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Facts in The Maldive Shark

Facts Examples in The Maldive Shark:

Text of the Poem

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"Eyes and brains to the dotard lethargic and dull..."   (Text of the Poem)

A “dotard” is a dim-witted, often impaired or enfeebled, person. To be “lethargic” is to be morbidly sleepy. Thus Melville’s characterization of the shark as sluggish of mind and body remains consistent to the end of the poem. This line suggests that the pilot fish act as “eyes and brains” to the unthinking shark, perceiving prey and guiding the shark toward it. This is a common misconception of the role of the pilot fish, whose actual role is to clean detritus and parasites from the shark’s mouth and body. Melville’s vision, however, allows for a more fanciful, comical characterization of the shark, which is the driving force of the poem.

"the port of serrated teeth ..."   (Text of the Poem)

In this quatrain, Melville discusses the occasional tendency of pilot fish to swim inside the mouth of the shark they are following. The purpose of this practice is to clean away the scraps of food from between the shark’s teeth. In this line, Melville figures the shark’s mouth as a port; the suggested extension of the metaphor is that the pilot fish are like boats in the port.

"pilot-fish..."   (Text of the Poem)

The pilot fish—scientific name Naucrates ductor—is a small, striped oceanic fish. Pilot fish gather in schools and accompany larger marine animals, such as sharks, rays, and whales. The relationship between the pilot fish and the shark is symbiotic: the pilot fish eats the shark’s food scraps as well as parasites that form on its body; the shark protects the pilot fish from predators.

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