I was singing “Accentuate the Positive” this afternoon, because I am clinging rather stubbornly to this as a theme this week, and also because we watched “LA Confidential” with my workout. (I love that movie, and Alec had never seen it.) And then I got to a line that’s always bothered me.
To illustrate my last remark: Jonah and the whale, Noah and the ark!
Okay, no. Jonah may be the single worst figure in the western tradition–religious, historical, literary–that the songwriter could have chosen for this line. This is just a terrible line. Jonah? Is one of the Bible’s great whiners. If you open the Bible to a random page, you will find someone who accentuated the positive and eliminated the negative better than Jonah. Go ahead, do it. “And there they found the Moabites, who were pasturing their goats–” And the subtext, friends, is that both Moabites and goats were making a great deal less fuss about the whole thing than Jonah would have. “Joseph in the jail.” “Isaac on the stone.” Literally any figure in the Bible. Job on the dung heap, though I haven’t made that scan yet: still more of a positive thinker than ol’ Jonah.
Ending up in the whale is not just one of those things that could happen to any of us, like having to get your milk from Hell or your significant other dying and getting turned into the Moon. Jonah gets swallowed by the whale (Leviathan, whatevs) for very specific reasons in that Bible story, and it’s because he won’t stop lipping off to God about how he doesn’t waaaaant to go prophesy in Niiiiiineveh.
And it’s not like “whale” is needed to make the rhyme work. The things that rhyme in this verse are remark, ark, dark. So literally anything that goes DAH dah Dah dah DAH would have fit just fine. You need a stinger and two iambs, which is just about the easiest thing to find in English, and you need them to be more positive than Jonah, which is just about the easiest thing to find in Western cultural references.
For example, may I suggest “Brutus and the knife”? He was certainly taking a more proactive approach to his problems “when everything looked so dark” than running from them and whining and pitching fits at God, which is where Jonah was at the whale portion of that story. But people remember what Brutus did with the knife, and Jonah…well, we’re just supposed to remember that there was something something whale. You cannot trust scansion, people! Scansion is a cruel, false mistress!
I still do not advocate messing with Mr. In-Between. Let no one take this post as favoring messing with Mr. In-Between. I just had to get the thing about Jonah off my chest. It’s the sort of thing I know a lot of you think about, and I needed to let you know you weren’t alone.
Okay, so probably not. But you might now! And my work is done.