Critical appreciation of Nissim Ezekiel’s poem Night of the Scorpion

Nissim Ezekiel’s Night of the Scorpion is commended highly both for its simple poetic theme and for its well-conceived technique. The poem is a verse narrative. Ezekiel tells a very plain narrative, with a homely look, This is about his own experience of a night, rather a rainy one, when his mother was stung by a scorpion. The whole poem centres around the affair of this sting by the scorpion and from this view-point the very title ‘Night of the Scorpion’ seems very much appropriate and thematically explanatory.

But Nissim Ezekiel’s verse narrative has not only an appropriate title. It is an appreciable work of art, too The narrative is all told, in a simple, straight style, of an occurrence, visits and activities and other consequent affairs, These are related in a quite orderly fashion. The poet has revealed his narrative skill with ease and perfection and here he seems to have imitated, as far as possible, the great English masters in verse narratives, like Chaucer, Pope, Tennyson and Morris.

By the side of his narrative skill, Ezekiel has also demonstrated his portrait-making power. In this respect, his presentation of the peasants who rushed like a ‘swarm of flies’ to see the stung mother need be particularly mentioned. He presents, with perfect realism, Indian peasantry-its usual ignorance, superstition and basically good nature. Of course, Ezekiel’s portrait of his own father, though very precise, deserves also a close attention. There is an ironic touch in the characterisation of the father as sceptic, rationalist, who ran after everything-both curses and blessings- and did not possess any clear consistent view about what should be done as a rational man. In this respect, the use of the term hybird is quite meaningful and serves to point out the hybrid aspect of his attitude

What the poem particularly demonstrates is the authentic representation of Indian rural life. Certain characteristic features of this life-good neighbourliness, intimate family relationship, faith with spiritual power and dedicated idealism of motherhood- are distinctly marked in his representation. Indeed Nissim Ezekiel seems to be intimate with Indian and traditional Indian life in this verse narrative ‘Night of the Scorpion’.

Ezekiel’s poetic style is also patent in the poem. The uses of similes in ‘swarms of flies’, onomatopoeia in ‘buzzed’ and asyndeton in ‘More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours,’ are well executed. The conclusion of the poem has an epigrammatic vigour in mother’s feeling because when she recovered she ignored her own acute pain and was thankful and grateful to God for sparing her children.

The poem has no characteristic rhyme scheme and as such, this may be taken as written in blank verse with rare rhymes here and there.

Also read: Questions and Answers from Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel