Wednesday, November 21

Mercy is Entirely the Subject


I ducked into my favorite local coffee shop early this morning and ordered an Americano in a warm mug. Sitting down, I felt slightly naked because I didn't have a book with me. I always carry something. (I think it's like policemen who carry guns.) At least I had my little moleskine journal.

Knowing that I needed to defrag from the flurry of papers I'm writing for classes, I thumbed through used books from the shop's corner shelves, and found a tattered gem: Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews. Interviews with poets like Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Marianne Moore, and they're talking about the process of writing! (In 1963 it cost $1.65.) It's true. I get high on old books.

Robert Frost is interviewed first. His glib tone translates perfectly from those old tape recordings down onto the pages. I scribbled a handful of his words on the creative process, and a few concerning a certain ancient book:

"I noticed that the first time in the world's history when mercy is entirely the subject is in Jonah...Jonah is told to go and prophesy against the city and he knows God will let him down. He can't trust God to be unmerciful. You can trust God to be anything but unmerciful. So he ran away and--and got into a whale. That's the point of that and nobody notices it. They miss it." -Robert Frost

I like that Jesus even hides in the theology of old poets. In his pre-whale days, Jonah would only go to Ninevah if he could trust God to be unmerciful towards them. Since he (obviously) couldn't do that, Jonah runs, presumably pouting, "and got into a whale." Mercy is entirely the subject.

I am awfully good at pouting, I'm afraid. Isn't it strange how we humans want mercy for ourselves, but not for the ones we'd rather not forgive?

(Read the whole Frost interview here.)

(Mercy photo by Summers)

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