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The Hill -- Nissim Ezekiel

(Poem #1426) The Hill
 This normative hill
 like all others
 is transparently accessible,
 out there
 and in the mind,
 not to be missed
 except in peril of one's life.

 Do not muse on it
 from a distance:
 it's not remote
 for the view only,
 it's for the sport
 of climbing.

 What the hill demands
 is a man
 with forces flowering
 as from the crevices
 of rocks and rough surfaces
 wild flowers
 force themselves towards the sun
 and burn
 for a moment.

 How often must I
 say to myself
 what I say to others:
 trust your nerves--
 in conversation or in bed
 the rhythm comes.

 And once you begin
 hang on for life.
 What is survival?
 What is existence?
 I am not talking about
 poetry. I am
 talking about
 and calling it
 I say: be done with it.
 I say:
 you've got to love that hill.

 Be wrathful, be impatient
 that you are not
 on the hill. Do not forgive
 yourself or other,
 though charity
 is all very well.
 Do not rest
 in irony or acceptance.
 Man should not laugh
 when he is dying.
 In decent death
 you flow into another kind of time
 which is the hill
 you always thought you knew.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
Thanks to Vinod Krishna who sent me today's poem,
saying "The poet Nissim Ezekiel has just passed away. I thought it would be
appropriate to submit a poem by him".

I hadn't come across the poem before - my knowledge of Ezekiel was, sadly,
confined to two of his almost trademark renditions of Indian English, and
the ubiquitous "Night of the Scorpion", all from that marvellous anthology
"Panorama". Today's poem is very different in tone - at once exhortatory and
philosophical, so that while it is not the stirring call to action that,
say, Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" [Poem #38], it is
nonetheless a thought-provoking poem.

The temptation is to call the poem unoriginal, because so many of the
elements seem familiar from other poems. But the overall poem is far from
derivative, with passages like

         Do not forgive
         yourself or other,
         though charity
         is all very well.

that shock the reader with a reversal of the popular connotations of words
like 'forgiveness' and 'charity', and

         What is existence?
         I am not talking about
         poetry. I am
         talking about
         and calling it

with the ambiguous value judgement of individual fragments belying the
purposefulness of the verse.

A fitting epitaph for the man, definitely.



An epitaph:
  [broken link]

For a short discussion and bio of his literary life see:
[The article by a Prof Vinay Lal of UCLA is in pdf format].

A photograph of Nissim Ezekiel is at:

42 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

good but also give complete explanations of poems on your website

Anonymous said...

i think this poem says about our ecological poem..

Anonymous said...

the ecologial aspect in the poem is vital.Indirectly the poet says about humans destroying the hills and mountains which is rich in flora and fauna.He says we must not forgive ourselves or others for this act done nature.He thus also talks about the perishing we face after the nature is destroyed by huan actions.

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