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Thursday, May 07, 2020

Critical Appreciation of Night of the Scorpion - Nissim Ezekiel

Nissim Ezekiel is one of the most celebrated Indian English poets. His poetry was hailed as a herald of modernity in Indian English Poetry. Keki N. Daruwalla thinks that his poetry has brought for the first time "a modern Indian sensibility in a modern idiom." Ezekiel becomes a "real" poet, partly because of his use of a detached and ironic tone "towards himself and his emotions."

Critical Appreciation of Night of the Scorpion
Critical Appreciation of Night of the Scorpion

Night of the Scorpion

Nissim Ezekiel's poem "Night of the Scorpion" received an easy and warm notice in the West. It recalls a childhood experience of an Indian mother having been stung by a scorpion on a rainy night. The success of the poem lies in completely detached poetic stance in placing side by side different responses to the event, the use of irony to bring to the awareness level the ambiguities involved in the whole situation. 

"Night of the Scorpion" is a well- known poem of Ezekiel; it was included in his anthology “The Exact Name" in 1964. He has also produced some marvellous poems like "Poet, Lover and Birdwatcher", "Enterprise" and "Goodbye Party to Miss Pushpa T.S.".      

Ezekiel's poem, "Night of the Scorpion" embodies a typical Indian experience in a familiar Indian setting. Ezekiel offered it as his memory of India. It is a simple narrative poem in which the superstitious beliefs have been posited against the rational in an utterly neutral tone. 

In a terse manner, the poet-narrator recalls a childhood rainy night when a scorpion, hidden behind a sack of rice, came out and stung the mother. The anxious neighbours, the peasants, arrived. Their number swelled as the news spread. They came like "swarm of flies" and buzzed the name of God. They muttered their prayers in order to render ineffective the harm caused by the scorpion. 

The reference to the sudden appearance of the scorpion - "Flash of diabolic tail in the dark room" - equates the scorpion to the Evil, the Devil, who hides  in dark places to prey on his victims. With the help of figures of speech Ezekiel has produced the desired effect.  

The simple- minded peasants believed that if the scorpion moved, the poison in the mother's blood would spread. So they tried to search the scorpion and kill it. They could not find the scorpion. In utter dismay and helplessness, they sat around the mother, and began to pray.

"May he sit still, they said. 
May your suffering decrease 
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said."   


The situation remained unchanged. The prayers were said. There was an expression of understanding on the peasants' faces. The mother continued to writhe and groan with pain the mat. The rain continued to pour as more and more curious neighbours with their lanterns arrived on the scene. The sceptic and the rational father tried to bring relief to his suffering wife in his own way.

On the other hand the superstitious peasants continued to pray. The father did not have faith in the efficacy of the prayer. He, ironically, did not leave anything untried, "powder, mixture, herb and hybrid." He even poured some paraffin upon the mother's bitten toe, and burnt it to cauterize the wound. Ironically enough, the mother who suffered much pain and agony for full twenty hours got healed. The pain automatically lessened in due course of time. 

The last lines - 

"My mother only said.. 
Thank God the scorpion picked on me 
and spared my children."
suggest a noble response of the mother with those of the others in an ironic perspective. While everybody else is concerned about the well-being of the mother, the mother is worried only about her children, showing a typical, self-sacrificing maternal love. The motherly love has been skillfully focussed by the poet, and has received considerable notice in Indian literature. The mother's response is bland and simple. 

On the whole, the poem is remarkable for its simplicity and felicity of phrase. The poem is neither in the category of formal verse nor in that of the free verse. Though the situation requires emotional engagement, the narrator adopts a stance of bemused detachment. It becomes clear that Ezekiel may choose to deal with typical Indian theme, but his attitude is basically Western. 

Thus, Nissim Ezekiel's "Night of the Scorpion" is a brilliant narrative poem which employs a typically Indian situation. The poem provides a good example of alienation experience put to a creative use. Through the effective use of language an ordinary event acquires dignity and charm. 

Watch a video: Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel

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