Commentary on “Night of the Scorpion” by Nissim Ezekiel
Commentary on “Night of the Scorpion” by Nissim Ezequiel The poem “Night of the Scorpion” by Nissim Ezekiel is an account of how the poet remembers his mother being stung by a scorpion when he was young. However, he does not write about his own feelings or reactions; we realize he is merely the narrator. Most of the poem is in the third person, as Ezekiel reports on what other people do and say and he uses various images and senses to make us visualise the scenes.
The poem is written in free verse with different line lengths and no rhyme. The first part is long and full of activity as we see how the villagers react and act to the scorpion’s bite by engaging in some kind of witch-hunt. The second part, only three lines long, describes the mother’s reaction to the whole event. It starts of by Ezekiel explaining how the scorpion had come in because of the heavy rain and hidden under a sack of rice, “…steady rain had driven him to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
The scorpion does not seem to be portrayed as any type of villain at first meaning that it probably just stung the mother instinctively when she tried to approach its hiding place but then the poet alludes to evil in the phrase “…diabolic tail…”, comparing the scorpion to the devil, which contrasts with our initial image of the insect. The poet uses alliteration to describe the moment of the sting, “Parting with his poison…”. The scorpion then departs, “…he risked the rain again…”, probably because he was scared off by all the villagers that then come to the house upon hearing about the sting.Ezekiel uses the simile “…like swarms of flies…”to describe their number and behaviour and then develops it in the following line, “…buzzed the name of God a hundred times…”. The onomatopoeia of “buzzed” allows us to hear the constant noise they made. The reason the villagers are compared to flies is to show exactly how exasperating they are and that they are not welcome, like flies. This displays that the narrator does not admire the kind of care that the villagers are showing. He just wants them to leave him and his family alone.
The scorpion is seen as evil again in line ten, “…the Evil One. . This portrays the villagers as being superstitious. “With candles and with lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows…” The element of smell is brought about because of the candles and the burning oil in the lanterns. We can also kind of compare this to witch hunts that used to occur in the past where peasants would gather in the eve of night with fire and lights to go searching for an evildoer.
We can also imagine the fear of the child observing the scene as the peasants’ lanterns formed “giant scorpion shadows” on the walls of his home.We know that the scorpion has already fled so Ezekiel is perhaps describing the shadow that the small group of people makes that resembles the scorpion. They are made to seem evil as well, perhaps more evil than the scorpion. Onomatopoeia is used again as these people “clicked their tongues” while searching for the scorpion. The next fourteen lines of the poem recounts the words of wisdom voiced by the peasants in the hope that the woman would survive.
Five of the lines begin with, “May…” and are probably examples of the religious beliefs held by these villagers.This use of direct speech dramatises the scene. They kind of claim that the poison will help the woman in many ways. For example, by burning away the sins of a former life, “…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…”By referring to past and future lives, the absolution of sins and the lessening of evil, we see hope that the poison will “purify” the mother’s flesh and spirit. Perhaps this is their way of making sense of the event: if something good comes out of it, it is easier to bear.In general, Ezekiel has made the mother’s experience of getting bitten by the scorpion sound excruciating and eternal and conveys this by using very descriptive writing, “May the poison purify your flesh of desire, and your spirit of ambition…” Ezekiel describes how the villagers surrounded his mother and saw the “peace of understanding” in their faces. This contrasts with the mother who is twisting “groaning on a mat”, obviously in pain.
It is ironic that they seem to be at peace because of her discomfort. Line thirty-two and thirty-three, “More candles, more lanterns, more neighbours, more insects…”follow a repetitive pattern.Ezekiel seems irritated. More and more peasants are arriving with their lanterns and nothing can help his mother. The poet then makes the first direct reference to his mother’s suffering, telling us that she “twisted through and through” and was groaning in pain.
He then turns to the reaction of the father who is not religious and does not believe in superstitions, “My father, sceptic, rationalist…” Yet, when his wife is suffering he resorts to “every curse and blessing” to help her. Such was his desperation. The short sentence describing his father enhances the tense atmosphere of the situation.Ezekiel describes in detail that his father actually set fire to the toe that had been bitten which must have had a profound effect on the poet as a child. He “watched the flame feeding on my mother”, personifying the fire. Ezekiel uses alliteration here and we might even perceive this line to have a dual meaning.
The “flame” may simply be referring to the flame of the paraffin or the scorpion’s poison inside the mother’s body. The “holy man” then performs “his rites” but the only effective relief seems to come with time, “After twenty hours it lost its sting. All the different methods of healing did not work after all. The last three lines of the poem are effective, because of their brevity, where Ezekiel recalls his mother’s reaction to the frightening and painful experience. We hear Ezekiel’s mother’s exact words and see a contrast between her simple speech and the ranting of the neighbours. By using direct speech again, the poet shows his mother’s selflessness.
She does not show any bitterness about her ordeal. She is just happy that she was the one that was hurt rather than her children, “Thank God the scorpion picked on me and spared my children. After all these tense moments of pain, suffering and torture, the poem ends on a very warm and touching note which proves the mother’s love for the children.
This was the boundless, selfless love of a mother and these were words that Ezekiel never forgot. In conclusion, I find that the ideas in this poem concern our difficult feelings towards aspects of the natural world that seem to threaten us (the scorpion who is really only a small, frightened insect becomes “the Evil One”) and the complex ways in which individuals and communities respond when disaster strikes one of their own.