The Chantey of Jonah

They'd amulets and written charms, they'd little gods of stone,
And teraphim of ivory and wood and polished bone;
They'd images of ebony and images of jade
That swarthy seamen worshipped, following the Tarshish trade;
The Captain's god was Merodach, all wrought of beaten gold,
And richer than the merchandise they treasured in the hold
The First Mate held his silver Baal … a polished stick of wood
The ring-eared Ethiopian owned, and swore it did him good,—
And twice a day they knelt to pray and knock their heads and groan
Before their gold and ivory, their silver, wood, and stone.
The sea was like a shield of blue to the horizon's rim
As forth they put from Joppa with their gods and teraphim,—
With that one bearded man aboard who down the gangway trod
So swift in haste for Tarshish he forgot to bring his god.…
“By Merodach,” the Captain swore, who walked the deck alone,
“He hasn't even got a god of common wood or stone!”
“Now by my silver Baal,” swore the Mate, “he's bold, to go
Without a god to kneel before when storms begin to blow!”…
The savage black man pitied him in case a wind should rise
And wash the hissing waters up against beleaguered skies;
But Jonah laughed and went below, when he was snug aboard,
Assured that he'd out-sped, at last, the Presence of The Lord:
What though the doom of Nineveh hung dark upon the air,
He cast the prophet's robe aside, and slept, and did not care.
Then God sent forth a wind to sea to search His Prophet out:
The tackles creaked, the oars were shipped, the seamen clumped about;
The waves, that flashed like fire abaft and tumbled with a roar,
Were crowding on the deck in heaps and coming more and more;
Their curling tops were lifted sheer and pelted through the air.…
And then the Wind sped back to God, and said, “Thy Man is there!”
And God sent forth another wind, a greater Wind by far,
That twisted like a twig of tree both sturdy mast and spar,—
And THAT wind came, and said to Him, “Thy Man indeed is blind
That thinks, by going down to sea, he's left Thee, Lord, behind!”
“Oh, yet a little while,” quoth God, “and he shall ponder well
The Shadow of my Hand spreads black above the Red of Hell,
The Shadow of my Hand is cast on utmost wastes of sea,
And even huge Leviathan before my wrath must flee,—
And there is nothing lives at all without the aid of Me!”
The Negro knelt before his Stick and prayed with clicking tongue.
Each man unwrapped his little god and to its succour clung—
(Each little god of ebony, and jade, and wood, and stone,
Each image made of ivory, and shaped of polished bone)
In vain the Mate made oaths to Baal, in vain the Captain told
Of what an altar he would build to please his god of gold;
The water flew up in his face as sharp as winter sleet;
It made a noise of trampling like a hundred thousand feet.…
“Has every shipman bowed his head? Is every god implored?”
“Nay, yet there bides that bearded man that came in haste aboard.”
“Oh, stranger, rise and lift your eyes, and if you have a god,
Cry out to him to smite the waves down level with his rod;
We've even had the Nigger's Stick to listen to our prayer!”
Then Jonah lifted up his eyes and saw that God was there—
Then Jonah rose and answered back, “I brought no god with me,
For who can wrap in cloth the One who made the sky and sea:
I could not tuck Him in my sleeve whose mighty Hand has made
The sun that is a shining thing and gives each tree its shade,—
Whose thumb and finger, reaching out, hide all the stars in day.…
And yet, when He commanded me, I thought to run away.”
Then, in the darkness of the storm that made the mid-day dim,
The men cast lots, one after one, until it fell on him:
And Jonah rose and spoke to them to cast him overboard
Unto the easing of the storm, the proving of the Lord—
And when they'd cast him overboard a great voice whispered “Cease!”
And, league on league, the mighty waves fell flat in shining peace.…
The negro, he was first to rise and take his polished wood
And send it flying overboard to float along the flood,
A sea-gull perching on it … then the men of Tarshish Trade
Took all their little images of ivory and jade,
Took all their helpless little gods of jacinth, bronze, and bone,—
Took quaint-legged, ugly, squatting things of wood and polished stone,
And flung them, scorning, in the sea,—and, as they bubbled down,
One cried, “come back, if ye be gods,—and, if ye be not, drown!”
The Mate flung forth his silver god his fathers loved of old,
And from their Captain's fist there sped a flying thing of gold,—
And, men from all the coigns of earth, they bent the knee aboard
To the Mercy and the Majesty, the Glory of the Lord!
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