The Catholic Thing
The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name Print E-mail
By Anthony Esolen   
Wednesday, 04 July 2012

“I wonder your nervous system isn’t completely wrecked,” said Mrs. Cheyne.
“What for, mamma?  I worked like a horse and I ate like a hog and I slept like a dead man.”

That is from a conversation near the end of Kipling’s tale of maritime adventure, Captains CourageousThe story is simple.  A clever but thoroughly spoilt and useless teenage boy is on a luxury cruise to Europe with his mother.  When he boasts to a knot of men that he smokes cigars, they try him with a foul stogie, and he’s sick over the side of the ship, in rough weather.

A fortunate wave sweeps him off, “the great green closed over him, and he went quietly to sleep.” 
But the unconscious boy is picked up by one of the dories of a fishing boat, the We’re Here. 

The skipper is an upright judge and ruler of men named Disko Troop.  The crew look to him as the shrewdest man for fishing the Grand Banks, a man whose mind is always at work, considering the weather, winds, season, habits of sea creatures, and the telltales of his competitors. 

His own son Dan, of Harvey’s age, regards him with a merry eye, knowing that “dad’s jedgments” are almost always right, and enjoying the rare occasions when he’s wrong. 

It’s a new world, then, that Harvey Cheyne awakes to – a man’s world.  At first he doesn’t understand.  He accuses Disko of having swiped money from his pockets.  He demands to go to New York forthwith, or else.  He’s a popinjay, boasting of his father’s wealth and power, sneering at the mere fishermen who have saved his life.

For reward, he finds himself sprawling against the scuppers, with a bloody nose.  “I warned ye,” says Dan.  “Dad ain’t nowise hasty, but you fair earned it.”

Most of the novel is occupied with the archetypal story of a boy saved by men.  There’s no idling on a fishing boat.  Harvey has literally to learn the ropes – their names and where they are and what they are for.  He repeats his lessons at a dead run, because one of the crew, his “schoolmaster,” stings his ribs with the knotted end of a rope when he makes a mistake or lags. 

This is discipline indeed, meant to teach.  Fishermen of the Grand Banks stay at sea for the better part of the year, and that gives Harvey plenty of time to learn how to fish from the dories, to use the sextant, to man the tiller, to climb up the masts, to slit the fishes and chop off their heads, and load them in the keel for hours and hours on end. And how to enjoy, for the first time in his life, the esteem of a real friend, Dan, and the rough care of a man who becomes his own “dad” by proxy.

    Rudyard Kipling by John Collier (1891)

When the We’re Here at last puts in at Gloucester, Harvey wires his parents who trek by railroad from the west coast.  His father, a great industrialist who began from penury, thinks he is meeting a lad he never knew, but also, finally, his own true son. Disko apologizes for having pounded the boy once:

“Oh yes,” Cheyne replied.  “I should say it probably did him more good than anything else in the world.”
 “I jedged ’twuz necessary, er I wouldn’t ha’ done it.  I don’t want you to think we abuse our boys any on this packet.”

By the end of the novel, Mr. Cheyne and Harvey have come to their first understanding, which is manly, farsighted, and deeply moving.  Harvey will go on to college and learn things his father had never learned; that is Mr. Cheyne’s plan.  But then he will assume responsibility for his father’s newly purchased line of merchant ships; that is Harvey’s plan. 

And the irrepressible Dan will volunteer for service on those ships.  Dan was Harvey’s master, and soon Harvey in turn will be Dan’s master; and they will be fast friends for life.

Now what I find most notable about Kipling’s yarn is not the new or unusual thing he was trying to prove, but the old and well-known thing he assumed did not need to be proved: and that is the goodness of patriarchy.  For patriarchy has become a victim of its own grand success.

Look round.  Not one road, building, airport, ship, truckload of food, pipe full of oil, string of wires binding the world – not one nation worth fighting for, nor any army that can fight – comes to us without the love that nowadays dare not speak its name, the camaraderie of men who unite to tackle a difficult or dangerous job. 

Set aside the battle of the sexes and consider men by themselves.  Without hierarchy, one cannot even dig a straight trench to drain fields, let alone expose a mere matchbox to the uncertainties of the sea.  

We take these things for granted: most of us now do not farm, fish, fight, lay roads, mine, quarry, or climb the skeleton of a tall building.  I can imagine an egalitarian fishing boat – at the bottom of the sea. 

But I am claiming more than necessity here.  In the friendship-through-obedience that father-rule requires, men have a chance to find themselves by losing themselves.  The virile man is sometimes selfish, but the effeminate man, who thinks himself better than his black-handed fellows, and who will obey only under protest, always is. 

The crew of the We’re Here will sometimes quarrel, but always look out for one another. And though they do not utter the word “love,” yet love there is, and often at great sacrifice.

A lesson, then, for the Church?  Perhaps we can learn more about what the priesthood is, or ought to be, from fishermen, than from professionals, even if they’re theologians, who have never beheld the weather approaching from the west.

Anthony Esolen
is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest book is
Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child. He teaches at Providence College.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.  

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (25)Add Comment
written by Gian, July 03, 2012
Perhaps there is greater danger to father-rule from the collapse of obedience among wives rather than any loss of manly camaraderie.

You are afraid that the recognition given to homosexuality would make manly camaraderie problematic. Could be so but only in a very long term. Meanwhile, right now, even conservatives look askance at the dictum of Aristotle that a man ought to rule his wife politically.

Now political rule means rule among equals so wife is equal to husband but she must obey him as we obey our magistrates.

I wonder if you could explicate more on Aristotle on the Catholic perspective.
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Jon S., July 04, 2012
Bad masculinity is a problem. The mistaken solution to that problem over the last 50 years has been to feminize males. The true solution to bad masculinity is good masculinity, which finds its completion in good femininity. I'll smoke a cigar today to celebrate another excellent column by Professor Esolen. And Happy Independence Day to all! God bless America!
written by Manfred, July 04, 2012
Does not this phrase go back to Lord Alfred Douglas and Oscar Wilde? Was this not part of a tract that Douglas wrote on homosexual love? This is exactly what one expects to see on "Catholic" websites. It is always subtle, but it is there to make every reader feel comfortable. Did not W. Churchill, when asked to describe the British Navy respond: "Rum, sodomy and the lash"? Kipling pushed his near-sighted son Jack into the First World War after he had been rejected as being physically unfit, only to have him killed in battle. Kipling never recovered from the shock and his guilt. I should think priests are quite capable of learning how to live in community. They have accomplished this for a thousand years. The first rule is that men with homosexual tendencies MUST NOT be ordained.
written by Dave, July 04, 2012
I think that Gian, Patrick, and Manfred have rather missed the point completely. "The love that dare not speak its name" here is not a veiled allusion to homosexuality -- nothing further from the truth. It is rather a recognition of the love that exists among men who offer their lives together to build something greater than all of them combined, and who are prepared to offer their lives each for the other -- much as the fishermen in the dory may have risked their lives to rescue then-wretched Harvey. Men -- real men -- do not speak of this love; they simply live it, quietly, honorably, nobly. A man is as a man does.

We do have fishermen in the Church who can teach us about this kind of love. Peter and several of the Apostles were fishermen, called from their trade to be fishers of men; and the Barque of St. Peter has stood as a metaphor for the Church time out of mind.

The good news is that the ordinands of the last decade or more -- John Paul II vocations -- embody just this kind of unsentimental and deeply, manly love, for their vocations, for the Church, for the flock, and for their brother priests. Our future is bright, as is our hope for the New Evangelization, as long as we traverse successfully and well this persecution to which the worldwide Church is now subjected.
written by daisy, July 04, 2012
For the love of God....why does every conversation have to be ruined by bringing up homosexuality?
written by Louise, July 04, 2012
Manfred, I think you are correct in that, ”the love that dare not speak its name” has been often considered a reference to homosexuality But I agree with Dave.

There’s a new commercial out that I think makes the point. It’s a father and son who are shopping for a phone or something and it uses subtitles to translate their manly grunts and nudges. Very well done and kind of surprising in today's media culture.

I would add that the male tendency to show love through actions more than words is hard for women to understand and I think probably causes a lot of tension in relationships until women get it or men try a little harder to be vocal as well.
written by Achilles, July 04, 2012
WoW! Awesome essay!
You have drawn sophistic criticism from those who miss the point and may not see themselves steeped in the modernism that chokes our atmosphere of Truth. That projection of idiotic, funny.

Pax et bonum.
written by Randall, July 04, 2012
Yes, a great article Professor Esolen. I envy your students.

I've lived 43 years and somehow have missed out on reading Captains Courageous. I shall rectify that oversight as soon as possible.

It's tragic the number of boys in recent decades who have grown up without fathers or good father figures. My nephew is one such case. He lost his father at a young age and never had a man in his life to fill that void. I lived too far away from my sister to be that man. He got involved with alcohol, drugs, pornography and fornication resulting in a baby boy born out of wedlock. My nephew hung himself in his closet four years ago at 19 years of age. Now his son is without a good father figure.

Agnus Dei, Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi, Miserere nobis!
written by Beth, July 04, 2012
Of course Dr. Esolen's title is intended to make us think of the earlier infamous phrase. It is, clearly from the article itself, a play on that phrase: at one time in history homosexuals did not dare to speak their "love," but today they speak it endlessly; one cannot fail to hear it; it is being normalized so rapidly that the whole culture spins with it. Rather, it is now normal heterosexual men, working together in common cause and developing a righteous love for one another through that work, that dare not speak that "love" - for it would be misunderstood as erotic and perverted. Lord, have mercy.
written by Grump, July 04, 2012
I think Jack London's "The Sea Wolf" is a much better read. And I agree with those that see an allusion to homosexuality in the title of the article, which is unfortunate. I don't think that's what Kipling intended.
written by the earlier Louise, July 04, 2012
I agree that Dr. Esolen's subtlety was simply lost on several readers. However, having read the unforgetable "Victims Unseen" and other essays, it didn't take long to see that he had turned the title quotation on its head to reveal a more tragic truth of modern times. Very astute, Dr. Esolen.

"I would add that the male tendency to show love through actions more than words is hard for women to understand"

The last thing most women want is a chatty male. I could tolerate Alan Alda for about three minutes, and, heaven forbid that I should have married anyone like him. And, although I understand why EWTN has men chatting about their faith, I can't listen to them for more than 15 seconds. Vive la difference!!

Thank you, Dr. Esolen.
P.S. If you haven't read "Victims Unseen", I'm sure it is available somewhere on line.
written by Father Benedict, July 04, 2012
A wonderful piece.
written by Frank, July 04, 2012
...and who says men are simple creatures. Excellent essay.
written by Manfred, July 04, 2012
Dr. Esolen could have avoided all confusion on this subject by merely writing an essay on the cadets and Officer Corps at West Point or on the United States Marine Corps. The fact that he did not confirms my original suspicion. A friend of mine who became a Marine Officer in Viet Nam and then an F.B.I. Special Agent, related to me he "enjoyed doing manly things with men."
written by Graham Combs, July 05, 2012
We are culturally sensitive in this country except when it comes to masculine culture.

The late novelist and critic Ralph Ellison once hypothisized that Huck and Jim had a homosexual relationship because Jim often called Huck, "Hon." As any southerner knows, "Hon" is a word of affection used by adults toward children of both sexes. Speculating about homosexuality here is certainly missing the point. I don't doubt that Achilles and Patroclus were both very masculine. Losing my father at three meant I grew essentially grew up without one. Fathers matter, they always will matter, and as a southerner, I also come from a culture with "strong women." It isn't about women; it's about men. The day the priesthood goes co-ed will not be a good one for the Church. It hasn't been for Anglicanism. And yet it isn't surprising to me that two of the most masculine priests of the 20th century -- Blessed John Paul II and the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen -- were profoundly devoted to the Blessed Mother. Archbishop Sheen's episcopal motto was "Let me come to you Lord through your Mother." The feminine makes no sense witout the masculine. It is one reason why Kipling will always be read as long as there is an English language. Is there anything more hollow than mid-20th century intellectual analysis of faith?
written by Julianne Wiley, July 05, 2012
Well, I had my own admiring comments ready for Dr. Esolen, but they've been driven clear out of my head by the irrelevant and insulting impudence of several combox rubbishers. I'll not name names. The Catholic Thing ought to have zotted them instantly, without explanation and without apology.

Please. If I may ask.
written by debby, July 06, 2012
here, here, Julianne. Speaking the Truth in Charity often "doth not prevail" on the comment section of TCT.
which is a crying shame. thank God the hosts and administrators are men with level heads and keep the good work coming. best to post your comment - or at least type it out - and then read the others. i have grown to love several of the readers through their comments- we all need to keep each other close in prayer. very tough times are coming. war. fighting each other is not His will - "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." John 17:21.
want conversions? Hebrews 10:24.
written by Louise, July 06, 2012
Julianne and Debby, I couldn’t disagree with you more, but I’m glad you are commenting. I like the great range of commentary and usually find it thought provoking. I find the negative comments to be directed at the thoughts rather than the person. I think most writers who are published here would agree that negative comments are as helpful as positive ones in refining one's thoughts.
And not to read the comments? Terrible idea! They are often as interesting as the article itself.
(Earlier Louise I'm only thinking of the three little words, not a chatty male. btw, sorry for taking your name.)
written by Rosemary, July 07, 2012
Oh dear. I think the title was an attention-grabber but it obscured Mr. Esolen's wonderful essay.
Yes, when men put their minds to a job and work well together, they can accomplish quite a bit. Unfortunately, all too often, when men get together they indulge certain craven urges that have left human history with plenty of sorrows. So, yes, I do look around, but I see things that make me look away.

It is easy to blame women for the daily fall of men but only because self-reflection is something men don't normally like to engage in. Examining their ways and habits, men might find lots to rectify, but alas, they grunt.

Were men's accomplishments deemed grand because they were in contrast to the other half of the human race that has largely been confined to domestic drudgery since time began? (Oh, just look at those women! All they can do is cook, clean, and have babies.)

Now that the "other half" has had a bit of time in the last few decades or so to display their talents in business, medicine, law, etc., the accomplishments of men don't seem quite so auspicious. This is a good thing!

Instead of bewailing the sorry state of manhood, can one man (besides John Paul II) stand up and praise the greatness of the woman in their lives? Are men really too insecure to take on such a endeavor? If they did such a thing, men might find that this special act of charity has healing qualities that might result in a joy far beyond what they anticipated.
written by Paul Tobin, July 07, 2012
"The virile man is sometimes selfish, but the effeminate man, who thinks himself better than his black-handed fellows, and who will obey only under protest, always is."
Yes, there are "manly" men and effeminate men, but men they are, if the anatomy is correct and their attitude of moral order is likewise true.
Men at war do not speak of love for each other in terms that one speaks to a son, or daughter, a girl friend, or wife. They speak in actions, do or die, for my mates. The suggestion of homosexuality is a wishful exercise in literary interpretation, many years removed.
As a once trained killer, I did not tell my mates I loved them, but if the last full measure was mine to give, I would have done it ... for them.
written by Tony Esolen, July 08, 2012
Folks: Thank you for the kind words; you cheer my heart indeed.

Yes, I knew what was meant by the phrase -- and so my title is bitterly ironic. Had I had any experience at West Point, I surely would have written about that by now, and often. John Ford in The Long Gray Line brings that experience to life in a most sweet and admirable way.

Yes, sure, I understand that men in groups can do bad things. They have done those bad things, too; call it Original Sin Disorder. Nations have gone to war; but were it not for men in groups, there never would have been nations in the first place. People have raided others' grain supplies; but were it not for men in groups, there neever would have been mass agriculture either. Our technologically advanced society obscures the necessity for such groups, as I've said, because most of us do not do the kinds of work that make civilization even possible. But that work still has to be done, and it has to be done by men in groups; our civilization still rests upon the backs of men who do things that I do not do.

I speak up for that group that right now is most despised and neglected among us: boys. That boys were at other times spoiled rotten -- sometimes! -- is of no consequence as far as our behavior towards these boys among us now is concerned.
written by HV Observer, July 08, 2012
"I can imagine an egalitarian fishing boat – at the bottom of the sea."

Well, there is something close in reality -- an egalitarian anti-fishing fleet. I refer of course to Animal Planet's Whale Wars. Think of it as hard-core liberals attempting ocean naval warfare, including naval aviation, against the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic.
written by Janice Olden, July 10, 2012
effiminate men are those men who blame women and feminism for all evil. What men need to do is understand that under all patriarcal rules, past and present (islam) men did not stand up for the equality and rights of women, women had to stand up for themselves and started to see men as hypocrites and dominating tyrants in the process. I don't know about America, but in Europe boys are no more victims to modern culture than girls are. Girls miss good fatherfigures as much as boys do. In all of the non-western world in patriarchal societies women are controlled sexually and given less rights, even to the point of being aborted because societies want males more. The manly thing is to stop whining, get more pure so women can repect you more (that means no porn-watching), and be good fiances, husbands and fathers.
written by Micha Elyi, July 10, 2012
Yes, Victims Unseen is available online.

P.S. A "father figure" is an insufficient substitute for a father. The former is to a crutch as the latter is to a leg.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author