped the boat in a single masterstroke. Both go under, riding waves of fear. Quivering Wreck Chizue screamed, wanting her mortal folly dead, dead, dead! Few scholars say what she saw that day. Strangled by the briny sea, her sight creased from fading dread; She could only see sockets blaring malevolent red. Her lashing tongue tried the task of recalling her lover. But she was held fast, like the seaweed between its bony fangs. So, you know the true tale of the White Whale! But before you go, next time you play by the docks Watch the sea rocks, beware the ghost-whale!
Here we are, the complete, unabridged version of The Legend of the White Whale–wow, what a poem to write! There is so much going on in the finished version that it embodies a lumbering, legendary whale!
As you may know, I’ve already divided the poem as an easily digestible periodical, but some readers prefer to read poems in their entirety, instead of waiting for the next instalment–hence this edition!
This Epic is ‘from the archives’, a category that includes any ‘hidden gems’ that have been written and promptly forgotten about. Some have been languishing in my computer files for quite a while, so they might be…as less refined…as some of my much recent works. However, with a bit of spit and polish, most of these ‘from the archive’ poems can be brought back up to good form.
Anyway, back to the Epic! So, backstory: The poem was written at the start of my second-year studies, where I was frequently exposed to mythology, folklore, and legends. For those who know me well, I was totally in my element. My tutor also motivated us (the students) to re-write old literature, so that’s what I did to these fairy-tales!
The narrative of the poem is quite simple: It’s Moby Dick, but re-set in Medieval Japan, pitting a vengeful heroine against the mythical Bake-kujira–the ghost whale. The mythos surrounding the ghost whale is quite interesting, so if you want to know more about this Spirit I’ve attached a link to its (disappointingly short) Wikipedia article.
I’ve tried my hardest to respect the original mythos surrounding both Moby Dick and Bake-kujira, while constructing something new. If notice any references or Easter Eggs, let me know below!
© Thomas Gallimore Barker, 2021