NIGHT OF THE SCORPION
‘Night of the Scorpion', in which Ezekiel recalls the behaviour of 'the peasants', his father, his mother and a holy man when his mother was poisoned by a scorpion's sting. Here the aim is to find poetry in ordinary reality as observed, known, felt, experienced rather than as the intellect thinks it should be. While the peasants pray and speak of incarnations, his father, 'sceptic, rationalist', tries 'every curse and blessing, powder, mixture, herb and hybrid' and a holy man performs a rite. After a day the poison is no longer felt and, in a final irony, his mother, in contrast to the previous feverish activity centred upon her, makes a typical motherly comment:
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
and spared my children.
The 'Thank God' is doubly ironic as it is a commonplace expression of speech in contrast to all the previous religious and superstitious activity. Ezekiel's purpose is not, however, an expression of scepticism but rather the exact notation of what he saw as a child. The aim is not to explain but to make real by naming, by saying 'common things'. The poem is a new direction, a vision of ordinary reality, especially of Indian life, unmediated by cold intellect. The new purpose is seen in the poem's style, unrhymed, with line lengths shaped by natural syntactical units and rhythm created by the cadences of the speaking voice into a long verse paragraph, rather than the stanzaic structure used in earlier poems.
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In his poetry there is the truth of acknowledging what is felt and experienced in its complexity, contradictions, pleasures, fears and disillusionments without preconceived ideas of what poetry should say about the poet and life.
Nissim Ezekiel’s ‘Night of The Scorpion’ is much appreciated by the critics and it has found place in many anthologies for as excellence, Critics, commenting on its aesthetic beauty expressed different views. In their critical sweep, they brought everything from superstitious ritualism to modern rationalism. One can find that in the poem superstitious ritualism or sceptic rationalism or even the balance of the both with expression of Indian ethos through maternal love in the Indian way, is nothing but scratching the surface. The poem has something more gigantic than its face value, which as I find is the symbolic juxtaposition of the forces of darkness and light that is intrinsically centripetal in the poem.
It is ‘Night’ of The Scorpion’ with the first word absorbing accent. It seems to have been implicitly contrived here that ‘Night should stand as a symbol of darkness with the ‘Scorpion’ as the symbol of evil. Such ingenuity in craftsmanship takes the poem to the higher level of understanding. Prof. Birje Patil is right in putting that in “Night of The Scorpion”, where evil is symbolized by the scorpion, The reader made to participate in the ritual as well as suffering through’ a vivid evocation of the poison moving in the mother’s blood’. And evil has always been associated with darkness, the seamy side of our life, in human psyche. It has always been the integral part of theology, in whatever form it has manifested that suffering helps in removing that darker patch in human mind, he patch that has been a besetting sin of man’s existence.
May the sum of evil
Balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain, they said
These lines amply testify that the poem aims at achieving something higher than its narrative simplicity. The choric refrain ‘they said’ in the chain of reactions made by the village peasants is undoubtedly ironic, but the poet hasn’t as much to stress the concept of sin, redemption or rebirth as he has to insinuate the indomitable force of darkness gripping the minds of the unenlightened. Going through the poem attentively more than once, it can’t fail catching our notice that...
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