the sardonic extended metaphor


As seen in Herman Melville.



A day or two after our arrival in Rio, a rather amusing incident occurred to a particular acquaintance of mine, young Lemsford, the gun-deck bard.

The great guns of an armed ship have blocks of wood, called tompions, painted black, inserted in their muzzles, to keep out the spray of the sea. These tompions slip in and out very handily, like covers to butter firkins.

By advice of a friend, Lemsford, alarmed for the fate of his box of poetry, had latterly made use of a particular gun on the main-deck, in the tube of which he thrust his manuscripts, by simply crawling partly out of the porthole, removing the tompion, inserting his papers, tightly rolled, and making all snug again.

Breakfast over, he and I were reclining in the main-top—where, by permission of my noble master, Jack Chase, I had invited him—when, of a sudden, we heard a cannonading. It was our own ship.

“Ah!” said a top-man, “returning the shore salute they gave us yesterday.”

“O Lord!” cried Lemsford, “my Songs of the Sirens!” and he ran down the rigging to the batteries; but just as he touched the gun-deck, gun No. 20—his literary strong-box—went off with a terrific report.

“Well, my after-guard Virgil,” said Jack Chase to him, as he slowly returned up the rigging, “did you get it? You need not answer; I see you were too late. But never mind, my boy: no printer could do the business for you better. That’s the way to publish, White-Jacket,” turning to me. …

— Herman Melville, White-Jacket, or The World in a Man-of-War


The relics of hermitages and stone basins are not the only signs of vanishing humanity to be found upon the isles. And, curious to say, that spot which of all others in settled communities is most animated, at the Enchanted Isles presents the most dreary of aspects. And though it may seem very strange to talk of post offices in this barren region, yet post offices are occasionally to be found there. They consist of a stake and a bottle. The letters being not only sealed, but corked. They are generally deposited by captains of Nantucketers for the benefit of passing fishermen, and contain statements as to what luck they had in whaling or tortoise hunting. Frequently, however, long months and months, whole years, glide by and no applicant appears. The stake rots and falls, presenting no very exhilarating object.

— Herman Melville, The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles


— posted by Roger W. Smith  (with a bow to Henry T. Handy, my Cape Cod whaling ancestor)

   April 2023

2 thoughts on “the sardonic extended metaphor

  1. J.M.James

    The two stories selected by Roger show no better story teller of seafaring men than Herman Melville, who described the seafarers’ vain efforts to communicate with the outside world through writing and their futile efforts to send their writings to others. Melville wrote that this was how it was, the rough way of life on these small ships, with the seafarers having to endure and accept the situation. Henry T. Handy, Roger’s whaling ancestor, was one of those seafarers perhaps trying to write and send his thoughts beyond the confines of a ship, much like Roger today writing his thoughts but sending those thoughts out on this blog.

Leave a Reply