Commentary Magazine


Jonah

I

By taking ship at Joppa, I had hoped
    To find a Spanish grotto and dissect
Your living hand from mine, but I was cast
Upon a new misfortune, Nineveh.
I knew in Syria my sleepless foe
Would never let the sunlight come between
His precious dream and mine, but when the
    day
Had come for my departure and I sought
The sea for murmurings, I found the world
Was steeped in deepest blue; impetuous
I leaped, but soon the gargantuan cant,
Exultant, came in boisterous estate
To burst our frail galley and leave me
Beside myself, oblivious of Spain.

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II

I turned, I turned, the deep imagined blue
And ghostly-ridden flood gathered upon
My spindling empery and hurled me down
To new humility and penitence.
My lot was cast, the broken unseen world
Provided me with miracles to keep
My searching arms engrossed and burdened
    me
With infinite princely pity. In the well
Of your eternal eloquence I learned
The price of prophecy and came to rue
The hour of your beseeching. Now
   I pray
To taste your living waters once again,
To come to that great city where my heart
Was cast in stone for your red-letter day.

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III

The twelve great deities that rose
Upon the golden parapets became
Obscure and laic stone the pious day
I came to humble Nineveh. A dirge
Of terror-riven penance overflowed
The lenten multitude, gigantic flume
Of ruined root and branch. My devout word
Was rushed by Fortunatus through the fierce
And carnal streets; my one deep cry of woe
Spoiled the surface and smithered the heart
Of this prolonged and broken race, and
    reached
The parks and palaces wherein the king
Could only curse and pray the day I
    launched
My brilliant doomsday walk through
    Nineveh.

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IV

So, still the bells, and still the prodigy
Of grandiose chivalry, the high relief
Of annus mirabilis for the world
To lay its crutched ghosts by; and the flash
Of gnarled death, plighted Azrael,
Forgotten in the joyous streets. This side
Of your unearthly paradise the wind
Is sudden and the louring sun is red
With sharp-toothed charity and wasted praise
Of my outwitted ways. Nor rhetoric,
Oh Jonah’s comforter, nor testament
Will cry away the savage deed nor give
My heart again the liberty it craved
At Joppa, when I left Jerusalem.

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