Tag Archives: Nissim Ezekiel

Night Of The Scorpion

I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison – flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room –
he risked the rain again.

The speaker starts off by telling that he remembers the night his mother was stung by a scorpion. Continuous rain for 10 hours had driven him to crawl and hide behind a sack of rice. The scorpion stung the speaker’s mother with its tail in the darkroom and went out in the rain again.

The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred times
to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.

The poet then points out that a lot of peasants hearing the victim’s wails came swarming like flies. They started chanting the name of God a hundred times to paralyse the scorpion. They searched for the scorpion with candles and with lanterns everywhere. Yet they couldn’t find the scorpion. They said that with every movement the scorpion made, the poison moved inside the speaker’s mother’s blood. The ancient rural superstition is quite evident from the lines.

May he sit still, they said
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
they said, and they sat around
on the floor with my mother in the centre,
the peace of understanding on each face.

They prayed that may the scorpion sit still at someplace. They wished that the mother’s sins of her previous birth be purified by her suffering. They hoped that her suffering may decrease in her next birth due to her ordeal in this birth. They wished that may all the evil in this world decrease in the world as a result of her pain and may her flesh be purified of desire and the spirit of ambition by the poison. They surrounded his mother on the floor with her in the centre with the peace of understanding on each face.

More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
trying every curse and blessing,
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
He even poured a little paraffin
upon the bitten toe and put a match to it.
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.

More people came with candles and lanterns. There was more neighbours, more insects and endless rain. The speaker’s mother twisted with pain, groaning on the mat. His father who was a sceptic, rationalist being helpless tried every blessing and cure, powder, mixture, herb and hybrid to try to cure her. He poured even paraffin on the bitten toe and set it on fire. The poet saw the flame feeding his mother. Like funeral rites, he saw his father as a holy man trying to tame the poison with incantations. After twenty hours the poison lost its sting. The poet’s mother breathed a sigh of relief and said she was glad that the scorpion spared her children and bit her instead.


The Arduous Journey

It started as a pilgrimage
Exalting minds and making all
The burdens light, The second stage
Explored but did not test the call.
The sun beat down to match our rage.

The poet begins by stating that their journey started as a pilgrimage with their minds exalting and their minds forgetting every worry in the world.  The second stage of the journey proved to be a little testing but could not match their enthusiasm while the sun beat down on them. The sun signifies the obstacles that started coming across their way.

We stood it very well, I thought,
Observed and put down copious notes
On things the peasants sold and bought
The way of serpents and of goats.
Three cities where a sage had taught

The poet thought they endured the sun very well which means that they successfully overcame the wrath of the Sun. The poet observed things and put down a lot of notes on things the peasants sold and bought and the way of serpents and goats. He also wrote about the three cities where a sage had taught.

But when the differences arose
On how to cross a desert patch,
We lost a friend whose stylish prose
Was quite the best of all our batch.
A shadow falls on us and grows.

However, differences arose amongst the group on how to deal with a problem indicated by how they would cross a desert patch. They lost a friend whose manner of writing was the best of their batch. Problems begin to arise in their group and a shadow starts falling on them and it keeps growing.

Another phase was reached when we
Were twice attacked, and lost our way.
A section claimed its liberty
To leave the group. I tried to pray.
Our leader said he smelt the sea.

The journey becomes riddled with difficulties evident in the manner in which they were attacked twice and they lost their way. A section of the group claimed its liberty to leave the group. The poet starts praying and the leader said that he could smell the sea.

We noticed nothing as we went,
A straggling crowd of little hope,
Ignoring what the thunder meant,
Deprived of common needs like soap.
Some were broken, some merely bent.

They noticed nothing as they went which paints an eerie disturbing picture. They were like a straggling crowd with little hope, ignoring the thunder and deprived of common necessities like soap. Some of them broken and some merely bent with exhaustion.

When, finally, we reached the place ,
We hardly know why we were there.
The trip had darkened every face,
Our deeds were neither great nor rare.
Home is where we have to gather grace.

When they finally reached the place they hardly knew why they were there. The trip had taken a toll on every one of them. Their deeds were neither great nor rare. Home is where they would have to find grace and salvation.

This entire poem could be read as the struggle of India’s Independence and the section which claimed its liberty could signify Pakistan which separated from India.