Night Of The Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel
The poem “The Night of The Scorpion” is written by Nissim Ezekiel has an interesting contrast of good and bad hidden within it (an essence of equality). The poet has made the mother’s experience of getting bitten by a scorpion sound very painful and endless. The theme of the poem is religious views vs. scientific knowledge. The superstitions of the villagers and the rational thinking of the father show the readers the contrast between religion and knowledge. The difference of reactions of the villagers and the father tells the reader the theme.
The poem is written in free verse with varying line lengths and no rhyme. The first part is long and full of activity – the scorpion’s bite and the reaction of the villagers. The second part – the mother’s reaction – is just three lines long. The poet uses his language to convey his ideas. The title in some ways is deceptive. It leads us to believe we are in for a frightening and dramatic tale with a scorpion taking centre stage. In fact, the poem is not about the scorpion at all, but about the reactions of different people to its sting. We also see that the poem starts off in the first person – Ezekiel describes an event that really happened. However, he does not give his own feelings or reactions: we realise he is merely the narrator. Most of the poem is in the third person, as Ezekiel reports on what other people do and say. Ezekiel also does not portray the scorpion as a villain: it was driven to shelter ‘ten hours of steady rain had driven him to crawl beneath a sack of rice’. It probably stung the poet’s mother instinctively as a warning to her when she approached its hiding place, rather than harming her on purpose; and having delivered the sting, scared off the people indoors, ‘he risked the rain again’. However, the villagers are more superstitious and link the scorpion to ‘the Evil One’. They claim that the poison will help in many ways. For example, by burning away the sins of the woman’s former life – ‘May the sins of your previous birth be burned away tonight’- and ease her life after this one – ‘May your suffering decrease the misfortunes of your next birth’. Maybe this is their way of making sense of the event: if good comes out of it, it is easier to bear. The events of the night are described in rich detail – we know about the mud hut and the candles and lanterns, yet we know little about the individual neighbours. Ezekiel lumps the neighbours together as ‘they’ because he thinks that they are annoying villagers-“the peasants came like swarms of flies”. The final three lines are poignant. We hear Ezekiel’s mother’s exact words; her simple speech is in contrast to the gabbling neighbours. She doesn’t show any bitterness about her ordeal: she is just grateful that she was the one who was hurt rather than her children.
The ideas in this poem concern our difficult feelings towards aspects of the natural world that seem to threaten us – the frightened insect becomes the Evil One! – And the complex ways in which individuals and communities respond when disaster strikes one of their number. Much of the meaning of a poem is conveyed by the attitude it expresses towards its subject matter. Attitude can be thought of as a combination of the poet’s tone of voice and the ideas they are trying to get across to the reader. The poets tone is full of fear because they way he is narrating “they said” shows that he is very scared. The various reactions of the villagers show the tension in the poem.
The poet uses a lot of imagery. He uses a simile, comparing the villagers to ‘swarms of flies’. It is striking that he uses an insect image to describe the people’s reaction to an invertebrate’s sting. He develops the simile in the following line: ‘they buzzed the name of God a hundred times’. This suggests that the villagers are irritating and the poet does not like their presence. 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 look like A scorpion who has eight legs, so the shadow of a small group of people standing together look like a scorpion. Hence we can say that he is equating the villagers to the scorpion’s shadow. There is a contrast between the neighbours’ ‘peace of understanding on each face’ and the mother who ‘twisted through and through, groaning on a mat’. It is ironical because they are at peace because of her discomfort.
They poet also uses sound. There is alliteration throughout the poem that helps to link or emphasise ideas: the scorpion is seen ‘Parting with his poison’, Ezekiel’s father tries ‘herb and hybrid’; Ezekiel sees ‘flame feeding’ on his mother. 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.
There is no use of rhythm. It is a free verse. The poem has been narrated by the poet itself. he is the child who is witnessing this incident. The atmosphere of the poem is significant which is the rain, the rain continues for twenty hours. The poet has used twenty hours because it takes that much time for the poison for the sting to reach the body. These twenty hours are important because during this time the reaction of the villagers is shown. The father is not superstitious like the villagers and unlike them he tries to save her by trying to take out the poison out of the mother’s body. To show the dramatic tension he show the extent of the extent of measures when the fathers burns the wound. After all this the mother finally gets saved. The reaction of the mother is ironical because instead of saying anything about the dreadful period she goes through, she is just grateful that the scorpion did not sting her children.
To sum up the main motive of the poem was to convey that the religious views and superstitions of the villagers were irrational therefore would not have helped to save his mother’s life whereas, the father was rational and saved his mother’s life with the help of scientific methods. In the end, the knowledge of man wins over the religious views of man.