Night of Scorpion – Nissim Ezekiel
Night of Scorpion – Nissim Ezekiel
Nissim Ezekiel was born in India to Jewish parents in 1924. He was educated in Bombay and later went to London. He was worked in India and abroad as a University Professor. He has written number of volumes of poetry and plays. His poems have also been published in many well known magazines. The poem ‘Night of the Scorpion’ is taken from the book of poems called ‘The Exact Name.’
In the poem the poet, the narrator recalls the night that his mother was stung by the scorpion. The poem is in its highly narrative style. As a child the narrator got affected to the situation. So than the scorpion and its sting here the poet explains the reaction of the family, his relatives and neighbors towards the incident.
In the first part of the poem the poet describes how with the heavy rain the scorpion stung his mother. Apart from the incident various superstitious actions follow. The poet indicates how the peasants came with a simile ‘like swarms of flies’ to his foreign roots the Indianans, the typical nature of the villagers was unnatural. The use of insect image and comparison suggest the poet’s attitude towards the neighbors’ reaction. It seems that he felt the arrival of the peasants as a disturbance. That can be seen through his comparison of ‘swarms of flies’. The action of buzzing the name of ‘God’ shows how they attempt to throw the evil eye. The association of evil eye with the devilish nature of the scorpion can be seen through the phrase of ‘diabolic tail’.
With the inability to find out the scorpion the peasants thought that the poison of the scorpion has a cleansing effect that can cleanse the mother’s blood. Moreover, according to them suffering too can have a purifying effect and a balancing effect of both good and bad. For them it seems that the poison of the scorpion can burn the sins of the previous birth. All these indicate the deeply rooted superstitious beliefs of the people. Furthermore the poet brings out a contrast of the people who are believing on superstitious beliefs and not. It can be seen through the poet’s father’s character who is a ‘skeptic, rationalist’. His actions reveal his sheer desperation to heal his wife and relieve her from suffering. It seems that the father does not share the superstitious beliefs with the villagers. Yet his extreme anxiety towards the wife makes him try “every curse and blessing” which is an action natural and common to every human being. Finally however the twenty hours of time gave a relief to all. The last words, which indicate motherly love, of the poem become more important because after suffering twenty hours even mother thanks God for spearing her children from the scorpion. The title itself is somewhat different from the message of the poem because than the scorpion the poem describes the reactions of the people regarding the incident. The poet’s narrative style, contrasting views of both father and villagers, use of reported speech and repetition make the poem more effective and successful.
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.