Night of the Scorpion By Nissim Ezekiel

Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel is a poignant and touching poetic portrayal of a rustic situation evocative of the Indian ethos. The poem written in free verse has a terse ending characteristic of the style of English writing of many modern Indian poets. This poem, it is believed, is an expression of his childhood experience when a scorpion stung his own mother. He witnessed the drama following the scorpion bite. The poem is only a reaction to the experience he had.

Paraphrase of the poem

The poem is written in a typical Indian convention that uses Indian English and Indian culture. It shows the reactions of a typical peasant family of the lower middle class to a scorpion bite. The poem highlights the superstitions and beliefs that the average Indian has.

To recall the incident, the poet uses the flashback technique. He remembers the night when he saw the whole drama of scorpion bite as a child. We find a variety of responses from the family and the neighbours. Most of the reactions are irrational, but at the same time, they represent one’s concerns and one’s fellow-feeling. The poem highlights the helpful nature of the Indians.

The poem begins with the poet’s recollection of the scorpion of his mother’s incident. The night was dark and dreary, accompanied by the rain. It had been raining for ten long hours. It was at this time that the scorpion was crawling near to the sack of rice.

The poet compares the scorpion to a devil with a diabolic or devilish tail. The scorpion comes out of his hiding place and in the darkness his devilish tale flashes. When he comes out, he risks the rain and bites his mother. The Scorpion moves out quickly in the rain. The peasants of the neighbourhood gather like swarms of flies in the poet’s hut at the very next moment. To relieve his mother from the torturous pain, the peasants chant prayers to God. They had a belief they could paralyse the scorpion poison by doing so. Together, they also try to find the evil scorpion in the dark. Lanterns and candles are held by the peasants and their giant scorpion shadows are cast on the sun-baked walls. Their efforts, unfortunately, are in vain. Their tongues were clicking in disappointment. They actually believed in the superstition that if the scorpion is found and killed, the poison in his mother’s body would be killed. But since it’s not found, they believe that as the scorpion is moving around alive, its poison is moving in his mother’s blood.

They begin to pray to God that the scorpion will remain. For his mother, the peasants say that his mother is suffering because of the sins of her previous birth, and they want those sins to be burned with her suffering that night. They also believe that since she is suffering from this birth, the misfortunes of her next birth will be reduced.

They pray that her pain should balance the sum of the balance of evil in this world with the sum of good. They firmly believe that the poison will purify their body and mind from all desires and ambitions. The peasants were sitting around the mother in pain, lying in the centre. With peace and understanding, their faces were serene. As the number of visitors increased, the number of candles, lanterns, insects and rains increased in torrents.

The mother had been twisting on the mat with endless pain. The poet’s father was sceptical and rationalist, but he tried all the herbs, hybrids, powders, mixtures and curses and blessings available. He experimented scientifically on a bit of a toe by pouring a little paraffin and lighting it. A holy man was introduced to perform rites and rituals to nullify the effect of the poison with his holy incantations.

Trying every possible remedy, everyone was incessantly engaged in saving the mother’s life. Finally, after twenty hours, their efforts bore fruit and the effect of the poison vanished.

When the mother came back to life, she didn’t curse or regret the disastrous scorpion-bite. Instead, she thanked God for separating her children from the deadly pain that she felt she could bear any pain to save her children from it. This shows the universal love and caring nature of a mother towards her children.

In short, the poem portrays the Indian temperament in its lively tone. The use of the present tense highlights the typical Indian way of narration. The poem is a true representation of India in its true form.

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Summary of the Poem

The poem opens in a way that recommends reflection—the speaker remembers the night that his own mother was stung by a scorpion, which bit his mother as a result of his wild drive while stowing away under a sack of rice to escape the rain. In particular, the speaker remembers that night, because of this occasion, the mother gets nibbled. The manner in which the mother is chomped also appears in the ‘blaze of the fiendish tail;’ the speaker points out how to suggest that the scorpion is evil with its ‘diabolic’ tail and emphasises its speed with the word streak. The scorpion at that point escapes from the scene and in this way, once again threatens the rain.

A photo of a religious town is taken of what the neighbours are doing to kill the scorpion (“Buzz the Name of God”). Their purpose behind this is to believe that as the scorpion moves, his toxin moves in the blood of the mother. It is also suggested that they live in a thoughtful, affectionate city in the way that the neighbours feel welcome in any part of their imagination. The speaker was disappointed by their entry, contrasting them with flies (unwanted and annoying) as they were really humming around the mother. They tried to give reasons, and many depended on the superstition to think about what was going on. The villagers tried to discover the scorpion, but they proved unable to do so. By saying, “With candles and lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows on the sun-baked walls.” The speaker is suggesting that the house is still fiendish, even after the scorpion had gone out. It could also be inferred that the shadows of different household utensils and things are changed over the brains of the searchers into the shadows of the scorpion-as that is what they are looking for. Numerous things have been tried to help calm the agony of the mother, but none have worked. The speaker watches, defenceless.

The father of the speaker, who was cynical and pragmatist, tried to spare his better half by using powder, blend, herbs, crossbreed and even by pouring a little paraffin on the chomped toe and putting a match to it this reflects one of the city workers saying, “May the transgressions of your past birth be consumed with extreme heat today around evening time”.Which the father tries to do not to consume her wrongdoings, but rather to consume the toxic substance living inside the mother with smouldering heat, which reflects her transgressions for which penance is given.

The speaker watches the vain holy man perform his beguiling spells, but he can’t stop it successfully. The workers finally tolerating the mother’s destiny, attempt to put a positive turn on the situation by stating that her next life (An Indian Conviction) would be less difficult regardless of whether the mother kicked the bucket, as she would make amends for her future sins by persevering through this agony. The toxic substance loses its sting after twenty hours and the mother is all right. When she expresses gratitude to God that she was stung and not her children, an indication of her general love and love for her youth is shown.

It originated from a religious foundation, and this lyrical effort was composed by Nissim to give the impression of outrage, but also, along with a trace of culture and superstition, a fundamental message of protective love.

Appreciation of the poem ‘The Night of the Scorpion’

The poem ‘The Night of the Scorpion’ by Nissim Ezekiel, revolves around the sting of a scorpion that the poet’s mother experienced on a rainy night. The poem follows the narrative style of storytelling where an incident is narrated in a free verse having no fixed rhyme scheme. The poem is enriched using various figures of speech such as Alliteration, Antithesis, Hyperbole, Inversion, Metaphor, Onomatopoeia, Oxymoron, Repetition, Simile, and Transferred Epithet. An example of Personification from the poem is “I watched the flame feeding on my mother” as the flame is given the human quality of ‘feeding’. The poem is a first-person account of how a son (the poet) watches helplessly as his mother suffers from a scorpion’s sting. The villagers’ blessings and curses, a holy man’s chants and the rational husband’s experiments cannot bring relief to the poet’s mother. It shows how the behaviour of the villagers is characterised by their illiteracy and the lack of medical facilities, which thereby results in blind beliefs and superstitions.

Theme of the poem

Ezekiel narrates how the mother of the speaker is stung by a poisonous scorpion. He juxtaposes the pain and horror of the event with a humorous portrayal of the attitudes of the simple and ignorant but concerned villagers. The poem depicts the supernatural elements that the villagers strongly believe. We come across some irrational beliefs that are prevalent in rural society, such as the movement of the scorpion would speed up the movement of the poison in the body of his mother. It also highlights the villagers’ concern about even a small incident like a scorpion bite in the neighbourhood. It also shows the affection that a mother has for her children and the pain that she suffers in silence as it ensures the safety of her children.

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Reflection of superstition in the poem

Throughout the poem, Ezekiel emphasises the hold of superstition on the Indian social psyche with a rare insight and sensitivity. The poem conveys the typical superstitious attitude of the Indian peasants to life through an ordinary event in which the scorpion stings the mother of the speaker and the neighbours react impulsively. Even in the dark, the neighbours are equipped with candles and lanterns to locate the guilty scorpion as they want to kill it. They believe that the death of the scorpion would nullify the effect of the poison on the victim’s body. At the same time, the villagers were continually chanting the name of God to paralyse the scorpion. They feel that the mother is suffering because of the sins of her previous birth, or that she is reducing the sufferings of her next birth. They also believe that their suffering will reduce the sum of evil and add to the sum of good in the world. It is believed that the poison will purify her soul from the material desires and her spirit of its ambitions. A sacred man is also called to perform various rites to tame the poison with his incantations. Thus the poem is a beautiful picture of a typical Indian scenario of a trivial incident like a scorpion bite and its post effects.

Traditional Approach versus modern approach

The poem talks about the traditions and beliefs of the villagers at the scorpion bite. As mentioned earlier, the poem moves around traditional villagers’ approaches to cure the mother of the poison of a scorpion bite. They try every possible traditional remedy, such as holy incantations, scorpion hunting for killing, prayers, and so on. On the other hand, we find only one rational figure in the chaos around us, that is, the father of the poet. He’s a sceptical and rational person. Rather than believing in the curses and blessings, he feels that practical efforts are more fruitful. He tried all the available powder, mixture, herbs and hybrids. He tried to cure his wife with bitter poison. He poured a little paraffin over her bitten toe and lighted it with a match. The toe was in flames, and he expected the poisoned blood to burn and heal it. Somehow, after a few efforts, she was finally healed after twenty long painful hours. The poem keeps moving between the traditional and modern approach for curing a victim of a poisonous scorpion bite.

Indian philosophy followed by the villagers

The poem portrays many beliefs prevalent in the philosophy of India. The ‘karma’ theory is one of the dominant ideologies of Indian philosophy, believing that rewards or punishments inflicted on an individual are the results of his own ‘karma’ or deeds. The villagers in the poem believe that the mother suffered because of the scorpion bite because of the sins of her past birth, or maybe the next birth reduced her suffering. They also feel that the sum of goodwill balance her suffering against that of the sum of evil.

In the poem, the Indian philosophy of purification in suffering is underlined. The villagers say that the victim’s suffering will purify her of her bodily desires and ambitions that are material. This will bring her soul close to that of the all-powerful God.

Analysis of the poem

Night of the Scorpion is a free verse poem with 8 stanzas and a total of 47 lines. There is no set rhyme scheme. The meter is mixed.

The scorpion is seen by some as an evil force, bringer of pain and hardship and even death. Note the use of the word diabolic as the desperate creature stings the woman and makes off out into the rain.

The peasants are being superstitious and old fashioned, even illiterate, not having moved on in their thinking and culture.

The father meanwhile is just the opposite in the sense that he is a rational, reductive type of person who is unimpressed with the peasants and their mumbo-jumbo. Yet, he resorts to using paraffin on the mother’s toe, setting it alight, not a very scientific response.

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The mother perseveres, she is in agony all night but finally triumphs and does not succumb to the venom of the scorpion. For all that time she was unable to utter a word, capable only of groans until the pain subsided and the relief she felt gave her the power to sum her experience up thank goodness it was her who took the sting and not her children, for they probably would not have survived.

“Night of the scorpion” is ordinarily an Indian poem by an Indian writer whose enthusiasm for the Indian soil and its customary human occasions of everyday Indian life is sublime. A decent numerous Indians are ignorant and are indiscriminately superstitious. In any case, they are straightforward, adoring and adorable. They endeavour to spare the casualty by doing whatever they can. Be that as it may, they don’t succeed.

The poem is translated as an emblematic juxtaposition of haziness and light. The night, the scorpion, the toxic substance and the agony speak to dimness. The ceaseless rain remains for expectation and recovery. Candles, lamps, neighbours and at last the recuperation of the mother speak to light. The poem can likewise be thought of as emblematic of Good and Insidiousness as well.

Ezekiel uses a simile comparing the villagers to ‘swarms of flies’ (line 8). It is striking that he uses an insect image to describe the people’s reaction to an invertebrate’s sting. He develops the simile in the following line: ‘they buzzed the name of God’ (line 9).

What does the fly simile suggest about Ezekiel’s attitude to the neighbours?

The neighbours’ candles and lanterns throw ‘giant scorpion shadows’ on the walls (line 13). We know that the scorpion has already fled, so are these images of the people themselves? (A scorpion has eight legs, so the shadow of a small group of people standing together could look like a scorpion.) If so, what does this show about Ezekiel’s attitude to the neighbours?

There is a contrast between the neighbours’ ‘peace of understanding’ (line 31) and the mother who ‘twisted… groaning on a mat’ (line 35). Ironically, they are at peace because of her discomfort.

There is alliteration throughout the poem that helps to link or emphasize ideas: the scorpion is seen ‘Parting with his poison’ (line 5), Ezekiel’s father tries ‘herb and hybrid’ (line 38), Ezekiel sees ‘flame feeding’ (line 41) on his mother. Underline other examples of alliteration and see if you can explain the effectiveness of their use? There is a lot of repetition so that we hear the villagers’ prayers and incantations. Ezekiel uses direct speech, ‘May…’ to dramatize the scene and the echoed ‘they said’ is like a chorus: A group of characters in classical Greek drama who comment on the action but don’t take part in it. In a song, the chorus is a section that is regularly repeated.

Questions and Answers

Answer the following questions in brief.

1. What are the villagers searching for in the dark of the night?

Answer: The villagers are searching for the scorpion in the dark of the night.

2. Who is the only rational person among the villagers?

Answer: The poet’s father is the only rational person among the villagers.

3. How is the mother going to be benefited from her suffering?

Answer: She will either reduce her sins of past birth or her next birth.

4. Where was the scorpion hiding before he stung the mother?

Answer: The scorpion was hiding beneath a sack of rice.

5. Why is the scorpion’s tail called ‘diabolic’?

Answer: The scorpion is compared to the devil and the devil is supposed to be diabolic.

6. Why are the peasants buzzing the name of God?

Answer: The peasants are buzzing the name of God to paralyze the scorpion.

7. What is the poison going to purify?

Answer: The poison will purify the flesh of desire and the spirit of ambition.

8. Which experiment was performed by the father in the poem?

Answer: The father poured paraffin on the bitten toe and put a match to it.

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