Home > 1. Famous Poems > The Sermon–Chapter 9, Moby Dick

The Sermon–Chapter 9, Moby Dick

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RT has admired this chapter of Moby Dick ever since he first read it in college. It richness of oratory and fine detail of characterization (both of the minister and of his church) preserve an aspect of 19th century American life that is sadly lacking in our own time. The reader can feel the intensity both of the speaker and of his subject, the Book of Jonah.

Here is an except from Melville’s book, the opening of the sermon. Those inspired by the writing can read the whole chapter on Wikisource.  Enjoy!!  RT

Opening of the Sermon, Chapter 9, Moby Dick.

“Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters— four yarns—is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures.  Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sealine sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet!  What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish’s belly!  How billow-like and boisterously grand!  We feel the floods surging over us, we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us!  But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches?  Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God.  As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah.  As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of Amittai was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God— never mind now what that command was, or how conveyed— which he found a hard command.  But all the things that God would have us do are hard for us to do—remember that— and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavors to persuade.  And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.

“With this sin of disobedience in him, Jonah still further flouts at God, by seeking to flee from Him.  He thinks that a ship made by men, will carry him into countries where God does not reign but only the Captains of this earth.  He skulks about the wharves of Joppa, and seeks a ship that’s bound for Tarshish.  There lurks, perhaps, a hitherto unheeded meaning here.  By all accounts Tarshish could have been no other city than the modern Cadiz.  That’s the opinion of learned men.  And where is Cadiz, shipmates?  Cadiz is in Spain; as far by water, from Joppa, as Jonah could possibly have sailed in those ancient days, when the Atlantic was an almost unknown sea.  Because Joppa, the modern Jaffa, shipmates, is on the most easterly coast of the Mediterranean, the Syrian; and Tarshish or Cadiz more than two thousand miles to the westward from that, just outside the Straits of Gibraltar.  See ye not then, shipmates, that Jonah sought to flee worldwide from God? …


PhotoInterior of New South Church, Summer St., Boston, ca.1858. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

  1. March 19, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    I love Moby Dick, reading this will make me check it out again!

  2. Seb
    March 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    It was a whale of a a tale.

    • March 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      Seb: love it or leave it; minnow, whale, whopper, it’s up to the reader–how many copies of MD’s initial printing went unsold? RT

      • Seb
        March 20, 2013 at 7:31 pm

        Oh it is the most boring book in hell and perdition, mos def no doubt!

      • March 20, 2013 at 9:14 pm

        Seb: melville broke himself (& this book) on the face of god; it is an honorable death and a most satisfying boredom… RT

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