Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Night Of The Scorpion, by Nissim Ezekiel

Night Of The Scorpion

1 I remember the night my mother
2 was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
3 of steady rain had driven him
4 to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
5 Parting with his poison - flash
6 of diabolic tail in the dark room -
7 he risked the rain again.
8 The peasants came like swarms of flies
9 and buzzed the name of God a hundred times
10 to paralyse the Evil One.
11 With candles and with lanterns
12 throwing giant scorpion shadows
13 on the mud-baked walls
14 they searched for him: he was not found.
15 They clicked their tongues.
16 With every movement that the scorpion made
17 his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said.
18 May he sit still, they said.
19 May the sins of your previous birth
20 be burned away tonight, they said.
21 May your suffering decrease
22 the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
23 May the sum of all evil
24 balanced in this unreal world
25 against the sum of good
26 become diminished by your pain.
27 May the poison purify your flesh
28 of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
29 they said, and they sat around
30 on the floor with my mother in the centre,
31 the peace of understanding on each face.
32 More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,
33 more insects, and the endless rain.
34 My mother twisted through and through,
35 groaning on a mat.
36 My father, sceptic, rationalist,
37 trying every curse and blessing,
38 powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
39 He even poured a little paraffin
40 upon the bitten toe and put a match to it.
41 I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
42 I watched the holy man perform his rites
43 to tame the poison with an incantation.
44 After twenty hours
45 it lost its sting.
46 My mother only said
47 Thank God the scorpion picked on me
48 And spared my children.

Critical Appreciation:

The Night Of The Scorpion is a poem by Nissim Ezikiel. The poem tells the story of a boy whose mother was bitten by a scorpion.

The first four lines of the poem describes as to why the scorpion bit his mother. The third and the fourth line shows that the scorpion was forced to take refuge underneath a sack of rice due to the heavy torrential rains. The parting with his poison implies its stinging the poet's mother."Flash of diabolical tail in the dark room"- The word flash here refers to the speed with which the scorpion stings the mother. Diabolical tail refers to the "Evil one" as the scorpion is considered as the harbinger of death. The dark room adds to the effect to show the evil nature and also to show that scorpions like dark and confined spaces.

The seventh line indicates that when the news that the boy's mother had been stung by a scorpion spread around, all the people in the village came to their hut like swarms of flies which indicates that they came in large numbers.

The next twenty lines (i.e) from line 8 to line 28 shows the superstitious nature of the people of the village. The peasants call out the name of God one hundred times to paralyze the scorpion. The peasants calling out to God is compared to the buzzing of flies. They believed that with every movement the scorpion made its poison move in its mother's blood.The villagers say that the sins of her previous birth will be burnt away by the poison and that her suffering may decrease the misfortunes and sufferings she will have to undergo in her next birth.

Lines 24, 25, 26 say that the evil which she might have done in the past and in the unreal world may be balanced with the good that she has done. The poet here wants to point out that in the end there will always be hope that that the good will always survive.

Lines thirty-two and thirty-three form a repetitive pattern in which Ezekiel remembers the arrival of 'More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours, / more insects' as the rain continued to fall. In line thirty-four he makes the first direct reference to his mother's suffering, telling us that she 'twisted through and through' and was groaning in pain.

He then turns to the reaction of his father, not a religious man but 'sceptic, rationalist'. On this occasion, however, the man resorted to 'every curse and blessing' accompanied by various herbal concoctions, such was his desperation. Ezekiel describes in detail how the father actually set alight to the toe that had been bitten. It must have had a profound effect on the poet as a child; he describes how 'I watched the flame feeding on my mother', personifying the fire.

The poem concludes with a short three-line stanza in which Ezekiel recalls his mother's reaction to her frightening and painful experience. She spoke of it only briefly, thanking God and saying how glad she was that the scorpion had chosen to sting her rather than her children. This was the boundless, selfless love of a mother, and these were words which the child never forgot.

One of the interesting points about the poem is that Ezekiel narrates it from the point of view of a child who was purely an observer, not involved as the adults were in taking any action. This allows him to relate the actions and words of the peasants and his father whilst being detached from them. It is an insight into the behaviour of a small community in India where everyone becomes involved as one family or one mother's suffering, and all gather to witness the event and contribute a prayer. To the child it must have seemed as though there was a huge number of people, and the night must have been interminable. His comparison of the peasants to flies suggests that he would rather they had left the family in peace.





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