Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel

Notes on Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel

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Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel
Poet & Context
Nissim Ezekiel (1924 - 2004) was born in India to an Indian Jewish family.
He studied in Bombay and London.
Wrote eight poetry collections and won the Akademi Award for a volume called" Latter Day Psalms'.
Was also a renowned playwright, art critic, lecturer and editor.
Credited with beginning modernist movement in India, was one of India's best known poets.
Ideas & Emotions
Tells the story of a mother being stung by a scorpion, and how the concerned neighbours came and many cures
were tried, trying to bring holiness and a cure. However, in the end time and nature end the sting, and we see
the greatest holiness in the mothers words "Thank God the scorpion picked on me/ and spared my children",
and how she is willing to sacrifice herself for her children, which is similar to Jesus sacrificing his life
Structure & Rhythm
Written in free verse, without rhythm or rhyme pattern, and varying line and stanza lengths
First section is long and very busy, yet the second is simpler and only three lines long
Language
The title is in some ways deceptive, as poem is not so much about the scorpion, as the reactions of different
people to its sting.
Starts in first person - Ezekiel describes an event that really happened, but does not give own feelings or
reactions. Most of the poem is in the third person, reporting on what others do and say.
Scorpion not shown as villainous: it was driven to shelter 'beneath a sack of rice' after ten hours of rain, and
probably stung the poet's mother instinctively when she approached its hiding place, not on purpose; and
afterwards, scared of the people, 'he risked the rain again'
Villagers were more superstitious, linking the scorpion to 'the Evil One", and claim the poison will help in many
ways- by burning away the sins of her former life, and easing her next life. Perhaps this is how they make sense
of the event.
Events described with detail, yet we know little about the individual neighbours. Ezekiel lumps the neighbours
together as 'they'. This suggests they are all the same with beliefs and practices, not questioning what is truly
right and holy
Ezekiel's father is usually not superstitious or religious. Yet when his wife is suffering, he tries 'every curse and
blessing to help her. The line 'After twenty hours / it lost its sting' shows how nothing worked after all
In the final three lines we hear the mother's simple words, contrasting the gabbling neighbours. She is just
grateful that she was hurt rather than her children, and thanks God. The poet seems to suggest her god is more
powerful than the neighbours' spirits.
The villagers are described with the simile 'swarms of flies'. This insect image is interesting as it is describing
the people's reaction to an invertebrate's sting. This is developed in the following line: 'they buzzed the name
of God'.
The neighbours' candles and lanterns throw 'giant scorpion shadows' on the walls. We know that the scorpion
has already fled, so are these images of the people themselves? This suggests that Ezekiel feels the
neighbours do as much harm as the scorpion did
There is a contrast between the neighbours' `peace of understanding' and the mother who 'twisted... groaning
on a mat'. It is ironic that they are at peace because of her discomfort.
There is alliteration throughout the poem that helps to link or emphasise ideas: the scorpion is seen 'Parting
with his poison' (line 5), Ezekiel's father tries 'herb and hybrid' (line 38), Ezekiel sees 'flame feeding' (line 41) on
his mother. Underline other examples of alliteration and see if you can explain the effectiveness of their use?
There is a lot of repetition, so that we hear the villagers' prayers and incantations. Ezekiel uses direct speech,
'May...' to dramatise the scene and the echoed 'they said' is like a chorus.

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