Showing posts with label Nissim Ezekiel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nissim Ezekiel. Show all posts

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Nissim Ezekial's 'The Company I Keep': Summary and Analysis

In his poem 'The Company I Keep' Nissim Ezekial speaks about his contemporaries and the types of poetry that appeared during his age. He expects that a poet must keep up the morale, ethics of the age and people. If a poet cannot keep up that moral, then it shows that the poet has a minor talent in writing poetry. This cannot be called a greater curse but having no talent. Just like - ring refers to the groups of poets who write poems. Millions of people find happiness in writing poetry. He is also one of the poets, who enjoys writing poetry. Ezekiel feels that poets are mixing up metaphors and common thoughts. But poetry is not simply miring up put an expression of deeper thoughts.


Ezekiel, here, tries to condemn outrightly those who just min metaphors and statements and produce bogus poetry. These unfortunate beings exploit others skill and parade themselves as poets. He curses all those who use other's talents for their own selfish purpose. He also includes the publishers of small magazines and broadcasters of small weather woes. The poet in his indignant mood calls them as seducers of experience. By doing so these men show their letter lack of imaginative power. He also condemns such practice by saying that they are the victims of their own spontaneous fraud. Ezekiel asks them their last composition of a real poem. He himself answers that they are in hell and they do not know it. But instead, they will answer that they have been reviewing as compensation. He asserts that he himself belonged once to as advertising offence. Ezekiel finds faults of not knowing the secret of writing and becoming thoughts which cause a variety of disasters to the mind of people through their poems.

This practice is nothing but making the most out of borrowed intelligence, imagination and skill. They really contribute nothing to the world of literature. The occasional rhyme or two coming from such people cannot be a thing of justification at all. This activity is described by the poet as a trail of smoke, that just irritates the people by its small and continuous suffocation. Thus, the poet gives a warning here of such people. In a relentless vein of critical self-awareness and with downright candour Ezekiel denounces all such poetasters:

No greater curse
than a minor talent
in the verse ring bull ring, yet
millions revel in it,
and I am counted
one among them, mixing
metaphors and platitudes...
Damn all you sensitive poets,
seducers of experience,
self-worshippers and publishers,
broadcasters of small weather woes.
Victims of your own spontaneous fraud
Your only achievement is monumentality of vanity.

Nissim Ezekiel's ‘Night of the Scorpion': A Short Summary and Analysis

The poem ‘Night of the Scorpion' has been taken from Nissim Ezekiel's collection of poems entitled 'The Exact Name', published in 1965. The poem reads like a story. In ‘Night of the Scorpion' 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 it 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.

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 a 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 an 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 a 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 the human psyche. It has always been an integral part of theology, in whatever form it has manifested that suffering helps in removing that darker patch in the human mind, the 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 modern rationalism is also equally shallow and perverse. It is also a road leading to confusion where through emerges scepticism, the other darker patch on our modernized existence. The image of the father in this poem speaks volumes for this capsizing modernism which sandwiches in its arm- space the primitive and the perverted. The “sceptic rationalist’ father trying ‘powder, mixture, herb and hybrid’ bears upon human primitivism and when he experiments with ‘a little paraffin upon a bitten toe and put a match to it he becomes a symbol of perversion in the modern man’s psyche.

Christopher Wiseman puts it, “...a fascinating tension between personal crisis and mocking social observation”” ; neither there is any personal crisis. On the other hand there is spiritual compassion and an intense urge for getting rid of this psychological syndrome that the whole modern world has been caught, the slow-moving poison of this syndromic scorpion into the very veins of creation, the image of the mother in agony nullifying the clear vision of human thought and enveloping the whole of humanity In the darker shades of confusion more chaolic, troubles the poet as much sharply as the sting of the poisonous worm. There is crisis, but it is the crisis of human existence that needs lo be overcome. The poet, though a distant observer, doesn’t take a stance of detachment. On the exact opposite, he watches with curiosity “the flame feeding on my mother’, but being uncertain whether the paraffin flame would cleanse her of the agony of the absorbing poison, he loses himself in a thoughtful trance.
The whole poem abounds with these two symbols of darkness and light. In the very beginning, the poet has ushered in this symbolic juxtaposition and then as the poem advanced, built upon it the whole structure of his fascinating architecture in the lines. 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.

The incessant rain stands for hope and regeneration wherewith is juxtaposed the destructive hurdles to fruitfy that hope. But the constructive, life-giving rain continuous and the evil, having fulfilled its parts, departs. Then afterwards other hurdles more preying than the first, come in. More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours more insects, and the endless rain My mother twisted through and through groaning on a mat. The symbols of light and darkness, candles lanterns, neighbours and insects and rain again are noteworthy. But the force of light gains a width handover the evil force and life is restored once again in its joyous stride and this life long struggle between forces of darkness and light reaches a crescendo when - after twenty hours It lost its sting. Here, In the above lines, lies the beauty of the poem, when the ascending steps of darkness, being chased by the force of following light are ripped down; when at last on the peak the chaser wins and the chased slips down.
The man who has not understood what motherhood is. might be taken in by such expression of motherly love. But I convincingly feel that any woman would have exclaimed the same thing as the mother in this poem did. In my view, it would have been truly Indian had the mother in her tortures remembered her children and though helplessly, had she desired to protect them lest the scorpion might catch them unawres. Anyway, the beauty of the poem remains- unmarred by such revision. The poem is a thing of beauty par excellence.

The poem "Night of the Scorpion" can be classified as poetry of situation - an art in which Browning and Robert Frost excelled. It presents a critical situation in which a mother is bitten by a scorpion. It involves a typical Indian Situation in which an entire village community identifies itself with a sad domestic happening. It pictures the traditional Indian society steeped in ignorance and superstition.

The poem is set against the backdrop of an Indian rural setting. The rural habit of Storing rice in gunny bags is referred to in the phrase, " a sack of rice". The rural practise of building huts with mud walks is captured in the phrase "mud backed walks". The absence of rural electrification in Indian villages before independence is hinted at in a string of images, "darkroom" and " Candles and lanterns". "Darkness" has the extended meaning of Indian villages being steeped in ignorance.

The situation of a scorpion-stung mother is encountered in different ways of prayer, incantation and science. Not one stays at home when the peasants hear of a mother bitten by a scoipion. They rush buzzing the name of God times without number. With candles and lanterns, they search for him. He is not found. They sit on the floor with the mother in the centre and try to comfort her with words of philosophy. Their prayer brings out their genuine concern for the suffering mother. The father, through a sceptic and a rationalist, does not differ in the least from the ignorant peasants. He tries both medicine and "mantra" drugs and chants as seen in the phrase "trying every were and blessing". A holy man is brought to tame the poison with an incantation.

It is the belief of the village community that buzzing " the name of God a hundred times" will bring about relief to the mother stung by the scorpion. The action of the rural folk brings out their firm faith in God and in the efficiency of prayer. It is the belief of the rural community that the faster the scorpion moves, the faster the poison in the mother's blood will move. In equating the movement of the scorpion and that of the poison in the blood stream, the peasant betray their superstition.
The peasants sit around the mother groaning in pain and they try to console her offering remedial advice of a strong ritualistic and faith - healing kind. Some peasants say that as she has suffered now, in the rent birth she will experience less troubles. She will now be in a balanced state whereby her body is ridden of device and her spirit of ambition. The incantatory utterances made by the peasants smack of their belief in the Hindu law of "Karina", in the Hindu doctrine of rebirth and in the 13 Hindu concept of the world as one of illusion and the physical suffering bringing about spiritual rejuvenation.
The poem is remembered particularly for its 'memorable close' - me last three lines:

My Mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my childred.
The use of the restricted adverb 'only' distinguishes the mother from the peasants, the father and the holy man. The, other does not blame God but she thanks God because the scorpion stung her and spared her children. Her agony would have been greater if any of her children were bitten. Ultimately, it assumes universal dimensions. The poet throws light on the selfless lore of the Indian mother.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nissim Ezekiel as a Poet

Ezekiel is a dedicated person to the rhyme, the extremes and pitfalls. No other Indian-English poet has today shown the ability to organise his experience into words as competently as Ezekiel. The remarkable aspect of his poetry is his sincerity and individuality. His poems generalise his own felt experience. It is neither repetitive nor shocking, but 'simple, introspective and analytical. He treats poetry as a first-hand record of the growth of his mind. He loves simplicity. His love of the genuine is explicit in the following: Life in the city, sexuality, the problems of marriage, the need to overcome alienation and to create integration among the various aspects of his character are Ezekiel's early and continuing themes There is a distinct personality expressed in the voice, themes and style. Life is seen as a quest for 4wholeness, for intellectual and spiritual satisfaction, for maturity.

Ezekiel showed that it was possible to write about oneself without-being self-consciously Indian and that an Indian poetry could express the experiences of the educated and urbanized and need not be obsessed with mythology, peasants and nationalist slogans with him a post-colonial poetry started which reflects the lives and identities that an increasing number of educated Indians knew or would seek.

Ezekiel is a poet of many a theme and one finds wider range of subjects and variety in his poetry. His poetry is not born out of dogma and he does not confine himself to a particular type, theme or technique in his poetry. He has an open mind and therefore he changes the subject matter of his poetry from time to time. He makes this clear in his poem ‘Theological’:  Ezekiel's poetry is marked by both a natural sense of Indianness. and an even.level of language and craft the real source of creative tension in his poetry is between his pervasive philosophic preoccupation and an insistent awareness of the ties stemming from the surrounding milieu. Ezekiel never postulates a truth but works out, in terms of irony, an answer which is purely tentative. In effect, even in regard to ostensibly philosophic issues, the residue of significance lies not in the validity of the speculation but in the ironic stance of the contemplation.

The new poetry (i.e., Indian English poetry after Independence) demanded a new use of language and called for the use of everyday speech rhythm in poetry. Thus there is a demand as it were, for the creation of an Indian English idiom, to give an identity to modern Indian English Poetry independent of and different from the world literatures written in English including Anglo-American literatures. Ezekiel has succeeded in creating a new Indian English idiom to a great extent.

Nizzim Ezekiel accepts the established linguistic framework but his art lies in so changing a unit of expression as to make it expressive of a state of mind. He is capable of turning words into a metaphor, image or symbols as the situation demands. It is only rarely that we come across poetic counters of expression but there is a strong undercurrent of poetry in the seemingly prosiac words. This is his characteristic mode which demonstrates his command over language and saves his poetry from degenerating into bare statement. Ezekiel is fond of using’ paradoxical language in his poetry for greater poetic effect. Ezekiel is a conscious poet ‘looking before and after’. To him poetry is not a gift to be adorned but a craft to be studied seriously. He believes in the revision of a poem and works hard on it, till it achieves a kind of perfection. A poet like a woman ‘must labour to be beautiful’. Ezekiel’s clarity of thought, clinical precision of words and phrases and employment of imagery make his poetry distinctly Indian.

The poet in Nissim Ezekiel is too self-conscious of artistic excellence while the man in him strives to explore the real meaning of existence through art. The poet, as a result, does not cither get prolix or make poetry the text of his aesthetic vision.  Metaphorically speaking, every doctrine, dream or ideal, whether realised or not, is analogous to the invention of a right poem or the writing of a real poem amounts to the discovery of a metaphysical truth. Poetry does not merely extenuate the pains of living in the poet but much more than that, his search for the real idiom as expressed therein. Ezekiel brought a sense of discipline, selfcriticism and mastery to Indian English poetry. He was the first Indian poet to have such a professional attitude.

Ezekiel's poetry is centred on a study of his conscious craftsmanship, his mastery of rhythm and diction and his treatment of modern urban life and the existential questions it generates .

These I have dwelt upon, listening to rain,
And turning in, resoled
That I must wait and train myself
To recognise the real thing,
And in the verse or friends I make
To have no trunk with what is fake.

Ezekiel's greatness lies in his effort to avoid the mistakes, which his fellow poets committed. He is a serious poet. His originality lies in his typical  poems, which are firmly rooted in Indian soil. Ezekiel's impersonalize i s
another landmark. Indeed David McCutchion's observation is a tribute to this great Indian poet: "Ezekiel belongs with Thom Gunn, R.S. Thomas, Elizabeth Jennings, Anthony Thwaite, and others like them. He has their cautious, discriminating style, precise and analytical, with its conscious rejection of the heroic and passionate as also of the sentimental and cosy. The technique is immaculate: rhymes, and carefully varied yet regular rhythms, lines that run over with a poised deliberateness. But behind the casual assurance one senses
the clenched first, the wounded tenderness."

Ezekiel's concept is that writing poetry is not just a matter of inspiration but studying the skill of writing carefully. This study demands a lot of patience from the poet. Only when unskilled poets try their hands in poetry, poetry turns out to be self-advertisement. Many of Ezekiel's poems express his view that poetry can be built in resolving the tension between two opposite forces and trying to maintain an equipoise. About this aspect Linda Hess remarks, Every mature poet finds his art demanding again and again that he synthesises certain powerful and apparently opposite forces within himself.

C.D.Narasimhaiah compliments him in the following words “But to the extent he has availed himself of the composite culture of India to which he belongs he must be said to be an important poet not merely in the Indian context, but in a consideration of those that are writing poertry anywhere in English”. What makes a poet belong to a particular country necessarily involves nationality, and his identity is to be found in being rooted in the soil. Ezekiel is deeply rooted in the Indian soil In him one discerns a certainty of touch that seems to reflect a confidence in the direction and purpose of his writing as well as an integrity of image of India, style and subject-matter.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nissim Ezekiel as an Indian poet writing in English

Nissim Ezekiel is said to be essentially an Indian poet writing in English. He expresses the essence of Indian personality and is also very sensitive to the changes of his national climate and he voices the aspirations and the joys and sorrows of Indians. It has been opined, that the Indo - Anglian poets are of two factions. The neo-modernists and the neo-symbolists. The outlook of the former is coloured by humanism and irony and that of the latter is imbued with mysticism and sublimity, but a perfect blend is achieved by the two groups in the realms of beauty. A perfect example, of anlndo - Anglian poet, who was able to arrive at a synthesis between the two factions of poetry, is none other than Sarojini Naidu, for she took her stance in the neutral, middle ground, between the sacred and profane sphere of poetry4 she was at home in both the worlds and found them united in the realms of poetry.

Its possible to gain a proper perspective of the development of Indian feminine poetic tradition, only if it is considered with reference to the changing position of women in India. The very term Women poets implies an attempt to isolate women poets from men poets, and consider them in a group only on the basis of sex, some critics have wondered as to whether there is anything like feminine sensibility, feminine experiences and feminine ways of expression. The feminine character is made up of certain psychological traits as well as certain socially conditioned ones. All these features set them apart as a group. They moreover do not accept the duties which are traditionally allotted to women, in the male dominated society, and assert their new identity as independent, individualistic and conscious participants in experience. Thus these women poets do mark' the evolution of the Indian feminine Psyche from the tradition to modernity.

Nissim Ezekiel occupies an important place in post-Independence Indian English literature. He has wielded a great influence as a leading poet, editor and an occasional playwright. Besides, he is a well-known critic. Sometimes he also emerges as a politician in the guise of a fighter for cultural freedom in India. Ezekiel held many important positions. He was for many years a Professor of English in Bombay University. He is a noted name in the field of journalism. In this capacity he was editor of many journals including Poetry India (1966-67), Quest (1955-57) and Imprint (1961-70), He was an Associate Editor to the Indian P.E.N., Bombay.

As a man of letters Nissim Ezekiel is a 'Protean' figure. His achievements as a poet and playwright are considerable. K. Balachandran writes, "The post-Independence Indian poetry saw its new poetry in the fifties. Among the new poets A.K. Ramanujan, R. Parthasarathy, Shiv K. Kumar, Kamala Das, Monica Verma, O.P. Bhatnagar, Gauri Deshpande, Adil Jussawalla, Ezekiel occupies a prominent place. His versatile genius can be found in his poetry, plays, criticism, journalism and translation." Nissim Ezekiel has done a good work in Indian writing in English. He has written many volumes of poems—A Time to Change (1952), Sixty Poems (1953), The Third (1959), The Unfinished Man (1960), The Exact Name (1965) and others. His plays Nalini, Marriage Poem, The Sleep-Walkers, Songs of Deprivation and Who Needs No Introduction are already staged and published. He has also edited books Indian Writers in Conference (1964), Writing in India (1965), An Emerson Reader (1965), A Martin Luther King Reader (1965) and Arthur Miller's All My Sons (1972). His literary essays published in magazines and papers are innumerable. The notable among them are 'Ideas and Modern Poetry' (1964), 'The Knowledge of Dead Secrets' (1965), 'Poetry as Knowledge' (1972), 'Sri Aurobindo on Poetry' (1972), 'Should Poetry be Read to Audience?' (1972), 'K.N. Daruwalla' (1972), 'Poetry and Philosophy,' 'Hindu Society' (1966). He has written essays on art criticism 'Modern Art in India' (1970), 'How Good is Sabavala?' (1973), and 'Paintings of the Year 1973' (1973). His essays on social criticism Thoreau and Gandhi' (1971), 'Censorship and the Writer' (1963), 'How Normal is Normality' (1972), 'Tradition and All That a Case Against the Hippies' (1973), 'A Question of Sanity' (1972) and 'Our  Academic Community' (1968) are varied and auto telic of his wide interest.

Ezekiel is an editor of several journals encouraging writing poetry, plays and criticisrm He also asked many writers for translation, affecting the theory and practice of the young poets. The writers like Rilke and W.B. Yeats influenced Ezekiel. Like Yeats, he treated poetry as the 'record of the mind's growth.' His poetic bulk indicates his growth as a poet-critic and shows his personal importance. Chetan Karnani states, "At the centre was that sincere devoted mind that wanted to discover itself. In the process, he managed to forge a unique achievement of his own."

The poet Ezekiel has already published several volumes of poems. A Time to Change (1952) was his first book of poems. For him poetry-writing was a lofty vocation, a way of life. He treated life as a journey where poesy would be the main source of discovering and organising one's own self. In a sense, poetry to Ezekiel became a way for self-realisation. He calls life a texture of poetry. He identifies himself with poetry. So all of his volumes of verse are well-knit and they are in the poet's view, a continuation of each other. Ezekiel's experiments in prose rhythms and his fine sense of structure and metrical ability. The verse rhythms of T.S. Eliot seem to haunt his mind. Ezekiel's Sixty Poems (1953), his second volume of poems was published in 1953. But these poems are loose in structure and they are less appealing.