Nissim Ezekiel

(16 December 1924 - 9 January 2004 / Mumbai / India)

Night Of The Scorpion - Poem by Nissim Ezekiel

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 mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother's blood, they said.

May he sit still, they said
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of all 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 toe 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 an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.

My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.


Comments about Night Of The Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel

  • Rookie - 191 Points Bakuli Bhakali (3/10/2015 12:50:00 PM)

    I like Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel. This poem centred around a trivial incident of narrator's mother being bitten by a scorpion and everyone's reaction to it.
    When we read the beginning of the poem we feel the narrator recollecting the memory of a cursed night of his past when his mother was bitten by a little black monster. We could visualise the crowd of peasants gathering around their house on that damp night. Poet here depicts the perfect picture of a rural India where people are ignorant and know nothing much about medicinal science. But they show endless concern if something happens to somebody in their community. If nothing else they can do then they'll seek solace in God, some curse the cause or try to justify it with their superstitious beliefs.
    Even in that dark and the damp night poet could find a ray of positivism in his father who tried his best to lower his mother's turmoil. He tried each and every advice given until she recovered.
    the best part of the poem comes when mother after recovering says Thank God the scorpion picked on me
    And spared my children.
    Within these 50 lines poet analysed human behaviour and their psychology in different situations. The father who is a caring husband to his wife and a symbol of light for the child. On the other hand, the mother who is an epitome of love and sacrifice even in her deathbed didn't forget to thank God for keeping her children safe (although it was at the cost of her own life) . It touched my heart. For a moment, I remembered my mother sacrificing her share of happiness for us.
    This poem also focuses on the life of the peasants living in mud houses. They work day and night to build others house, but confined themselves in the damp mud houses. When rainy days are blessings for some people for them these days unfolds as life-threatening danger in the form of evil scorpions, snakes or any other organism.
    I appreciate Nissim Ezekiel for such a wonderful poem. Anyone with the experience of this life can relate themselves to the poem and the others can experience it through the poem. (Report) Reply

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  • Rookie Prem Surya Kumar (7/17/2013 1:25:00 AM)

    One of the poem I read in childhood and I still remember. Absolutely original and unique. A classic poem, which will stand the test of time. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 10,925 Points Soulful Heart (3/28/2012 5:54:00 AM)

    so poignantly put................an incident of a scorpion bite turned into an insight of human behaviour.................bravo! ! (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Poem Edited: Wednesday, March 28, 2012


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