Chap 8: Mapple vs Mussle

Chap 8: The Pulpit


Ishmael describes Father Mapple, the seaman chaplain who walks in all wet, showing he had no umbrella nor rode in any carriage. Apple is clearly a man of the people. Once he removes the saturated outer garments and overshoes, he climbs a rope ladder to the pulpit and then he pulls up the ladder as if to segregate himself from worldly ties. Ishmael says this man was not a showman, looking to create a moment of theater.


As to crosstalk between Moby Dick and Tender Buttons, I see this chapter feeding Gertrude Stein’s interest in the design of words on the page. Oddly, Melville spells Mapple not like the tree—he doubles the p so it’s Mapple versus Maple.

In Stein’s Food subpoem “Cooking.”, she offers the word mussle as opposed to muscle—that body tissue that helps with movement—or mussel—that sea animal belonging to the bivalve mollusk family.


Alas, alas the pull alas the bell alas the coach in china, alas the little put in leaf alas the wedding butter meat, alas the receptacle, alas the back shape of mussle, mussle and soda.

“Cooking.”, containing only 36 words, is very graphically appealing with the appearance of words with double letters:









“The Pulpit” also has its share of words with double letters, including in the first paragraph:

Sentence #1:









Sentence #2




Sentence #3



Sentence #4







Sentence #5



Sentence #6








Sentence #7





In the remaining 6 paragraphs appear such words as ladder, wood, seemed, unnecessary, stooping, unseen, connexions [British spelling], well, walls, gallant, terrible, lee, dark-rolling, tossed, scroll, fiddle-headed, full, breezes, and passage.

Lush language that appeals to visual appreciation such as a painting would do seems part of Stein’s landscape. One has to assume that Melville was not conscious of the visual effect of his selected vocabulary.


Chap 7: Eyes on the Chapel

Chap 7: The Chapel

Ishmael moves from the street into the seamen’s chapel where congregants are immersed in reading memorial inscriptions on several marble tablets. It’s sleeting outside and while it seems Ishmael may have entered the chapel to warm himself, visiting this place on a Sunday is a ritual few fishermen fail to do before embarking for distant oceans. The chaplain has not yet arrived. Ishmael takes a seat near the door and briefly notices Queequeg. Because Queequeg is illiterate, he looks to Ishmael with a quizzical face. However, Ishmael falls into a meditation about life and death, losing track of Queequeg.


As to crosstalk between Moby Dick and Tender Buttons, there are several things to look at in this short chapter. There is vocabulary in common like the words shadow and oysters. There is implied subject matter. There is the declension of stave. Finally, there is the issue of a man who cannot read.


From the last paragraph of Chapter 7, where academics compare this passage to Hamlet’s to-be-or-not-to-be soliloquy, we find the use of the words shadow and oysters:

ShadowMonsterYes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the less of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.


In Stein’s seminal subpoem “Roastbeef.”, which begins the Food section of Tender Buttons, she uses the word shadow four times. Two of the uses deal with light and two with size, though the last use comes in a paragraph where size is addressed. “Roastbeef.” deals with life giving sustenance and loss. The last stanza of “Roastbeef.” (with the word lilacs which evokes Walt Whitman elegiac poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”) seems to point to the 1865 assassination of Abraham Lincoln, an event that occurred well after the 1851 publication of Moby Dick.

Room to comb chickens and feathers and ripe purple, room to curve single plates and large sets and second silver, room to send everything away, room to save heat and distemper, room to search a light that is simpler, all room has no shadow. [“Roastbeef.” stanza 9]

Looseness, why is there a shadow in a kitchen, there is a shadow in a kitchen because every little thing is bigger. [“Roastbeef.” stanza 17]

There is coagulation in cold and there is none in prudence. Something is preserved and the evening is long and the colder spring has sudden shadows in a sun. All the stain is tender and lilacs really lilacs are disturbed. Why is the perfect reëstablishment practiced and prized, why is it composed. The result the pure result is juice and size and baking and exhibition and nonchalance and sacrifice and volume and a section in division and the surrounding recognition and horticulture and no murmur. This is a result. There is no superposition and circumstance, there is hardness and a reason and the rest and remainder. There is no delight and no mathematics. [“Roastbeef.” stanza 37]

The word shadow also appears prominently in “A chair.”, the subpoem of section 1 Objects that speaks most to the assassination of Lincoln.

A widow in a wise veil and more garments shows that shadows are even. It addresses no more, it shadows the stage and learning. A regular arrangement, the severest and the most preserved is that which has the arrangement not more than always authorised. [“A chair.” stanza 1]


Stein uses the word oyster(s) once in section 1 Objects and twice each in Food and Rooms. The question is what currency does this unkosher animal offer Stein? First, let it be known that in her college essay “The Modern Jew Who Has Given Up the Faith of His Fathers Can Reasonably and Consistently Believe in Isolation,” Stein says that she doesn’t think it necessary to follow kosher laws in order to be a Jew. However, stanza 3 of “A substance in a cushion.” seems to intimate there is something unacceptable about an oyster— is that any the worse than an oyster. Melville’s passage above indicates that oysters have a distorted view of the world and maybe that is Stein’s measure also.

A cushion has that cover. Supposing you do not like to change, supposing it is very clean that there is no change in appearance, supposing that there is regularity and a costume is that any the worse than an oyster and an exchange. Come to season that is there any extreme use in feather and cotton. Is there not much more joy in a table and more chairs and very likely roundness and a place to put them. [“A substance in a cushion.” stanza 3]



The question also arises as to whether Stein is possibly playing against a scene from Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in which this dialog is exchanged: ‘Falstaff: I will not lend thee a penny. Pistol: Why, then, the world’s mine oyster, Which I with sword will open.’ [Act II, Scene II”]. If so, then oyster could very well be a stand-in for Stein’s life-long partner Alice Toklas. And this association with Shakespeare does not diminish association with Melville, especially in the line, Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. In Melville’s line, shadow would be a stand-in for Alice who is thought to be Stein’s substance in a cushion. And within the context of Melville’s novel, Queequeg could be the shadow who turns out to be Ishmael’s truest substantive friend, partner, maybe lover.

One other thing about implied subject matter comes up in “Roastbeef.” relative to the word pray/praying. Praying is a word that Stein uses only one time in the entire work of Tender Buttons. In combination with how she uses shadow in stanza 9, 17, and 37, pray/praying is being measured and certainly Ishmael is weighing all his thoughts about life and death on a day that is miserable outdoors given the sleet.

Around the size that is small, inside the stern that is the middle, besides the remains that are praying, inside the between that is turning, all the region is measuring and melting is exaggerating. [“Roastbeef.” stanza 7]


While Melville does not play as hard with language as Stein does, he still breaks a lot of rules. In the following sentence, Melville uses stove, the past tense form of to stave (crush or smash inward, often by making a hole), as an adjective.  And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot. When I first read a stove boat and stove body, I thought what does he mean by a cooking stove boat and a cooking stove body? It finally registered that stove was the past tense of stave because he used stave as a verb in the phrase for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot which means in total context that God (as represented by Jove) can crush my [whale]boat or body but he can never crush my soul.

I call this line up of words in close proximity a declension because it shows a slight variation of the root word. Stein does a good deal of this linguistic slight of hand. For example, she does it with the titles of two subpoem of section 1 Objects: “A leave.” And “Suppose an eyes.” In both cases, she makes the reader supply the declension, such that we ask is “A leave.” supposed to be “A leaf.” or an unfinished phrase like “A leave of absence.” or should we strike the article and add an “s”— “Leaves.” Similar questions form for “Suppose an eyes.”—“Suppose eyes.” or “Suppose an eye.”.


Here is the passage from Chapter 7 that states that Queequeg cannot read.

Shaking off the sleet from my ice-glazed hat and jacket, I seated myself near the door, and turning sideways was surprised to see Queequeg near me. Affected by the solemnity of the scene, there was a wondering gaze of incredulous curiosity in his countenance. This savage was the only person present who seemed to notice my entrance; because he was the only one who could not read, and, therefore, was not reading those frigid inscriptions on the wall. [Moby Dick, Chapter 7: The Chapel]

In “Suppose an eyes.”, Stein gives us a mysterious soldier who may not be able to read: A soldier a real soldier has a worn lace a worn lace of different sizes that is to say if he can read, if he can read he is a size to show shutting up twenty-four [stanza 2]. Is this Queequeg? Hard to say. Maybe Stein is pointing to a character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, another work I discovered in doing a reading of “Sugar.” through Moby Dick. Nevertheless, Queequeg is all eyes in his wonder about what is happening in the chapel.

Odd Things Found in The Street

Chap 6: The Street

The Street chapter is another short one. Ishmael looks at the people walking around New Bedford because he is trying to picture Queequeg out there on the street. To his surprise he finds the populace every bit as exotic as his new friend because it includes lots of sailors from the South Sea Islands and country bumpkins dressed in ridiculous outfits. He also remarks how beautiful the women of New Bedford are, though he does not seem interested in them.


What comes up in this chapter relative to Tender Buttons are items of language.


Two root words that are pervasive in the early chapters of Moby Dick are strange and queer. Queequeg’s name is also strange and the first four letters are the same as the word queer. While Gertrude Stein does not use the word queer anywhere in Tender Buttons, she uses the root word strange eight times in Objects, nine times in Food, and six times in Rooms. Ostensibly, Tender Buttons is a love poem and while the relationship between Stein and Alice Toklas might be called (in slang) queer, Stein would not have categorized her relationship with her beloved as something strange. Therefore, I think Stein’s abundant use of the word strange points to Moby Dick.

—from Moby Dick

Chapter 1: Loomings:

But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange!

Chapter 2: The Carpet-Bag:

It was a queer sort of place—a gable-ended old house, one side palsied as it were, and leaning over sadly.

Chapter 3: The Spouter-Inn:

I told him that I never liked to sleep two in a bed; that if I should ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooneer might be, and that if he (the landlord) really had no other place for me, and the harpooneer was not decidedly objectionable, why rather than wander further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up with the half of any decent man’s blanket.

And when it comes to sleeping with an unknown stranger, in a strange inn, in a strange town, and that stranger a harpooneer, then your objections indefinitely multiply.

Holding a light in one hand, and that identical New Zealand head in the other, the stranger entered the room, and without looking towards the bed, placed his candle a good way off from me on the floor in one corner, and then began working away at the knotted cords of the large bag I before spoke of as being in the room.

Had not the stranger stood between me and the door, I would have bolted out of it quicker than ever I bolted a dinner.

Ignorance is the parent of fear, and being completely nonplussed and confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself who had thus broken into my room at the dead of night.

All these strange antics were accompanied by still stranger guttural noises from the devotee, who seemed to be praying in a sing-song or else singing some pagan psalmody or other, during which his face twitched about in the most unnatural manner.

All these queer proceedings increased my uncomfortableness, and seeing him now exhibiting strong symptoms of concluding his business operations, and jumping into bed with me, I thought it was high time, now or never, before the light was put out, to break the spell in which I had so long been bound.

Chapter 4: The Counterpane:

My sensations were strange.

Now, take away the awful fear, and my sensations at feeling the supernatural hand in mine were very similar, in their strangeness, to those which I experienced on waking up and seeing Queequeg’s pagan arm thrown round me.

A pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk!

He was just enough civilized to show off his outlandishness in the strangest possible manners.

Chapter 5: Breakfast:

Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs, many of whom without the slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales on the high seas—entire strangers to them—and duelled them dead without winking; and yet, here they sat at a social breakfast table—all of the same calling, all of kindred tastes—looking round as sheepishly at each other as though they had never been out of sight of some sheepfold among the Green Mountains.

Chapter 6: The Street:

In thoroughfares nigh the docks, any considerable seaport will frequently offer to view the queerest looking nondescripts from foreign parts.

It makes a stranger stare.

Still New Bedford is a queer place.

—from Tender Buttons

 —from Section 1 Objects

from A carafe, that is a blind glass.

A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing.


from A box. (subpoem 4)

So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.


from A piece of coffee.

May be strangely flattering. May not be strange in everything. May not be strange to. from stanza 7


from A plate.

A kind of green a game in green and nothing flat nothing quite flat and more round, nothing a particular color strangely, nothing breaking the losing of no little piece. from stanza 3


from An umbrella.

Coloring high means that the strange reason is in front not more in front behind.


from A shawl.

Pick a ticket, pick it in strange steps and with hollows. from stanza 3


—from Section 2 Food

from Roastbeef.

The whole thing is not understood and this is not strange considering that there is no education, this is not strange because having that certainly does show the difference in cutting, it shows that when there is turning there is no distress. from stanza 4


from Mutton.

Like a very strange likeness and pink, like that and not more like that than the same resemblance and not more like that than no middle space in cutting. from stanza 5


from Breakfast.

An ordinary color, a color is that strange mixture which makes, which does make which does not make a ripe juice, which does not make a mat. stanza 18


from Butter.

Clean little keep a strange, estrange on it. from stanza 3


from Sausages.

No evil is wide, any extra in leaf is so strange and singular a red breast. stanza 4


from Dinner.

Let it strange, sold in bell next herds. from stanza 4


Salad dressing and an artichoke. (subpoem 51)

Please pale hot, please cover rose, please acre in the red stranger, please butter all the beef-steak with regular feel faces.


—from Section 3 Rooms

Climate, climate is not southern, a little glass, a bright winter, a strange supper an elastic tumbler, all this shows that the back is furnished and red which is red is a dark color. from Stanza 50

This is a monster and awkward quite awkward and the little design which is flowered which is not strange and yet has visible writing, this is not shown all the time but at once, after that it rests where it is and where it is in place. from Stanza 58

There is a turn of the stranger. from Stanza 68

This does not seem strange to one, it does not seem strange to an echo and more surely is in there not being a habit. from Stanza 75

A willow and no window, a wide place stranger, a wideness makes an active center. Stanza 78

The use of strange in Tender Buttons shows a considerable effort on Stein’s part to normalize the condition of strangeness by negating it. This may concern Stein’s hidden relationship with Toklas. However, it could also be pointing to Moby Dick, particularly in stanza 58 of Rooms which features a monster (the white whale) and the visible writing that is not shown all the time (the novel Moby Dick which was panned by the critics and therefore lost from circulation).


Stein throws in two single letter fricatives as part of her poetic study of linguistics in Tender Buttons.

In “Glazed glitter.” of Objects, she writes:

But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometime, surely any s is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing. from stanza 2

In stanza 68 of Rooms, she writes:

A window has another spelling, it has f all together, it lacks no more then and this is rain, this may even be something else, at any rate there is no dedication in splendor. There is a turn of the stranger.

What made me look at Stein’s use of the fricatives s and f was this ear-catching sentence from Moby Dick Chapter 6: The Street: They are mostly young, of stalwart frames; fellows who have felled forests, and now seek to drop the axe and snatch the whale-lance.

To my ear, Stein is heavy on the sibilant s, which often creates a whooshing sound as if water is moving. So I looked at how many words begin with an s versus an f in the three sections of Tender Buttons versus Chapter 6: The Street (which is f=30% & s=70%)

Objects: f=13% & s=87%

Food: f=11% & s=89%

Rooms: f=12% & s=88%

Here are some examples of Stein’s use of s as the initial letter of a word but most of these examples also have an internal s as well as the occasional word like centre [Stein used British spellings which was common for Americans to do] which begins with the s sound:

The sight of a reason, the same sight slighter, the sight of a simpler negative answer, the same sore sounder, the intention to wishing, the same splendor, the same furniture. from stanza 4 of “A piece of coffee.”

Any time there is a surface there is a surface and every time there is a suggestion there is a suggestion and every time there is silence there is silence and every time that is languid there is that there then and not oftener, not always, not particular, tender and changing and external and central and surrounded and singular and simple and the same and the surface and the circle and the shine and the succor and the white and the same and the better and the red and the same and the centre and the yellow and the tender and the better, and altogether. from stanza 3 of “Roastbeef.”

A religion, almost a religion, any religion, a quintal in religion, a relying and a surface and a service in indecision and a creature and a question and a syllable in answer and more counting and no quarrel and a single scientific statement and no darkness and no question and an earned administration and a single set of sisters and an outline and no blisters and the section seeing yellow and the centre having spelling and no solitude and no quaintness and yet solid quite so solid and the single surface centred and the question in the placard and the singularity, is there a singularity, and the singularity, why is there a question and the singularity why is the surface outrageous, why is it beautiful why is it not when there is no doubt, why is anything vacant, why is not disturbing a centre no virtue, why is it when it is and why is it when it is and there is no doubt, there is no doubt that the singularity shows. from stanza 53 of Food

While metaphorically water is considered a feminine symbol (as opposed to fire), I have never fully understood why Stein uses water so much in Tender Buttons. The same for her use of the sibilant s. For me, the tie to Moby Dick explains these two questions.


Chap 5: What’s Cool about Breakfast

Chap 5: Breakfast

“…to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.” Ishmael, observing Queequeg.

The fifth chapter of Moby Dick is short. Ishmael leaves the shared room with Queequeg, remarks that he has no malice against landlord Peter Coffin who had “skylarked” with him the night before over who his bedfellow Queequeg might be, and sits down to the table expecting to hear whaling stories. No one says a word and Queequeg, “cool as an icicle,” uses his harpoon over the heads of those at breakfast to snag rare beefsteaks.


While Gertrude Stein has a subpoem in Tender Buttons entitled “Breakfast.”, it doesn’t relate to Melville’s chapter 5. The Steiny Road Poet had to be sure and so she spent weeks sorting out Button Collective comments on “Breakfast.” and then correlating the subpoem to the appropriate Moby Dick chapters.


Stein also pays big attention to beef, but hers is “Roastbeef.”, the cooked kind as in her 37 stanza long subpoem. She does however offer these two stanzas in Tender Buttons section 3 Rooms, which include words suggestive of Melville’s Breakfast—starving husband (Queequeg who has “married” Ishmael), silence, fast, rarer, quiet:

Startling a starving husband is not disagreeable. The reason that nothing is hidden is that there is no suggestion of silence. No song is sad. A lesson is of consequence.

Blind and weak and organised and worried and betrothed and resumed and also asked to a fast and always asked to consider and never startled and not at all bloated, this which is no rarer than frequently is not so astonishing when hair brushing is added. There is quiet, there certainly is. [Tender Buttons section 3 Rooms]


West-Indian-satinwood-trunk-and-branches.jpgAs Steiny pointed out earlier in ‘On the Various Shapes of Moby Dick and Tender Buttons,’ Stein may have gotten the word satinwood from Melville who spelled it as two words and Stein followed suit.

That man next him looks a few shades lighter; you might say a touch of satin wood is in him. [Moby Dick Chapter 5: Breakfast]

A virgin a whole virgin is judged made and so between curves and outlines and real seasons and more out glasses and a perfectly unprecedented arrangement between old ladies and mild colds there is no satin wood shining. [Tender Buttons, Objects, “In between.”]

Chap 4—The Unsummoned Shudders

Chapter 4: The Counterpane

Ishmael wakes up in Chapter 4 (after having said in Chapter 3, “I… never slept better in my life.”) with Queequeg’s arm thrown over him in the most loving and affectionate manner. This leads Ishmael to say, “You had almost thought I had been his wife. This plays counterpoint to the hysterical scene the night before when Ishmael thought Queequeg would murder him with a tomahawk.


Ishmael’s painterly eye then ruminates how the counterpane, a patchwork quilt under which they slept, now nearly camouflages Queequeg’s tattooed arm. The experience of being pinned under Queequeg’s arm sends Ishmael back in time when he got sent to bed at 2 pm on the longest day of the year (June 21) by his stepmother because he had tried to climb up the chimney as he had seen a chimneysweep do. To be in bed for 16 hours drives him back downstairs to his stepmother, asking her to punish him with a beating but she sends him back to his room. He experiences a supernatural nightmare:

At last I must have fallen into a troubled nightmare of a doze; and slowly waking from it—half steeped in dreams—I opened my eyes, and the before sun-lit room was now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung over the counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form or phantom, to which the hand belonged, seemed closely seated by my bed-side. For what seemed ages piled on ages, I lay there, frozen with the most awful fears, not daring to drag away my hand; yet ever thinking that if I could but stir it one single inch, the horrid spell would be broken. I knew not how this consciousness at last glided away from me; but waking in the morning, I shudderingly remembered it all, and for days and weeks and months afterwards I lost myself in confounding attempts to explain the mystery. Nay, to this very hour, I often puzzle myself with it

Now, take away the awful fear, and my sensations at feeling the supernatural hand in mine were very similar, in their strangeness, to those which I experienced on waking up and seeing Queequeg’s pagan arm thrown round me.


Ishmael locked down by Queequeg’s “bridegroom though naught but death should part us,” called his name repeatedly until the sleeper awoke. Groggy but ever polite, Queequeg offers to dress and then leave the room so Ishmael can do the same. How he gets dressed was unusual to say the least, especially when he uses his harpoon to shave:

He commenced dressing at top by donning his beaver hat, a very tall one, by the by, and then—still minus his trowsers—he hunted up his boots. What under the heavens he did it for, I cannot tell, but his next movement was to crush himself—boots in hand, and hat on—under the bed; when, from sundry violent gaspings and strainings, I inferred he was hard at work booting himself; though by no law of propriety that I ever heard of, is any man required to be private when putting on his boots. But Queequeg, do you see, was a creature in the transition stage—neither caterpillar nor butterfly. He was just enough civilized to show off his outlandishness in the strangest possible manners. His education was not yet completed. He was an undergraduate. If he had not been a small degree civilized, he very probably would not have troubled himself with boots at all; but then, if he had not been still a savage, he never would have dreamt of getting under the bed to put them on. At last, he emerged with his hat very much dented and crushed down over his eyes, and began creaking and limping about the room, as if, not being much accustomed to boots, his pair of damp, wrinkled cowhide ones—probably not made to order either—rather pinched and tormented him at the first go off of a bitter cold morning

Seeing, now, that there were no curtains to the window, and that the street being very narrow, the house opposite commanded a plain view into the room, and observing more and more the indecorous figure that Queequeg made, staving about with little else but his hat and boots on; I begged him as well as I could, to accelerate his toilet somewhat, and particularly to get into his pantaloons as soon as possible. He complied, and then proceeded to wash himself. At that time in the morning any Christian would have washed his face; but Queequeg, to my amazement, contented himself with restricting his ablutions to his chest, arms, and hands. He then donned his waistcoat, and taking up a piece of hard soap on the wash-stand centre table, dipped it into water and commenced lathering his face. I was watching to see where he kept his razor, when lo and behold, he takes the harpoon from the bed corner, slips out the long wooden stock, unsheathes the head, whets it a little on his boot, and striding up to the bit of mirror against the wall, begins a vigorous scraping, or rather harpooning of his cheeks. Thinks I, Queequeg, this is using Rogers’s best cutlery with a vengeance. Afterwards I wondered the less at this operation when I came to know of what fine steel the head of a harpoon is made, and how exceedingly sharp the long straight edges are always kept.


I see cross-talk between Chapter 4 and Tender Button Objects subpoem 46 “A little called Pauline.” in stanzas 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 based on certain words. In stanza 1, which mirrors the title, I see Ishmael’s supernatural nightmare—that little anything that is summoned up (called) makes Ishmael shake in fear (shudder). Who the little summoned (not called) religious figure (a Pauline Christian) might be I don’t know at this time but I know Melville makes reference to various religious figures in other chapters of Moby Dick, including religious figures named Paul.

Stanza 6 mentions a tight head which might be the embalmed head belonging to Queequeg. Stanza 7 seems to mix references to Alice Toklas and to Queequeg getting dressed and “shaved” by the window. Stanza 8 seems to summon the call of the sea that Ishmael is experiencing (a white man with his sight set on becoming a limey—seamen) as well as the counterpane quilt (stitch of ten). Counterpane (noted by both the words stitch and count) may be Melville’s way of subliminally suggesting an alternate window on the world. Fairy sea might be a homophone for Pharisee, which could be referring to the Apostle Paul (there are references in the New Testament that Paul was a Pharisee). Fairy sea might also be Stein pointing the finger at Ishmael and Queequeg as homosexuals. Stanza 9 might blend her union with Toklas (cow was code between Stein and Toklas for orgasm) with Ishmael referring to himself as Queequeg’s wife. Stanzas 10 and 11 with reference to leather and jam might be Queequeg trying to get his cowhide boots on while he is crammed under the bed. Melville makes Queequeg gasp and strain while Stein has him cough.


A little called anything shows shudders.  

Come and say what prints all day. A whole few water-melon. There is no pope.

No cut in pennies and little dressing and choose wide soles and little spats really little spices.  

A little lace makes boils. This is not true.

Gracious of gracious and a stamp a blue green white bow a blue green lean, lean on the top.  

If it is absurd then it is leadish and nearly set in where there is a tight head.

 A peaceful life to arise her, moon and moon and moon. A letter a cold sleeve a blanket a shaving house and nearly the best and regular window.  

Nearer in fairy sea, nearer and farther, show white has lime in sight, show a stitch of ten. Count, count more so that thicker and thicker is leaning.

I hope she has her cow. Bidding a wedding, widening received treading, little leading, mention nothing.

Cough out cough out in the leather and really feather it is not for.

Please could, please could, jam it not plus more sit in when.

There is probably more to see in other chapters of  Moby Dick relative to “A little called Pauline.” but I’m stopping here.

Moby Dick Resources

New Film: In the Heart of the Sea by director Ron Howard

Book: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

Articles online:

White whale in the big smoke: How the geography of London inspired Moby-Dick” by Philip Hoare (NewStatesman, December 2, 2015)

Whales older than Moby Dick still swim the seas” by Michael d’Estries (mother nature network, December 11, 2015)





In the Heart of the Sea, the film

I saw the film in 3D and I liked it because it made me experience riding in a whaleboat giving me a better understanding of the huge risks involved. I have written a review for Scene4 Magazine in my January 2016 column The Steiny Road to Operadom so I won’t elaborate except to say if you are expecting details from Melville’s novel to pop out at you like Queequeg with his harpoon, this isn’t the movie for you. In fact, the whale isn’t called by name. I had expected to learn something about how Mocha Dick became Moby Dick. Not.


In the Heart of the Sea, the book

The book published in 2000 and winner in 2000 of the U.S. National Book Award for Nonfiction is now on my list. I know nothing more. 


White whale in the big smoke: How the geography of London inspired Moby-Dick 

Giving insight into the new popular attention being paid to Moby Dick (the film In the Heart of the Sea is part of this craze which includes marathon readings of Melville’s epic novel) , this is an important article because it provides details on Melville in London when he was working on Moby Dick. It also provides information on Melville’s attention to social and ecological problems, including racism, slavery, overfishing.


Whales older than Moby Dick still swim the seas

Talk about longevity! The clue was scientists finding harpoon tips made of ivory and stone in the blubber of newly killed bowhead whales.

On the Various Shapes of Moby Dick and Tender Buttons

Stepping back from the details inside the chapters of Moby Dick, I want to share some new intel from the literary world and as supplied by the ModPo community.

Moby Dick or Moby-Dick?

The insertion of a hyphen in the title of Melville’s epic novel as Moby-Dick may have been done by the author’s brother Allan according to an article at dated December 10, 2015. Apparently it was punctuating convention of Melville’s time and which today’s scholars are embracing to distinguish the whale from the book. Melville uses the hyphen only once inside the novel in Chapter 133: The Chase and that looks like a mistake since the line is clearly about the whale—“…the Pequod bore down in the leeward wake of Moby-Dick.”

I think I’ll continue sans hyphen since Melville may not have cared so much about that hyphen.


Stein Playing with the Hyphen

However, this commentary does give me some new insight on Gertrude Stein’s use of the hyphen. My consciousness around Stein’s use of hyphens was raised by Seth Perlow’s Tender Buttons: The Corrected Centennial Edition.

Apparently Stein was also edited by various people including Alice Toklas and Stein’s publisher. For example, the typescript (prepared by Toklas) and the first edition (edited by Marie Claire publisher Donald Evans) showed the first and second use of the word rosewood in stanza 6 of “A piece of coffee.” as hyphenated words. However, what Stein intended according to either her handwritten manuscript or annotations made by Stein after publication was that the first occurrence would be rose-wood and the second would be rose wood.

Was Stein making fun of the Victorian habit of hyphenating? Of course no one knows what Stein was thinking but because I have already shown the crosstalk between “A piece of coffee.” and Moby Dick, I feel pretty excited about this discovery.

A not torn rose-wood color. If it is not dangerous then a pleasure and more than any other if it is cheap is not cheaper. The amusing side is that the sooner there are no fewer the more certain is the necessity dwindled. Supposing that the case contained rose wood and a color. Supposing that there was no reason for a distress and more likely for a number, supposing that there was no astonishment, is it not necessary to mingle astonishment.

And what does rosewood, rose-wood or rose wood indicate? Well, rosewood is a fragrant tropical tree used for furniture making and musical instruments since it is a durable hard wood. The Free Dictionary defines rosewood as:

  1. Any of various tropical trees chiefly of the genus Dalbergia in the pea family, having hard brown to purplish wood with dark brown or black streaks.


Could Stein be pointing to Queequeg, a man of dark color who hails from a tropical land and whose tattoos have the colors of rosewood?

Grammatically, Stein could be pointing up the whole issue of what hyphens do—sometimes they divide, sometimes they connect. Stein often instructs her reader as to what she wants attention paid. In the 42nd subpoem of Objects—“In between.”, she meant for footpath to be unhyphenated and separated, something Perlow corrects in his edition of Tender Buttons.


In between a place and candy is a narrow foot path that shows more mounting than anything, so much really that a calling meaning a bolster measured a whole thing with that. A virgin a whole virgin is judged made and so between curves and outlines and real seasons and more out glasses and a perfectly unprecedented arrangement between old ladies and mild colds there is no satin wood shining.

Another unhyphenated and separated word appearing in —“In between.” Is satinwood. Like rosewood, satinwood is another hardwood tree used for furniture making. I say it is no accident that Stein was examining what punctuation should be in between these woods and maybe she picked trees because wood sounds very close to word. I also say it is no accident that the issue about hyphenation shows up in a subpoem entitled “In between.”


Some Pointers on How Stein Used Moby Dick in Tender Buttons

Mary Armour of the ModPo community had these initial ideas about how Stein Used Moby Dick in Tender Buttons. While she says they are tentative, these ideas seemed well formed to me.

  1. Stein gains access to the protean, uncensored and prolific consciousness of Herman Melville.

I like Mary’s use of the word protean which means taking on varied shapes, forms or meanings. This, along with Stein not using such words as whale or sailor, makes it hard to see initially the crosstalk between Tender Buttons and Moby Dick.

  1. Stein reads Melville as someone who is a linguistic innovator.

Because both Melville and Stein were astute students of Shakespeare, linguistic innovation was inevitable. A poet like Stein (and coming after Melville) had to be ecstatic reading Melville’s well crafted but inventive text.

  1. Stein borrows or plays with many of Melville’s poetic devices and sprawling metaphors, his metonymies and spatial synchronicities (I find that Stein rarely uses memory as a mode of perception — she wants what is happening now and continuously and beginning again).

Academics say that Stein didn’t write metaphorically or with similes but it is clear in reading Stein that her objects expand dimensionally. Her carafe that is a blind glass makes me think of the villainous green goggling glasses deceitfully tapered downwards to a cheating bottom from the Spouter-Inn bar in Chapter 3 of Moby Dick. However, that’s not the only meaning that comes to mind because it could be the amniotic sac (blind glass) holding an unborn child inside its mother’s womb (carafe).

Metonymy is a grammatical term meaning the substitution of a word referring to an attribute for the thing that is meant, e.g. Ishmael refers to a ruminating tar in Chapter 3. Tar is short for tarpaulin something a sailor used for weather proofing or even as raincoat but the ruminating tar was slang for a sailor who was thinking something over.

Metonymy also means a figure of speech in which one word or phrase substitutes for another with which it is closely associated, e.g. in Chapter 1: Loomings, Ishmael says, “With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.” So while Cato the Younger, a man of high moral standing and in the face of Julius Caesar having taken Rome, an act that eventually led to the fall of the Roman Republic, commits suicide by thrusting his sword into his belly, Ishmael says without philosophic expression he will board a boat and let that take care of his life. Unlike the metonymy fall upon his sword (expressed by Melville as throws himself upon his sword), take to the ship is ambiguous—the reader doesn’t know whether Ishmael means going to sea will be therapeutic or deadly.

As to spatial synchronicities relative to Stein’s continuous present, I will quietly offer the eighth subpoem “Eggs.” from section 2 Food of Tender Buttons. For me it calls up the ruminating tar, the carafe that is a blind glass, the surrender of Cato to his sword, the Pequod dashed by Moby Dick.


Kind height, kind in the right stomach with a little sudden mill.

Cunning shawl, cunning shawl to be steady.

In white in white handkerchiefs with little dots in a white belt all shadows are singular they are singular and procured and relieved.

No that is not the cows shame and a precocious sound, it is a bite.

Cut up alone the paved way which is harm. Harm is old boat and a likely dash.


Thanks to ModPony Matthew Corey for alerting me to the Smithsonian article about the title of Melville’s epic masterpiece.

Chap 3—Studies in Green, Brown & Rainbow

Chapter 3: The Spouter-Inn

In this post I want to spend time looking at how Melville uses color and shading in chapter 3. Stein also uses color and shading throughout Tender Buttons. In my mind, color and shading points to the themes of appearance and difference, difference often being racial, gender-oriented, intellectual, and probably some other categories that will reveal themselves as I pick out the colors in chapter 3. I’m going to start with the scene where innkeeper Coffin is teasing Ishmael about who Queequeg might be.

The Colors of Chapter 3

Ishmael—”I tell you what it is, landlord,” said I quite calmly, “you’d better stop spinning that yarn to me—I’m not green.”

Coffin—”May be not,” taking out a stick and whittling a toothpick, “but I rayther guess you’ll be done BROWN if that ere harpooneer hears you a slanderin’ his head.”

From bed, Ishmael observes Queequeg:

Such a face! It was of a dark, purplish, yellow colour, here and there stuck over with large blackish looking squares.

But at that moment he chanced to turn his face so towards the light, that I plainly saw they could not be sticking-plasters at all, those black squares on his cheeks. They were stains of some sort or other. At first I knew not what to make of this; but soon an inkling of the truth occurred to me. I remembered a story of a white man—a whaleman too—who, falling among the cannibals, had been tattooed by them. I concluded that this harpooneer, in the course of his distant voyages, must have met with a similar adventure. And what is it, thought I, after all! It’s only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin. But then, what to make of his unearthly complexion, that part of it, I mean, lying round about, and completely independent of the squares of tattooing. To be sure, it might be nothing but a good coat of tropical tanning; but I never heard of a hot sun’s tanning a white man into a purplish yellow one.

His bald purplish head now looked for all the world like a mildewed skull.

Meanwhile, he continued the business of undressing, and at last showed his chest and arms. As I live, these covered parts of him were checkered with the same squares as his face; his back, too, was all over the same dark squares; he seemed to have been in a Thirty Years’ War, and just escaped from it with a sticking-plaster shirt. Still more, his very legs were marked, as if a parcel of dark green frogs were running up the trunks of young palms.

But there was no time for shuddering, for now the savage went about something that completely fascinated my attention, and convinced me that he must indeed be a heathen. Going to his heavy grego, or wrapall, or dreadnaught, which he had previously hung on a chair, he fumbled in the pockets, and produced at length a curious little deformed image with a hunch on its back, and exactly the colour of a three days’ old Congo baby. Remembering the embalmed head, at first I almost thought that this black manikin was a real baby preserved in some similar manner. But seeing that it was not at all limber, and that it glistened a good deal like polished ebony, I concluded that it must be nothing but a wooden idol, which indeed it proved to be. For now the savage goes up to the empty fire-place, and removing the papered fire-board, sets up this little hunch-backed image, like a tenpin, between the andirons. The chimney jambs and all the bricks inside were very sooty, so that I thought this fire-place made a very appropriate little shrine or chapel for his Congo idol.

Queequeg Speaks

Queequeg—”Who-e debel you?”—he at last said—”you no speak-e, dam-me, I kill-e.” And so saying the lighted tomahawk began flourishing about me in the dark.

Studying the Colors

As if talking in color code, Ishmael tells Coffin, that he (Ishmael) is not green, meaning he has experience in the world. Coffin answers that Ishmael will be cooked brown if the harpooner hears him saying anything bad about the embalmed head.

Within chapter 3, Melville gives us “the villainous green goggling glasses” with a “cheating bottom”; “a young fellow in a green box coat,” who comes to supper not in the standard monkey jacket but an overly big coat; the markings on Queequeg’s legs that look like “dark green frogs running up the trunks of young palms” and statement from Ishmael that he is not green.

Also within chapter 3, Melville uses the word brown as follows: to describe the face of a man named Bulkington—“his face was deeply brown and burnt, making his white teeth dazzling by the contrast”; to describe the state of mind in which Coffin left Ishmael after he quit planing the bench—“[he] left me in a brown study and the admonishment Coffin jokingly tosses at Ishmael about the harpooner, “I rayther guess you’ll be done BROWN if that ere harpooneer hears you a slanderin’ his head.”

The passages where Ishmael is observing Queequeg reveals Ishmael paying detailed attention to color. Queequeg is not only a man of color but he is tattooed in unusual ways. He also prays to an ebony idol that Ishmael refers to (but I did not quote from that paragraph) as “a little negro.” AND could it be that the shavings that Queequeg ignites to roast a biscuit for his idol were taken from the cold stove in the dining hall, the same shavings made by Coffin when he was trying to smooth the bench Ishmael thought he could sleep on.

Steinian Green

If we look at Stein’s overall use of the word green, we count ten occurrences in section 1 Objects, eight in section 2 Food, and two in section 3 Rooms. Let’s look briefly at “A box.” from Objects.


Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.

While there are many ways to look at “A box.”, let’s address this as if Stein is talking about chapter 3 of Moby Dick. In meeting Queequeg, Ishmael is moving out his comfort zone or the box in which he as white man lives. Very quickly after the initial shock of the two men becoming aware of each other in the dark bedroom, Ishmael comes to recognize that Queequeg is a green point, meaning like a traffic crossing signal the light is a green go indicator and not a red stop signal. Moreover, Queequeg is kind and so Ishmael might feel a little flushed red with embarrassment that he had to call the innkeeper into the room.

Steinian Brown

Brown is used five times in Objects and only once more in Food. Brown is important to Stein because she makes it “A brown.” the title of subpoem 45 of Objects. One gets a feeling of sepia ink from such words as liquid, news (perhaps newspaper?), and pressing. Sepia ink is made from the ink sac of the cuttlefish. During the Greco-Roman period, sepia ink was used as writing ink and until the 19th century, it was used as a drawing material.  “A brown.” seems to be providing the backstory of a brown study.


A brown which is not liquid not more so is relaxed and yet there is a change, a news is pressing.

Steinian Rowbow

As to the rainbow of colors that describes Queequeg, Stein’s mirror is “A long dress.”, the 14th subpoem of Objects. Like the description of Queequeg, “A long dress.” has a surcharged sexual context.


What is the current that makes machinery, that makes it crackle, what is the current that presents a long line and a necessary waist. What is this current.

What is the wind, what is it.

Where is the serene length, it is there and a dark place is not a dark place, only a white and red are black, only a yellow and green are blue, a pink is scarlet, a bow is every color. A line distinguishes it. A line just distinguishes it.

Stay Tuned for More Color Talk

Undoubtedly, there will be more discussions of the color crosstalk between Moby Dick and Tender Buttons. The examples from Tender Buttons I provide here will serve as a baseline. Later, I’ll discuss other subpoems that more closely mirror text from Moby Dick.


Chap 3: Can’t Sell His Head

Chapter 3: The Spouter-Inn

Here I take up the second half of this rich chapter. In the following paragraphs, Ishmael emphasizes, with the repetition of the words strange and stranger, that he is very uncomfortable at the idea of sharing a bed with this unknown harpooner. Ishmael thinks because of his skill with a harpoon that the man will be unclean and wearing filthy underwear. He tells Peter Coffin, the innkeeper, that he will sleep on the bench in the dining hall but Coffin, who cannot spare even “a tablecloth for a mattress” says the bench is full of “knots and notches.” So he gets a carpenter’s plane, dusts off the bench with his old silk handkerchief, and makes a mess of shavings. Then he hits “an indestructible knot” and Ishmael tells Coffin to quit. So the innkeeper picks up the shavings, throws them into a big stove in the middle of the room and goes about his business leaving Ishmael in a brown study—a state of deep thought or possibly dark thoughts.

Here are four paragraphs from The Spouter-Inn:

No man prefers to sleep two in a bed. In fact, you would a good deal rather not sleep with your own brother. I don’t know how it is, but people like to be private when they are sleeping. And when it comes to sleeping with an unknown stranger, in a strange inn, in a strange town, and that stranger a harpooneer, then your objections indefinitely multiply. Nor was there any earthly reason why I as a sailor should sleep two in a bed, more than anybody else; for sailors no more sleep two in a bed at sea, than bachelor Kings do ashore. To be sure they all sleep together in one apartment, but you have your own hammock, and cover yourself with your own blanket, and sleep in your own skin.

 The more I pondered over this harpooneer, the more I abominated the thought of sleeping with him. It was fair to presume that being a harpooneer, his linen or woollen, as the case might be, would not be of the tidiest, certainly none of the finest. I began to twitch all over. Besides, it was getting late, and my decent harpooneer ought to be home and going bedwards. Suppose now, he should tumble in upon me at midnight—how could I tell from what vile hole he had been coming?

“Landlord! I’ve changed my mind about that harpooneer.—I shan’t sleep with him. I’ll try the bench here.”

“Just as you please; I’m sorry I can’t spare ye a tablecloth for a mattress, and it’s a plaguy rough board here”—feeling of the knots and notches. “But wait a bit, Skrimshander; I’ve got a carpenter’s plane there in the bar—wait, I say, and I’ll make ye snug enough.” So saying he procured the plane; and with his old silk handkerchief first dusting the bench, vigorously set to planing away at my bed, the while grinning like an ape. The shavings flew right and left; till at last the plane-iron came bump against an indestructible knot. The landlord was near spraining his wrist, and I told him for heaven’s sake to quit—the bed was soft enough to suit me, and I did not know how all the planing in the world could make eider down of a pine plank. So gathering up the shavings with another grin, and throwing them into the great stove in the middle of the room, he went about his business, and left me in a brown study.

Stanzas from “A piece of coffee.”:

I direct your attention, Dear Reader, to Tender Buttons Objects subpoem #5 “A piece of coffee.” Stanzas 4 through seven. (I already quoted stanzas 1 through 3 in Chap 2 & Faux Coffee.)

The sight of a reason, the same sight slighter, the sight of a simpler negative answer, the same sore sounder, the intention to wishing, the same splendor, the same furniture.

The time to show a message is when too late and later there is no hanging in a blight.  

A not torn rose-wood color. If it is not dangerous then a pleasure and more than any other if it is cheap is not cheaper. The amusing side is that the sooner there are no fewer the more certain is the necessity dwindled. Supposing that the case contained rose wood and a color. Supposing that there was no reason for a distress and more likely for a number, supposing that there was no astonishment, is it not necessary to mingle astonishment.  

The settling of stationing cleaning is one way not to shatter scatter and scattering. The one way to use custom is to use soap and silk for cleaning. The one way to see cotton is to have a design concentrating the illusion and the illustration. The perfect way is to accustom the thing to have a lining and the shape of a ribbon and to be solid, quite solid in standing and to use heaviness in morning. It is light enough in that. It has that shape nicely. Very nicely may not be exaggerating. Very strongly may be sincerely fainting. May be strangely flattering. May not be strange in everything. May not be strange to.

A Declension of Reasons, Including Blight & Knots

In stanza 4, Stein gives us a declension of reasons through the repetition of the word sight. One of the meanings of sight is something seen and something seen could be a reason. In the context of Ishmael’s situation at the Spouter-Inn, Stein could be giving us a tour of Ishmael’s emotional state from the time Ishmael learns there is only a bed to share in the inn, to the time that Ishmael bulks saying he’ll sleep on the knotty bench (here knots and notches indicate something negative as in not). Eventually we will learn about the strange noises Queequeg makes (Ishmael calls them guttural in observing Queequeg pray over his idol) and the intimate friendship that will form between the two men resulting in a feeling of splendor and all because of furniture in the Spouter-Inn.

In the context of Ishmael’s state of worry over the unknown bedmate, Stein’s stanza 5 in conjunction with with this one-sentence Moby Dick paragraph—But though the other boarders kept coming in by ones, twos, and threes, and going to bed, yet no sign of my harpooneer—might translate that Ishmael cannot depend (hang his hope) on the harpooner to be someone who will not take ruinous action (enact a blight or be a blight whether that action might be murder or spreading a disease). The hour is late and Ishmael is besides himself with anxiety.

Brown Studies

The opening phrase (it is not a sentence) of Stein’s stanza 6 might be translated as—A not (knot) torn (divided) rose-wood color (brown study). This would refer to the bench that has bumps rising (rose is the past tense of rise) from the plank of wood that Ishmael wants to make his bed but the plan gets comically elevated when innkeeper Peter Coffin grabs a plane to smooth out the knots of woods until he meets the mother of all knots and Ishmael tells his host to quit. This leaves Ishmael in a brown study, a dark color of mind.

I’ll take this moment to point out that Gertrude and her brother Leo had made themselves brown studies in 1906 by choosing a wardrobe of brown corduroy clothing and leather sandals. Gertrude wore her brown corduroy robe in Pablo Picasso’s famous portrait of her. Did the sister-brother pair, who were surreptitiously called the Stein Frères (as in monastic friars), choose the color brown because they thought it was an intellectual statement? Certainly Picasso’s portrait is a brown study but did Stein discuss this with Picasso? Was Stein influenced by Melville? Probably none of the above but the term brown study was part of the zeitgeist of Stein’s time.GertrudeSteinPortrait


With words like cheap, cheaper, amusing side, dwindled, distress, mingle, we get the impression in stanza 6 that we are there in the comic scene with Ishmael and Peter Coffin while Ishmael strapped for money is considering sleeping on a bumpy bench being dwindled of its knots so that Ishmael can avoid mingling with the harpooner.

The Fabric of Concern

Until this moment, I never could make much sense of stanza 7’s opening line: The settling of stationing cleaning is one way not to shatter scatter and scattering. But here we have Ishmael crazy talking about how Coffin takes a plane to the station (bench) to clean it of its knots and notches and then stops so the shavings settle and Coffin picks up the mess. Ishmael’s plan of stationing himself on the bench depended on Coffin who first cleans the bench with his silk hanky. Stein throws in soap which seems to echo off Ishmael’s fear that the harpooner might have filthy linen or woolen underwear.

Stein expands the fabric of concern to cotton. Cotton might be referring to Ishmael not cottoning to the idea that he might subliminally be interested (have a design) in sleeping (have sex) with the harpooner. The phrase heaviness in morning suggests sleeping has taken place. Stein points out by juxtaposition that within the word illustration (when something actually happens) is the word illusion (when nothing happens)—The one way to see cotton is to have a design concentrating the illusion and the illustration.

Changing One’s Mind

Then Stein goes into a rap that could either show how Ishmael comes to change his mind about the harpooner or be her own interior struggle to choose Alice Toklas over May Bookstaver, the woman with whom Stein had the failed love affair that pushed her over the edge in deciding to leave medical school— Very nicely may not be exaggerating. Very strongly may be sincerely fainting. May be strangely flattering. May not be strange in everything. May not be strange to. The repetition of the word may seems rather like what got Stein in trouble with Toklas in her manuscript Stanzas in Meditation when Toklas discovered Stein had never disclosed her affair with Bookstaver. Stanzas in Meditation, a love poem to Toklas, was over populated with the word may.

About Head

By midnight, Ishmael gives in to the idea of sharing the harpooner’s bed because nothing about sleeping on the too short, too narrow bench in a room with cold whirlwinds will make this sleeping plan work. When he asks Coffin if the harpooner always keeps such late hours, Coffin laughs and says, no “generally he’s an early bird—airley to bed and airley to rise—yes, he’s the bird what catches the worm. But to-night he went out a peddling, you see, and I don’t see what on airth keeps him so late, unless, may be, he can’t sell his head.

While we know, and Ishmael knows, that the innkeeper is having fun upsetting Ishmael, what the innkeeper said can be taken in two ways. The first way is that the harpooner is out selling himself for sex (head again referring to an erect penis). The other way to take this requires reading ahead (sorry for the pun—no, not really!) and that is, that Queequeg is trying to sell an embalmed head from a larger collection already sold.

In “Book.”, the 55th subpoem of Tender Buttons Objects, Stein gives us:

Suppose a man a realistic expression of resolute reliability suggests pleasing itself white all white and no head does that mean soap. It does not so. It means kind wavers and little chance to beside beside rest. A plain. [stanza 2 of “Book.”]

With words and phrases like pleasing itself white, head, soap, rest, plain (homophone of plane), I can’t help but thinking Stein is still talking and thinking about Ishmael’s interactions with the “ruminating tar” and the innkeeper with his plane.


Would you believe I have more to say about Chapter 3? Tune in for the next installment.

Chap 3: Bit of a Tumbler

Chapter 3: The Spouter-Inn

Ok let’s wade into the “boggy, soggy, squitchy picture” which is both the “besmoked” wreck of a painting hanging in the Spouter-Inn and the scene that Ishmael enters which affords him and others, especially alcoholics, drinks that are “the sailors deliriums and death.” Here I quote from Chapter 3:

On one side stood a long, low, shelf-like table covered with cracked glass cases, filled with dusty rarities gathered from this wide world’s remotest nooks. Projecting from the further angle of the room stands a dark-looking den—the bar—a rude attempt at a right whale‘s head. Be that how it may, there stands the vast arched bone of the whale’s jaw, so wide, a coach might almost drive beneath it. Within are shabby shelves, ranged round with old decanters, bottles, flasks; and in those jaws of swift destruction, like another cursed Jonah (by which name indeed they called him), bustles a little withered old man, who, for their money, dearly sells the sailors deliriums and death.

Abominable are the tumblers into which he pours his poison. Though true cylinders without—within, the villainous green goggling glasses deceitfully tapered downwards to a cheating bottom. Parallel meridians rudely pecked into the glass, surround these footpads’ goblets. Fill to THIS mark, and your charge is but a penny; to THIS a penny more; and so on to the full glass—the Cape Horn measure, which you may gulp down for a shilling.


Here’s Stein with tumblers (from Objects): 


A shining indication of yellow consists in there having been more of the same color than could have been expected when all four were bought. This was the hope which made the six and seven have no use for any more places and this necessarily spread into nothing. Spread into nothing. 

That phrase six and seven suggests being at six and sevens which comes from a dice game and means a state of confusion or disarray. In Moby Dick, Melville is suggesting a state of disarray but these drinking glasses become goggles (eyeglasses) but they go down to a “cheating bottom.” It has to do with how much the bar is overcharging you for a drink.

Stein also gives us this Object:


A color in shaving, a saloon is well placed in the centre of an alley. 


Both of these subpoems seem to have a sexual edge but I will defer such discussion to the next bit of text from Moby Dick.


Spoiler Alert if you are sexually squeamish! In the following paragraph, Ishmael watches a sailor (he calls him a ruminating tar—slang for a sailor who used tarpaulins for raincoats or waterproofing) sit on a wooden bench (settle). The man is either carving into the wood of the bench or masturbating (jack-knife is slang for penis) without much success (didn’t make much headway—head is slang for an erect penis).

I sat down on an old wooden settle, carved all over like a bench on the Battery. At one end a ruminating tar was still further adorning it with his jack-knife, stooping over and diligently working away at the space between his legs. He was trying his hand at a ship under full sail, but he didn’t make much headway, I thought.


Stein sows lots of hidden sex into Tender Buttons and perhaps the following stanza from “Roastbeef.” doesn’t match Melville’s paragraph as closely as some other passage from Buttons might do. What alerted me to this stanza was the use of the word settle which I admit doesn’t have the same meaning in Melville’s ‘graph. Nonetheless, Stein uses the word settle with frequency and it relates to furniture as a concept of establishing a place to live (as in Stein and Toklas settling into their marriage) which brings us back to the sex.

In sexual slang, chicken is used in lots of ways. In this case, I’m thinking chicken equates with penis which for Stein is a complicated concept. She considers herself the male partner in her relationship with Toklas and Stein’s penis is her writing implement such that penis breaks apart as “pen is.” After much discussion with my ModPo study group, the consensus is that Tender Buttons establishes a covenant between Stein and Toklas such that their babies would be Stein’s books.

Possibly the old feather is a writing plume, a quill pen. She might be advancing the idea (especially since this stanza has the insistent forward thrust caused by the repetition of the preposition to) of coital thrust (burying the penis inside the vagina which is how the surrender to one another takes place). Union with Toklas satisfies Stein’s concern over being single. Before she met Toklas, Stein was not seeing (not to be blinder) a sexual relationship for herself since what she wanted was outside what society of her time permitted. Still, what she wanted was to settle into a sweet life untainted by the judgment that she and Toklas are sinners that they can eat dinner together, she can lose weight with Alice’s healthy cooking, that she can do her literary work (read redder, have color better) and they together with their sexual interaction will string together her books which will provide some light to others (increase in resting recreation to design string not dimmer).

To bury a slender chicken, to raise an old feather, to surround a garland and to bake a pole splinter, to suggest a repose and to settle simply, to surrender one another, to succeed saving simpler, to satisfy a singularity and not to be blinder, to sugar nothing darker and to read redder, to have the color better, to sort out dinner, to remain together, to surprise no sinner, to curve nothing sweeter, to continue thinner, to increase in resting recreation to design string not dimmer. [Stanza 30 from “Roastbeef.”]


Talking about the union Stein wanted for herself with Toklas makes me see Ishmael’s issue of singularity. So there he is seeing this pathetic sailor possibly masturbating in public, an experience that foreshadows the intimate relationship to come with Queequeg.

Since Chapter 3 is long and important to the relationship that develops at first fitfully between Ishmael and Queequeg, I’ll stop here. I expect to take up the later half of Chapter 3 in the next post.