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Robert Graves (1895–1985). Fairies and Fusiliers. 1918.

23. Jonah

A PURPLE whale

Proudly sweeps his tail

Towards Nineveh;

Glassy green

Surges between

A mile of roaring sea.

“O town of gold,

Of splendour multifold,

Lucre and lust,

Leviathan’s eye

Can surely spy

Thy doom of death and dust.”

On curving sands

Vengeful Jonah stands.

“Yet forty days,

Then down, down,

Tumbles the town

In flaming ruin ablaze.”

With swift lament

Those Ninevites repent.

They cry in tears,

“Our hearts fail!”

The whale, the whale!

Our sins prick us like spears.”

Jonah is vexed;

He cries, “What next? what next?”

And shakes his fist.

“Stupid city,

The shame, the pity,

The glorious crash I’ve missed.”

Away goes Jonah grumbling,

Murmuring and mumbling;

Off ploughs the purple whale,

With disappointed tail.