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Night Of The Scorpion Poem by Nissim Ezekiel

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 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.

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.
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.

Night Of The Scorpion Summary

The poem describes an incident on a rainy night. It had been raining continuously for ten hours. The poet’s mother was stung by a scorpion on that night. She felt extreme pain because of scorpions biting. Many people living in the poet’s neighbourhood came to the poet’s house. They had candles and lanterns in their hands; they searched for the Scorpion but did not find it anywhere. They were expressing their superstitious views. They said that they should kill the Scorpion because its poison would move into the mother’s blood with its movement. They were praying to God to forgive their sins of the previous birth. They were making some other prayers too. The mother was sitting in the centre, and all the neighbours were sitting around her. The number of people was increasing. There were many candles, many lanterns and many insects. The mother was impatient, for she felt severe pain. She was groaning. The poet’s father treated her medically, but in vain neither medicine nor superstitious methods could subside her pain. After twenty hours, the poisonous effect subsided. The mother thanked God that the Scorpion bit her and spared her children.

Critical Appreciation of the Poem Night of the Scorpion.

‘Night of the Scorpion is one of the finest poems of Nissim Ezekiel and has been widely acclaimed for its admirable description of a typical Indian situation for its striking and forceful imagery, for its bringing together of opposites, for its chronic contrasts, and the warmth of human love and affection. It exhibits Ezekiel as a very Indian poet, rooted in Indian soil and fully aware of the everyday human situations of day-to-day Indian life.

Night of the Scorpion’ is Ezekiel’s magnum opus. Several critics have showered high praise for it. Rajeev Tara Nath and Meena Belliappa note, “The observer’s neutral attitude to the scene balancing the superstitions with the presence of the father, skeptic, rationalist Christopher Wiseman says that it is an excellent poem containing a fascinating tension between personal crises and mocking social observations. H.M. Williams alludes that the peasant’s superstitions about the scorpion bite have seen in juxtaposition to the modern skepticism of the father and the poetic magic of religious rituals. Chetan Karnani remarks, “the theme of the poet’s mother stung by a scorpion has given multiple treatments, bringing in its sweep the world of magic and superstitions, science and natural and maternal affection” Syed Aman Uddin thinks that, Sympathy, morality, superstition, prayer and the fear of unknown are all brought together effectively in the poem. In “Night of the Scorpion”, Willian Walsh says that gentleness is protected by irony and sweetness made keen by ‘a subdued mockery”. In the words of Birje Patil in ‘Night of the Scorpion’, evil is symbolized by the scorpion, and we are made to participate in ritual as well as suffering through a vivid evocation of the poison moving in the mother’s blood. According to R.Parthasarathy, “it acts an impressive ritual in which the mother’s reaction, towards the end, to her suffering ironically cancels out earlier responses both primitive and sophisticated. The inter-relationship between the domestic tragedy and the surrounding community is unobtrusively established. The poem also demonstrated the effective use of parallelism”. Anisur Rehman believes this poem “reflects the love of an innocent Indian mother for her children within the framework of beliefs and superstitions.”

The poem is peculiarly Indian in its theme, and its execution is most appropriate to the theme. The poet has given expression to his thoughts in the most influential language. Its language is adequate to the situation, and it calls up the actual scene in the readers’ minds. The narrator in the poem remembers an incident when his mother was stung by a scorpion one rainy night, and then he goes on to reveal how it took place and the incidents that followed. The scorpion chooses to come out of its hiding place. It bites the mother and disappears into the darkness. The whole incident has been delineated with great artistic skill and economy of language.
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 darkroom, he risked the rain again.
Then the chain reaction follows. Several peasants gather in the poet’s house. They have candles and lanterns in their hands. They recite the name of God in a low murmuring sound to nullify the evil effect of the poison. The irony is apparent here, and there is a mockery of the attitude of the peasants. In this way, the speaker portrays with every movement that the scorpion made, his poison moved in mother’s blood, they said

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 evil balance this unreal world

against the sum of good become diminished by your pain, they said.

The choric ‘they said’ is ironic as the poet does not agree with those that uttered those words. They are in the wrong for they unnecessarily associate the concept of sin, redemption, and rebirth with a simple incident like a scorpion bite. This situation reaches the culmination with the repetition of ‘more’ four times resulting in the groaning of the mother on a mat

More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours, more insects, and the endless rain.

My mother twisted through and through groaning on a mat.

This is a usual way of handling the English language by Ezekiel to give rise to Indian characters as they happen to speak English in everyday life.

The poet’s father is a skeptic and rationalist. He does not believe in the superstitious views of the peasants. He uses powder, mixture, herb, and hybrid. When these things fail to provide any relief to the suffering mother, he pours some paraffin on the affected toe of the mother and then burns it. Like a detached but confused observer, the speaker in the poem watches the flame consuming his mother’s toe. He also beholds the holy man performing his rites to subside the poise with an incantation. Then comes the denouncement and the speaker records in a matter of fact tone:

After twenty hours it lost its sting.

Ezekiel, the expert craftsman has not only described the incident but allowed a little space between it and the earlier forty-five lines containing three responses to the scorpion bite. The end of the poem demonstrates maternal love.

My mother only said Thank God the Scorpion picked on me and spared my children. The poem manifests an uncommon intensity of feeling, a striking economy of language on unique imaginative insight. Ezekiel displays excellent poetic integrity and artistic craftsmanship. The poem consists of forty-eight easy flowing lines out of which fifteen are regular tetrameters and seven are pentameters. The rest is free verse with the occasional iambic meter. Except for one all other lines are end-stopped. The musicality of the poem is fixed from beginning
to end. There is no constriction, no strain in the rhythm. The reading is not choked by clumsiness and difficulty in the rhythm. The structural pattern of the poem exhibits brevity and compression of ideas. It is a poem about a situation The ideas are expressed clearly. It is a simple poem in which music and storytelling have been blended exquisitely. The beginning of the poem is hasty and the tone is conversational and the rhythm is colloquial. It recalls us of a situation in which we can take part and feel at home.

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