Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel
“Night of the Scorpion” is written by Indian-English poet Nissim Ezekiel. The poem was originally published in Ezekiel’s 1965 collection, The Exact Name. This piece is regarded with high acclaim due to its simple diction, and yet its ability to explore complex Indian concepts. It centralizes the subject of a dialectical clash between the colossus presence of the west and its impact on the cultured orient. Also, it brings forth the essence of human nature and presents a real image of rural India in contrast to the urban, the position of women in society, and other important themes relevant to the pre-independence era.
- Read the full poem, “Night of the Scorpion” below:
Night of the Scorpion 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 sun-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 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. - from Collected Poems (2005)
“Night of the Scorpion” begins with a remembrance of the time the poet’s mother was stung by a scorpion and how the “diabolic” creature created a commotion and fear in his home. The superstitious villagers came to help his mother and were united to sympathize with her pain. They made attempts at finding the “Evil One” in hopes to kill it and ease the pain she was going through. They believed that along with each movement the scorpion made, the poison inside her blood would also move. Ultimately, they did not succeed in their endeavors and could only be there for her with their remedies.
The villagers tried to console her by striking another set of interpretations about how the pain would purge her of her sins from her previous life. The pain would help in making her next birth more fortunate. They said that the scorpion poison would purify her blood and make her free of worldly attachments. The next person who attempted at helping the distressed mother was her husband. He was a modern man with skeptical, as well as, rational opinions. He tried the ways known to him and even tried to burn her pain away with paraffin but with no instant success. The holy man used incantations to stop the poison from moving inside the mother’s blood. After twenty hours of suffering, her pain subsided on its own.
Once the speaker’s mother gained consciousness, she broke the silence with a prayer to God. She was grateful to the almighty for sparing her children from the excruciating sting. It appears as if the scorpion made a deliberate choice to sting the mother, not her children. Nonetheless, she remained unbothered by her suffering. This depicts how much she loved her children.
Structure & Form
Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion” is written in the free-verse form. The poem follows no regular rhyme scheme or meter. It is a narrative poem prominently emphasizing details and discretion of characters. In this poem, Ezekiel breaks away from the conventions and norms of romanticism and uses straightforward modernist expressions. Free-verse was one of the sought-after forms employed by Indian modernist poets. Besides, the text consists of a total of 48 lines of varying lengths packed into a single stanza.
The poem makes use of simple diction and is laced with colloquialism. Ezekiel employs the first-person narration technique. His impersonal presence can be felt throughout the poem. He makes intended efforts to withhold his own emotions and sentiments. This type of narration gives the poem a factual feel. The narrator remains emotionally detached so that the text appears realistic to readers. One may get the true picture of 20th-century rural India and its traditions. Even while depicting the painful experience of his mother, the speaker refrains from sprinkling his emotions into the narrative. The poem is entirely built on irony and this very neutral and detached stance of Ezekiel gives the irony its intended sharpness.
Literary Devices & Figures of Speech
Ezekiel uses a number of poetic devices and figurative techniques in “Night of the Scorpion.” These include alliteration, onomatopoeia, metaphor, simile, symbolism, imagery, etc.
Alliteration is a literary device that occurs when an initial consonant sound is repeated in two or more nearby words. There are several alliterations employed in the poem adding to the overall rhythm. In some instances, this device adds sound effects similar to religious incantations. Readers can find alliteration in the following phrases:
- “my mother”
- “stung by a scorpion”
- “Parting with his poison”
- “risked the rain”
- “scorpion shadows”
- “sit still”
- “birth/ be burned”
- “poison purify”
- “herb and hybrid”
- “poured a little paraffin”
- “flame feeding”
Assonance occurs when a vowel sound is repeated in two or more nearby words. For instance, there is a recurrence of the “i” sound in “driven him” (line 3) and the “ei” (diphthong) sound in “rain again” (line 7). It also occurs in the following instances:
- “candles and with lanterns”
- “mother’s blood”
- “he sit still”
- “mother in the centre”
In “Night of the Scorpion,” Ezekiel makes use of symbols to represent different ideas and thoughts. The “rain” pouring steadily throughout adds to the gloomy atmosphere of the poem. The “rain” is symbolic of the constant pain of the mother.
The “shadows,” cast on sun-baked walls that took the form of a scorpion, indicate the hidden presence of an evil force. “Shadows,” as a motif, are often associated with a fear of the unknown that is in the backdrop of the poem.
The “peasants” represent the agrarian nature of rural India. They are also symbolic of a closely-knit community. The father’s use of every “curse and blessing” and different natural remedies like “powder, mixture, herb and hybrid” to cure the scorpion sting are symbolic of traditional healing techniques some of which still persist.
Imagery, as a literary device, helps readers form a mental image evoking the five senses. There are majorly four types of imagery present in the poem that include:
- Visual Imagery: This kind of imagery invokes the sense of vision. The poem is based entirely upon the retrospective visualization of a childhood incident. In order to paint the scenes, Ezekiel makes use of this type of imagery. For instance, he depicts how the scorpion stung his mother in the line, “flash/ of diabolic tail in the dark room.” He also uses visual images in “throwing giant scorpion shadows,” “I watched the flame feeding on my mother,” etc.
- Tactile Imagery: This kind of imagery invokes the sense of touch. It is used in “My mother twisted through and through,” “He even poured a little paraffin/ upon the bitten toe,” and “I watched the flame feeding on my mother.”
- Auditory Imagery: This kind of imagery is associated with the sense of hearing. For instance, the lines “buzzed the name of God a hundred times” and “They clicked their tongues” appeal to readers’ sense of hearing. Ezekiel uses the scheme of traditional chants in lines 18 through 29.
- Kinesthetic Imagery: This kind of imagery depicts movements. For instance, the stealthy movement of the scorpion is recorded in “to crawl beneath a sack of rice.” The way it stung the poet’s mother is depicted in “Parting with his poison—flash/ of diabolic tail in the dark room.”
Onomatopoeia is characterized by the formation of a word from a sound. This device occurs in the following lines: “and buzzed the name of God a hundred times”; “They clicked their tongues.”; “more insects, and the endless rain.”; My mother twisted through and through/ groaning on a mat.”
A metaphor makes a reference to one thing by mentioning another. Throughout the poem, the scorpion is referred to by the words “diabolic” and “Evil One.” This creature is depicted in terms of human perception of evil, rather than as a creature ruled by primal instincts. The scorpion is literally demonized by the villagers.
A simile puts forth a comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” In “Night of the Scorpion,” this device is used in “The peasants came like swarms of flies.” The peasants are compared to swarms of files as they came in a large number. They came to help the stung mother. It seemed to the speaker that they formed a “swarm” around his mother as flies.
Line-by-Line Explanation & Analysis
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.
Ezekiel’s poem “Night of the Scorpion” begins in a retrospective fashion. The poem is narrated in first-person and readers are introduced to the main characters, the poet-speaker and his mother in the very first lines. He remembers the incident of his mother getting stung by a scorpion on a rainy night. In these lines, he employs a matter-of-fact approach in order to recollect the tragic event. The incessant ten-hour-long rain drove the scorpion to look for shelter under the rice sack as an act of survival.
Parting with his poison—flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room—
he risked the rain again.
Eventually, the scorpion stung the poet’s mother. It happened so fast that the speaker describes the act by using the word “flash.” Afterward, the scorpion fled the scene. The term “diabolic” represents the hooked tail of the scorpion. It is analogous to the devil’s fork. In this way, the poet depicts the scorpion as an evil creature or an embodiment of the devil himself.
The setting of Ezekiel’s poem is an Indian village in the pre-independence era. Rural Indians are characterized by their traditional beliefs. The rural culture has been infamous for using dangerous animals as symbols of evil. Thus the scorpion has been demonized for centuries. The fact remains a presumption but becomes obvious in the words, “flash/ of diabolic tail.”
The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred times
to paralyse the Evil One.
These lines of “Night of the Scorpion” depict the repercussions of the scorpion sting. Since the majority of the Indian rural population is agrarian, Ezekiel makes a collective mention of them as “peasants.” Most of them lacked scientific temper (or they were poorly educated) and were unaware, so their first instinct upon their arrival was to make a mass appeal to God or the almighty. The invocation of God was in the hope to paralyze the “Evil One,” which represents the scorpion. The initials of the “Evil One” are capitalized. This is to reinforce the earlier superstitious argument regarding the scorpion as an embodiment of evil. Nonetheless, the peasants showed up to help in whatever way they could. This points to a sense of togetherness among rural Indians and sympathy, one of the important values in Indian tradition.
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 that the scorpion made
his poison moved in mother’s blood, they said.
After the instinctive action of praying to God, the peasants started their search for the scorpion with candles and lanterns. The “giant scorpion shadows” point to the scorpion’s evil presence. The shadows are analogous to the apprehension in villagers’ minds. In these lines, the backdrop conforms to pre-independence rural India. There was a lack of electricity as the villagers searched for the scorpion with the help of candles and lanterns. The “sun-baked walls” represent a traditional mud hut with a thatched roof (use of synecdoche). In contrast, the urban houses were made up of brick and mortar.
The search for the “diabolic” scorpion was in vain as it was nowhere to be found. The villagers’ disappointment is expressed through the expression, “They clicked their tongues.” Every single person present in the room was tensed. They believed that with every movement that the scorpion made, the poison would move inside the mother’s blood, worsening her suffering. These lines create a sense of unrest and suspense in readers’ minds as there seems to be no solution to ease the woman of her pain.
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 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,
The villagers could only hope for the scorpion to “sit still” so that the mother’s suffering would cease. After their attempts at finding and killing the “Evil One,” the defeated villagers finally resorted to consoling the mother. These consolations are related to the Indian concept of “Karma.” The villagers were of the view that with the excruciating pain the sins of her previous life would be “burned away” or nullified. They also emphasized that with this “suffering” of hers the “misfortunes” of her next life would also reduce.
In Hinduism, people believe in the concept of rebirth. They believe in the existence of a higher realm that goes beyond this life, which is just an illusion or “Maya.” This is why the villagers opined that the physical pain the mother was experiencing would balance out the evils of this “unreal world” and could diminish the “sum” totally. The poison of the scorpion would purge her soul as it would help her get rid of her bodily “desires” and spiritual “ambitions,” which are considered bad.
In “Night of the Scorpion,” the consolations offered by the peasants are extracted from age-old cultural beliefs. They remain prominent in the rural setting to date.
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.
The villagers then ultimately encircled the mother on the floor. All they could do was sympathize with her suffering as their suggestions had not yielded any relief. They were still there with her. In fact, there were “more candles, more lanterns, more neighbours.” The incessant rain added to the tense atmosphere inside the room. Besides, the increasing number of insects hints at humans’ curiosity about another person’s suffering and distress, similar to the insects that are drawn to the source of light for warmth.
In this section of “Night of the Scorpion,” the mother’s suffering is highlighted as the main cause of concern directly for the first time. She twisted through and through and groaned in pain on the floor. Up until this point, the poem seemed to be a report of the villagers’ activities, but in these lines, readers are finally introduced to the indisposed mother’s condition.
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.
In these lines, the character of the poet’s father is brought into play. He is addressed as a “sceptic,” as well as, a “rationalist.” The character of the father is in contrast with the superstitious villagers. He is the embodiment of the modern man. However, due to the suffering of his wife, he turned to his Indian roots and resorted to relying on “trying every curse and blessing,/ powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.” He also made use of some “paraffin” to literally burn away the effects of the sting.
The narrator watched the flame “feeding” (use of personification) on his mother. Interestingly, there is no mention of how he felt. He narrates the event in a detached and objective tone. Lastly, readers are introduced to another character. It is the “holy man,” who could possibly be a local healer. He performed holy rites and chanted an incantation. This was to stop the poison from spreading in the mother’s blood.
The effect of the sting lessened eventually. After suffering for twenty hours, the mother was finally relieved. These lines hint at the fact that nature always wins over humans. No matter how much the peasants, the neighbors, the father, and the holy man tried to cure the mother of the piercing scorpion sting, the cause lost its effect with the natural course of time.
My mother only said:
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
and spared my children.
Towards the end of the poem, “Night of the Scorpion,” the chaos and commotion finally came to an end as the mother was feeling a bit relieved after the long cycle of suffering. She was free from the excruciating sting. Up until this point, she had not uttered a single word, but as soon as she gained consciousness, her first words were for God. This reflects how devout she was. She was thankful to God that the scorpion picked on her as if it was intending to do so or it was its deliberate choice, not just an animal’s defensive response. She was also grateful because the scorpion spared her children. These concluding lines prove to be an exceptional example of a mother’s unconditional love for her children, and that mothers are not just loving and nurturing but also selfless and ever-watchful.
Faith and Superstition
“Night of the Scorpion” can be interpreted in the context of Indian culture, which often builds its foundation on faith and superstitions. There are various instances that bring out how superstition seeps into and is associated with rural people’s lives. Firstly, the very idea of the self-protective scorpion as “diabolic” or “Evil One” finds its origin in traditional legends. The peasants or the villagers, who came to extend their helping hands for the mother, started buzzing the name of God. They were in search of the scorpion in hopes of paralyzing the devilish creature. They also believed that with every movement of the scorpion, the poison would move in the mother’s blood causing her more pain.
When ultimately, they could not find the scorpion, they turned to seek answers from their spiritual beliefs. The villagers believed that the mother was only getting rid of her sins from her previous life. The suffering would lessen the misfortunes of her afterlife. They believed the poison would purify her flesh or body of all worldly desires and ambitions. She was, in simple words, spiritually purged in the process. Even when their intention was only to help, their approach found its basis not in logic, but in faith and superstitions.
Ezekiel is prominently known for addressing the issue of the identity of the modern individual. He often talks about city spaces and rural settings. What is also quite deep-rooted in his poems is the Indian culture or the theme of Indianness. His poem “Night of the Scorpion” also addresses this very Indianness. Readers are presented with a varied range of individuals who are reflective of the cultural milieu.
Firstly, there are the peasants, who are represented as a collective mass. They are believers of the Hindu concepts like “previous birth” and “afterlife” along with the spiritual purification process through suffering. They were of the view that the sting would purify the mother’s body and help her get rid of normal human instincts, such as “desires” and “ambitions.” Modern readers (even the Indian audience) feel at a distance from these peasants, but due to the poem’s cultural setting and Ezekiel’s skills of representation, readers are able to understand how they were feeling that night.
Secondly, Ezekiel introduces the father who was more rational in his ways. He employed both traditional and scientific methods in order to pacify his ailing wife. Readers may feel at one with his methods, but he seems to be an outsider amidst the traditional peasants. He represents someone, who could not get rid of his Indianness, and neither could he be entirely modern.
Lastly, there is the traditional “silent mother,” who only wishes the best for her children. She is situated in the Indian culture as a woman possessing divine qualities of selflessness, unconditional love, and pure devotion to her children. The character of the mother is somewhat deified in the poem. These divine attributes attached to motherhood are essential traits of Indianness. Besides, the mother’s character is also used as a representation of mother nature—another Indian belief.
In this way, a mother is created, perfected, silenced, and idealized in Indian culture. The very portrayal of the mother seems ironic in this poem. This is why “Night of the Scorpion” proves to be quite a realistic representation of Indian culture (or Indianness).
The most overwhelming and radically dominant theme of “Night of the Scorpion” is the unconditional love a mother has for her children. In the concluding lines of the poem, Ezekiel marks the voice of the otherwise silent mother:
My mother only said:
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
and spared my children.
She only wished for her children’s interests. This attitude of hers proves to be quite sentimental and ironic for readers. She experienced a fatal scorpion sting, yet she was thankful that it got her, not her children. This is the characteristic trait of an Indian mother, idealized in Indian culture as a dutiful, selfless, and devout woman. Whatsoever, a mother continues to love, regardless of the cultural context. She loves in a way she would.
“Night of the Scorpion” was first published in Nissim Ezekiel’s collection of poetry entitled The Exact Name (1965). The poem is situated in an Indian rural backdrop, which points to the larger agrarian culture in India. Prior to independence, the rural Indian culture was in stark contrast to the emerging urban culture. Ezekiel was one of the most important Indian poets of the 20th century. He was a thoroughly modern poet evident in his stylistic form and use of themes. He moved away from the Indian poetic tradition that sought inspiration from legends and mythologies. His poetry appears fairly simple in the use of poetic techniques and diction.
Ezekiel wrote in free-verse and talked about culture, engaged in complexities of subject matter, and used fragmented language. There are some important elements of modernism evident in his poetry like the use of symbolism, wit, irony, and the stream-of-consciousness technique. He was moved by the emerging issues of his time. He talked about the themes of alienation, disillusionment, urbanity, rupture of tradition, and a movement away from social conventions, religion, and culture. Ezekiel often presents a conflicted, even detached self in his poems like the narrator in the poem, “Night of the Scorpion.”
Questions and Answers
The title of Nissim Ezekiel’s poem, “Night of the Scorpion,” is a deceptive one as it does not talk about the scorpion at all. The scorpion proves to be a tool that steered the events of the night when the poet’s mother was stung by a scorpion. Readers are presented with the actions of the superstitious villagers, the rational father, the pious man, and, last but not least, the mother. After recovering from the sting, the mother thanked God for sparing her children and picking on her. The title still remains suitable and relevant as the narrative poem is highly descriptive and dwells on details that exist because of the scorpion. The emotionally detached narrator appears to be no more than a reporter of the event and its repercussions. His lack of emotions not only brings out the irony but also helps readers understand how the scorpion is, in a way, central to the poem’s subject.
Nissim Ezekiel is well known for his representation of Indian culture and situation in his poetry. He makes keen observations that are both descriptive and ironic. His poem “Night of the Scorpion” is one such typical example. This poem is particularly laced with Indianness in its depiction of the events that unfold traditions and superstitious beliefs and the mindset of the characters.
The setting of the poem is an early 20th-century Indian village. Rural people are often regarded for their direct involvement in agricultural activities. Thus, Ezekiel collectively mentions the villagers as “peasants” in his poem. This is significant as most of the Indians live in rural areas and in closely-knit communities. Furthermore, Indian culture is packed with feelings of unity and collective good. This is very well documented in the poem. All the villagers came to the rescue of the mother when she was in great pain.
Ezekiel also refers to two important aspects of Indian culture: faith and superstition. He also points out the popular beliefs revolving around “Karma,” which includes the concepts of previous life and the afterlife. Through this poem, Ezekiel not only comments on the positive aspects of Indian culture but also satirizes its peculiarities.
“Night of the scorpion” revolves around the clash between two opposites. This poem brings forth a divide between the emerging urban rationalism and rural traditionalism. The movement toward modernity was one of the popular motifs in the post-independence era. Ezekiel also puts forth the contrast between western and oriental beliefs. These dialectical ideas are illustrated through the actions of the villagers (also, the holy man) and that of the rational father. Both parties tried to cure the mother through their own sets of beliefs and methods, but in the end, it was only with time that the sting healed. So, in any sort of binaries ever created by humans, nature and time remain the superior forces. Interestingly, the qualities of mother nature are fused into the character of the mother, who only desired her children’s welfare.
The “Indian mother” holds a high and prominent position in Indian culture. In “Night of the Scorpion,” the mother somehow felt relieved knowing that her children were safe. It seems as if she was unbothered by her own sufferings so long as her children were unharmed. These virtues of selflessness and devotedness are associated with mothers. Motherhood is not looked at like a human idea but something that is divine. Even though readers are overwhelmed by the amount of love the mother had for her children, it is almost as if it was an expected end. In this way, Ezekiel idealizes motherhood in his poem.
The character of the father is introduced near the end of the poem “Night of the Scorpion.” That rainy night when the mother was stung by a scorpion, the villagers first reached out to help. Then the father implemented his remedies (both traditional and scientific) to heal his wife. The speaker describes him as a “sceptic” and “rationalist.” He is someone who has been influenced by western philosophy, which is characterized by the appeal to logic and reason, rather than to superstition often associated with the orient.
He made use of all the methods known to him: “every curse and blessing” along with “power, mixture, herb and hybrid.” These methods may at first appear to be reasonable, but then he went on to burn the sting with the help of “paraffin” in hopes of relieving her of the pain. All his methods were of little or no avail. In a way, Ezekiel tries to highlight the superiority of reason and logic over superstitions through this character.
The use of irony is one of the characteristic features of Ezekiel’s poetry. Ezekiel, being one of the pioneer modern Indian poets, uses irony in a vivid manner in “Night of the Scorpion.” The first irony that becomes prominent in the poem finds its basis in the faith and superstitious beliefs of the villagers. After the mother was stung by a scorpion, the villagers swarmed to help. The first thing they did was buzz the name of God. Then they made claims about how the painful sting would help the mother get rid of her sins from her previous life and make her next life more fortunate. They opined that the poison would purify her body. While they were busy making such claims, the mother battled with the sting. The scorpion’s poison caused her enough pain to ignore their deeds or their piercing remarks.
The next irony surfaces when the skeptical and rational father is introduced. He tried both the traditional, as well as, the modern ways known to him to cure his wife. Ultimately, he also failed in relieving her of her pain. Therefore, the traditional and modern methods failed to heal what could only be healed with time. This enhances the irony of the piece.
Ironically, the mother remained silent throughout even though she was at the center of everybody’s attention. Readers are only made aware of her situation through these two lines of this 48-line-long poem: “My mother twisted through and through/ groaning on a mat.” Yet when she finally broke her silence, she only thanked God for sparing her children, even after suffering from such a deadly experience. In this way, Ezekiel brings out the devotedness of a mother to her children in an ironic way.
The poem “Night of the Scorpion” is about both. In this poem, Ezekiel depicts how the villagers reacted or acted upon their already existing belief system, which is predominantly Hindu. They tried every curse, blessing, or talk in order to relieve the mother of her misery. Similarly, they were superstitious enough to address the simple “scorpion,” as an “Evil” or “diabolic” one.
The poem was first published in 1965 in the collection, The Exact Name. In this poem, Ezekiel talks about an incident with his mother that occurred in his childhood.
In “Night of the Scorpion,” Ezekiel incorporates a number of themes that are integral to the overall subject matter. The main theme of the poem is the faith and superstitious beliefs of Indians. There are some other themes like Indianness, motherly love, good vs. evil, and rationalism vs. traditionalism.
The narrator of the poem is one who reports one subjective incident in an objective manner. It could be the poet Nissim Ezekiel himself. He uses a detached persona in order to describe the events of that night.
“Night of the Scorpion” is a free-verse narrative poem that describes the events of a night when the narrator’s mother was stung by a scorpion. Ezekiel does not use a set rhyme scheme or meter in the poem. There are a total of 48 lines that are grouped into a single stanza.
The concluding message of Ezekiel’s poem is that a mother always looks out for her children’s welfare even if she has been suffering herself. Another important message that Ezekiel tries to communicate through this poem is how traditional methods heighten the suffering of an individual in spite of decreasing it. Sympathy fails to comfort one, who is in a life-or-death situation.
Some of the important literary devices used in Ezekiel’s “Night of the Scorpion” are symbolism, alliteration, onomatopoeia, metaphor, irony, and imagery.
In the poem, the “scorpion” symbolizes humankind’s fear of the unknown. Alternatively, it is also representative of any living creature trying to protect itself from danger. It is the superstitious people who think the creature is an “Evil One” having a “diabolic tail.”
The “scorpion” is neither a villain nor an antagonist in the poem. It is just a simple animal that stung the mother as a defensive mechanism. The creature was more fearful of humans than the villagers were of it. Therefore, it could be said that it is the villagers who demonized the scorpion for stinging the mother.
The tone of “Night of the Scorpion” is objective, impersonal, and ironic. It is interesting to note that even though the narrator describes one of his childhood events revolving around his mother, he remains detached and objective throughout the narrative. He depicts the events as they actually occurred that night in a sarcastic and satirical tone.
Similar Poems about Indianness & Motherhood
- “Sita” by Toru Dutt — In this poem, Dutt talks about the emotional story of Sita’s second exile.
- “My Mother at Sixty-Six” by Kamala Das — This poem is about the poet’s aging mother and how she felt sad for her while leaving her behind.
- “The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver” by Edna St. Vincent Millay — This poem is about a poor mother who could not provide for her son.
- “Palanquin Bearers” by Sarojini Naidu — This is a poetic version of Indian folk songs sung by palanquin bearers while carrying a newlywed bride.
- Check Out The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets — This collection includes some of the finest Indian-English verses by Nissim Ezekiel, Jayanta Mahapatra, A. K. Ramanujan, Arun Kolatkar, Keki N. Daruwalla, etc.
- Check Out A History of Indian English Literature — This book traces the course of Indian English literature from its beginning to recent times, dividing it into convenient periods in an engaging style.
- Nissim Ezekiel: A Modern Poet — Learn how Ezekiel broke attachment with the romantic past and established himself as the Indian representative of western modernism.
- About Nissim Ezekiel — Read about the life and works of Ezekiel.