"Jonah and the Whale" by Viola Meynell

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Jonah and the whale by Viola Meynell

The parable of “Jonah and the whale,” from the Bible, is a didactic parable intended to teach readers that God loves everyone and anyone who repents their sins will be forgiven. In Viola Meynell’s poem, she mainly focuses on describing the qualities of the whale in the first seven stanzas in order to show how the whale symbolizes repentance of sins by God and then adds a twist in the last stanza as Jonah enters the whale unexpectedly. Meynell allows readers to vicariously experience the world of the whale, the majestic king of the lake; she uses various sound techniques, diction with symbolic connotations, and vivid imagery to emphasize the significant features of the “watery world” the whale lives in.

Meynell uses an ABAB rhyme scheme where the last word rhymes every other line of a stanza. There are eight stanzas in total, each stanza contains four lines. The first and fourth line of each stanza has nine syllables while the second and third lines contain 10 syllables. Overall, Meynell uses these stanza patterns and rhyming scheme to create a “wavery” effect. In other words, when readers read the poem out aloud, they vicariously feel like the whale ‘rocking’ through the sea waves.

The first five stanzas are dedicated to vividly describe the “watery world” where the whale resides. Meynell chose special diction such as “sported”, “rich oil”, and “foaming wake”. By describing the whale as “sporting round” the world instead of “swimming”, Meynell depicts that the whale is almost swimming for fun or as a sport. “His rich oil was a gloomy waveless lake” shows that the oil that’s coming out of the whale’s body results in a gloomy or blackish lake. The “gloominess” and “blackness” are words that can be used to describe sin. The whale is later injured by the seamen in his “foaming wake”. The seamen decide to injure the whale because it is their natural instinct to protect themselves from a humongous mammal such as the whale. Also, in the bible, after Jonah refuses to do God’s will, he decided to travel on a ship to Spain. On the way to his destination, there was a terrible storm and Jonah is thrown overboard into the water by the seamen because Jonah told the seamen that the storm meant God’s displeasure in Jonah. Jonah is then swallowed by the whale. The image of the “seamen attacking the whale” can also infer that they don’t want Jonah to come back onto their ship in the fear of experiencing a terrible storm once again. The image of the “foaming” wake can also be viewed as a religious ritual, for example the Christian ritual of baptism. Baptism is a water-associated ceremony carried out to purify one’s body and soul and is somewhat necessary for salvation.

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The second stanza starts off with the imagery of the “old corroding iron [the whale] bore”, this shows that the weapon hurled by the seamen into the whale was a rusted metal weapon. The poet uses the word “corroding” to symbolize something that is dirty, impure, or sinful. The corroding iron can also symbolize Jonah because he is not willing to listen to God and therefore is sinning.  The personification of the weapon “journeyed through his flesh” creates an interesting imagery in which the weapon is on a journey to ‘find’ the whale’s source of ‘life’ which is its heart. ...

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