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Jonah and the Whale

The Text: Jonah and the Whale, Part II

VII. In Nineveh (Ostinato and Kyrie)

Then quick as he could, Jonah complied,
And when night arrived he was very near to Nineveh.
The city itself was so wondrously wide
That it took three days to traverse the town.
On that first whole day, Jonah hurried ahead,
Not a word did he speak as he went on his way.
Then he cried out clearly, so that all might catch
The true tenor of his theme, and he told them this:

Yet forty days in full shall fare to an ending,
Then shall Nineveh be punished and its pleasures all destroyed;
This town must truly be tumbled to the ground.
God’s vengeance shall verily void this place!
Upside down you shall be plunged into the painful pit,
To be swallowed up swiftly by the swarthy earth;
For all who dwell here, by God’s decree, are doomed to death.
God’s vengeance shall verily void this place!

This speech was cited and spread all about
To the burghers and bachelors that lived in the borough;
Such fear overcame them some fainted forthwith,
Their countenances clouded by the chill in their hearts.
Still Jonah never ceased, always saying the same:

God’s vengeance shall verily void this place!

He kept crying out till the king himself heard,
Who then rashly arose and rushed from his throne
To a high heap of ashes wherein he could hide.
There dazed in the dust, with many tears dropping,
He wailed and he wept for his wicked deeds.
Then he said to his sergeant:

[The King]
Announce this news, in the name of the king;
Both men and beasts, women, babes and children,
Every prince, every priest, and prelates alike
Must fast – freely and willingly fast for their offence.
Meekened and mortified, we will pray with all our might;
From our mouths the cries must mount to the Fountain of Mercy.
He will forgive us our guilt if we greet him as our God.

[Chorus, as Ninevites]
Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison, Christe eleison, Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison, Kyrie eleison.

And God through his goodness forgave them, as the king had said:
For in spite of his vow, the Lord withheld his vengeance.

VIII. Jonah’s Despair (Cadenza)

Much anguish then seethed in the soul of Jonah;
He waxed like a whirlwind his wrath towards our Lord.
Such anger took hold of his hearth that he hurled out
A painful prayer to the High Prince, like this:

Now, Lord, take my life, for it lasts too long;
Since it seems to me sweeter to die at once
Than to play the prophet and be found a fool.
Cut short all my suffering; send a swift death.

[The Voice of God]
Haughty man, have I harmed you here
By any deed I have done, or fate I have decreed you?

Then joyless Jonah begins one more journey;
Grumbling, he goes to gain the high ground
At the eastern edge of that evil city,
There to watch and wait for what might happen next.
He there built a booth, the best he could build
Out of hay and fern and a few flowering herbs,
For that spot possessed not a single grove
To shield him from the sun or cast any shade.

IX. The Booth (Nocturne and Aubade)

And at last he lay down and slept deeply till dawn.

And while he slept, God made grow from the ground
A beautiful woodbine which bloomed over Jonah.
At dawning of day, as the Lord decreed,
The sleeper, still with eyes closed, sensed the fragrant vine;
Then gazed up in amazement at the shimmering leaves
Being blown by a breeze so cool and so mild.
As he looked all about him, he laughed and he laughed.
“Indeed, such a dwelling I never dreamed to possess.”
Then God through his grace made the vine grow more beautiful;
So fine a bower of bliss no fellow had before.
And when the night neared, how he needed to sleep!
Sweetly into slumber he slipped beneath those green and gracious leaves.

But meanwhile, by God’s will, a worm gnawed at the roots,
And when Jonah awoke the woodbine had withered.
All shrivelled and sere were those splendid leaves.
Fierce heat, as from a furnace, fell upon Jonah,
Now that nothing could shield him from the searing sun:
His vine had vanished and in vain he wept.
Once again, in anger, he turned against God:

Ah, Maker of Man, what mastery be this,
To raise me so high, then fling me down to the depths?
Why must your mischief always fall on me?

X. God’s Rebuke (Fugal Aria and Hymn)

[The Voice of God]
Should you become so sholeric, all because of a creeper
That you never tended for even one hour?
Such a sulky servant, and for something so slight!
It sprang up at one stroke and vanished at the next,
Yet it festers in you so fiercely, you would forfeit your life.
Such a sulky servant, and for something so slight!
And you would blame me for doing the great deed that I have done?
Should I not heed the prayers of supplicants who renounce their sins?
I myself made them all, out of primal matter;
I have watched over them from the start, as I shall watch until the end of the world.
Should I lose the labour of so long a task,
Overthrow that city when its sins are atoned for?
The sorrows of so sweet a place would surely pierce my heart.

So many sinful souls are now suffering therein;
And among that number are some mad or simpleton;
Even babes at the breast, utterly blameless,
And witless women who could not distinguish their
One hand from the other, for all this high world;
Besides, the borough abounds in dumb beasts,
Incapable of man’s mischief, therefore innocent.
What purpose have I to punish the true penitents
Who come to proclaim me king, my mercy their defense?

Were I as hasty as you here,
     harm would follow;
Were I as impetuous as my prophet,
     man would not prosper.
Had compassion not averted my
     vengeance, verily I could not
     be called merciful.

Be not angry, my good Jonah,
     and go in peace.
Be patient and prudent
     in pain as well as joy;
For he who is so choleric
     that he rips his own clothes
Must then ...

Praise to the Lord,
who doth prosper
thy way and
defend thee;

Surely his goodness
and mercy shall
ever attend thee;

Praise to the Lord,
the Almighty,
the King of creation.

Ponder anew
what the Almighty can do,
who with his love
doth befriend thee.

XI. The Lesson Restated (Chorale and Coda)

... sullenly suffer
To sew them together himself.

Far faring afloat on swirls
     of pure waters,
A great fish frolicked,
     filled with heavenly grace;
For unlike the petulant
     prophet who faltered,
The whale never wavered —
     God’s will it obeyed.

So should we all, if we
     wish to be wise,
Tread patiently the path
     appointed by God.

Salvation is of the Lord.


Patience is a princely thing,
     though displeasing often,
When heavy hearts are hurt,
     or held up to scorn
Face woe with fortitude,
     and joy will follow.

Praise to the Lord!
O let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath breath
join with Abraham’s
seed to adore him!

Let the “Amen”
Sum all our praises again
Now as we worship before him.

Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

O my soul praise him
for he is thy health
and salvation.


Read Part I   |   End Part II