The Book of Jonah by Herman Melville


Chapter 1: The Command
Call me Jonah.

Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having had little or nothing to do with the Lord, I found myself appointed prophet. The Lord commanded me to go to the city of Nineveh, a desolate place, cursed by God and condemned to fiery doom, to call them to repentance. He gave me the task of stilling the rebellious heart of their king.

It seemed an absurdly hopeless mission, and as I had money in my purse, and nothing else to interest me on shore, I thought I would flee from the face of the Lord, sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

Chapters 2-56 [omitted]
Jonah walks through the town and plans his flight to Tarshish. Then every wooden item in his knapsack is described individually.

Chapter 57: The Storm
Imagine ye now a gallant ship beating against a terrible storm! The storm grows darker and darker, till the mariners know not if it is night or day. In vain they hail other boats, seeing nothing in the driving scud, rack, and mist. The ship is like to break: the sea rebels; there is on him a wicked burden that he will not bear.

I heard nothing: I had gone down into the cabin and was fast asleep. A sailor startled me from my lethargy with a direful cry. Stumbling to the deck, I grasped a shroud, to look out upon the sea. Wave after wave leaped into the ship, till we came nigh to drowning while yet afloat.

Terrors upon terrors shouted through my soul: “God is everywhere,” I cried. “Tarshish is never reached!” Then I faced my punishment, letting the sailors drop me as an anchor into the sea. I fell downward into darkness, but a fish swallowed me up.

Chapter 58: Inside the Fish

I uplifted my closed eyes, and offered a prayer to the Lord, promising to fulfil my prophetic mission if only He would redeem me from my watery grave.

The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me. Weeds were wrapped around my head.

[Omitted: 10 pages on the properties of different types of seaweed]

Then the fish spat me out near that fateful city of Nineveh.

Chapter 59: The Whiteness of the City
What the white city of Nineveh meant to me, as I walked through its streets, shall now be revealed.

Oh, the terrible whiteness of that city! I know that, to the common apprehension, the phenomenon of whiteness is not confessed to be the prime agent in exaggerating the terror of objects otherwise terrible. But white – not as much a color as the visible absence of color – holds a strange power over the soul. Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics; bethink thee of the albatross, whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread.  White is a dumb blankness, full of meaning, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind.

The white city of Nineveh was all this and more.

Wonder ye now at my flight from Nineveh and from that unrelenting, terrible will of the Lord? Wonder ye at my terror as I wandered this strange city, seeking its unrepentant king?

Chapter 60: The King

I stood at last before the King of Nineveh.

“Oh! King!” cried I, “not too late is it, even now, to desist. The Lord seeks thee in this moment and surely he will find thee. Repent!”

The King stands erect by his throne, looking straight out beyond the darkness of his imperial hall. There is an infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness, in his glance.

If only the King had now taken the time to think; but the King never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; the sinful tingling and throbbing of his heart. He will not repent. Not for him and his city the sackcloth and the ashes!

“No,” he said.

Presently, it started raining fire.

Chapter 61: The Plant
A single oil plant grows in the desert, offering shelter from the unforgiving midday heat while Nineveh burns in the distance. Their king’s wild revolt against the Lord is done, quelled by His punishing waves of fire and plague. The city is destroyed; the ship has gone down. Its captain sank with it to the depths.

Yet one did survive the wreck. Call me Jonah.


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