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Night of the Scorpion -- Nissim Ezekiel

Guest poem sent in by Gaurav Khanna
(Poem #714) Night of the Scorpion
 "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 sun-baked walls they searched for him; he was not found.
 They clicked their tongues. With every movement the scorpion made
 his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said. May he sit still,
 they said. May the sum of 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 toes 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 incantation.
 After twenty hours it lost its sting."

 "My mother only said:
 Thank God the scorpion picked on me and spared my children."
-- Nissim Ezekiel
This is a pretty stark poem; albeit relieved to an extent by the display of
maternal emotion at the end. Doesn't rhyme at all, unlike most of Ezekiel's
poems I have read, but it does have a beauty when read with the right
inflection. I studied this for my 10th grade exams and along with Frost's
"Stopping by Woods" and Wordsworth's "Daffodils", it'll stay with me for a
long time. I'd love to hear what you guys think of it and any bio info you
have on Ezekiel.



We've run two of Ezekiel's 'Indian English' poems on Minstrels:

Poem #516, 'The Patriot'
Poem #579, 'The Professor'

Between the two of them they cover Ezekiel's biography and some background
on his poetry.

49 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

David Wright said...

I just loved that poem! I found it riveting. I appreciate the poet's role
as interpreter and guide to unfamiliar territory, and this was much less
strange to me than, say, if the poem were written as though from the
standpoint of the suppliants themselves, a primal and direct incantation.

I am finding that I especially enjoy poems like this one that draw the
reader along with a narrative pull akin to fiction, or poems at the other
extreme - the reflective stillness of haiku, for example. Perhaps it is
owing to the diffuseness and distractedness of my own mind, but I find
poetry especially accessable when it either sits me down to tell me a story,
or sits me down to observe one small thing, and to let that momentary
awareness sink in. The common denominator, I suppose, is the poet's
attention to observation and reflection over cerebration (a word?) - poets
who keep at least two tires on the solid asphalt of described reality.
Maybe I'm saying nothing here. la la.


R said...

The great thing about this poem is that it is so stereotypical of old values: Mother, stung by an alusive scorpion, writhes in pain, while Father pours paraffin over her toe and sets it alight ... he clearly believes in the more pragmatic solutions to the difficulties in life - but she still comments, 'Thank God the scorpion picked on me'. Isn't that so true of the older generation?

Justa small question - this poem is actually set out in 48 lines; has it been published on this website as a prose piece intentionally?

Great poem, though!


rachel rickard said...

It was totally crap I have to do a whole project on the stupid peom and i cant find any informaton on her or the poem what a loadf of poo!

Tina said...

first off, ezekiel is a man.
admittedly, this poem doesn't seem to astounding, but you should try some of his other stuff before you judge.
'the patriot' is a good start, simple and sweet and 'after reading a prediction' too.
the oxford india anthology of 12 modern indian poets has a good collection too. with an introduction to ezekiel, it doesn't leave you so quite in the dark.

Sam Warley said...

I have to study this poem for GSCE. It would be very helpful if some one
could give me a background for the poem and author so that I can understand
it better, because right now it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Thanks Sam

Williams Samuel said...

I think you are missing a semi-colon in the middle of your sentence!
Did your studies pay off?

Richard Kirsch said...

Somebody please explain this poem to me. I do like it, and I think I get it, but what I really want to know is: is there actually a scorpian who stings his mother; are the townspeople the true evil ones; Whats the 2nd stanza (the mother's quote) about?

ArchDall said...

Just in case he tries to read this. Stop cheating Richard Kirsh and do some work for a change.
All my love

Barry Mair said...

I thought the poem was amazing it showed that when someone you love is in
pain you'll try every thing u can to help even if u think its not true ''My
father sceptic, rationalist. trying every curse and blessing.'' I loved it.
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pallavi paul said...

this poem by Ezekiel was written in about ten minutes ,it is interesting in many ways if one notices it is him revisiting a past experience. The complex play of memory is used by combining the innocent fear of a child with an adult's understanding of a situation.the narration of the event is extremely dispassionate and objective.humour and irony have been used to show how the scorpion who actually is the victim turns into the aggressor and then back to a victim when he is forced to brave the rain ,the peasant's blind superstition is placed against the father's rational and reasoning tendencies by Ezekiel to critique some superstitions in society.

HJames said...

Its crap!!

S.Ananth George said...

Hey booby!

I found ur review of niisim ezikel"s poem,( The night of the scorpion) and found that u r
actually a student and that u r trying to make a project on it.Hve you got any information about the poem yet? Incase you hav got any information bout this poem then let me know because even I have been asked by my teacher to do a project on this poem and I am in a fix i dont actually know what to do. So i will really will be happy if u will be of any help. I will be eagerly looking forward for your reply.

with regards,
Paul Willis

Fishysardine said...

All i see in this poem is the child's piont of view and the repetetive
annoyingness of the words "they said" but overall the poem is ok. And if the
father loved her so much then Why did he set her alight?!

Samuel W. Reardon-Smith said...

This poem is crap and would rather castrate myself than do this!!!

Poorna Kumar said...

this is a great poem...nissim izekiel is an indian jewish poet and all the lines about "the sum of good against evil" are what indian peasants chant to drive away the poison of the scorpion..these are indian rural mysticisms. this poem's all about the hardships and superstitions of rural india and tells of how a mother will be happy about anything if her children are safe. some lines are the incantations of priests and it's all about indian beliefs like rebirth. the poet brings the thing alive with his descriptions like "the sun baked walls" which are the mud walls of village homes. i love the poem! i mean the mum has her toes on fire at one point and she is still so selfless...

Christain3 said...

help !! im in year 11 doing this poem for my G.C.S.E course work and i need
to describe the house including its surroundings but i dont no where to start
get back to me please on
() thankx

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

death of nissim ezekiel

Anonymous said...

I just loved that poem! I found it riveting. I appreciate the poet's role
as interpreter and guide to unfamiliar territory, and this was much less
strange to me than, say, if the poem were written as though from the
standpoint of the suppliants themselves, a primal and direct incantation.

Anonymous said...

i want the other version of this poem. because my teacher told to write one poem which is very similar to this poem Id ..

Anonymous said...

this poem is aweswome!!! can someone please explain how the poet captures the rural lifestyle of the ppl with teri beliefs &superstitions..plzplzplz

Anonymous said...

dis poem is ossum. i have it in school.

Anonymous said...

by far the most shit poem in the world .....

Anonymous said...

Amazing poem.
Interesting viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

Your setting out is incorrect.
I found this confusing.

Unknown said...

Awsm fr ppl hvng taste buds fr literature n fr insipid morons jst trash.wits cn surely hlp if applied

Anonymous said...

i find this poem nothing like all the above comments why the hell you cant see that this family is not familiar with surrounding people's belief . this proves as the way its been narrated these family is in higher standard than all the villagers and narrator is more educated as we can see that he never agrees with villagers as he says'they said ' 'they did' and the way he describe the villagers as example' swam of flies 'and 'peasants 'normally if he was part of the villagers he won't describe them as they have been. his father put in paraffin and lights it mother wont get burn because when you apply paraffin it will burn only in the surface and it will turn to jell medium it has been used in past as medicine .

Mr.G.R.Sharma said...

The poem expresses a realistic picture of the village life still lived in many areas of India, where people, in case of any misery, natural or man-made, first resort to a village sorcerer (BHUVA OR VADVA). Even today the world of science is at second place.
Gopal Sharma

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