Summary of Island by Nissim Ezekiel

Ezekiel is a five-stanza poem. The poem is both a tribute to and lament of a populous urban environment. The poem is about Bombay now Mumbai by none the else but a Bombay man .

Though the poet does not mention the poem which island he is writing about, yet his line “I was born here and belong” unambiguously indicates that he is writing this poem about the island of Bombay, and that he himself is the speaker here.

The island of Bombay, according to the poet, is not so good that songs should be written about it. Nor are things here sensible enough to deserve the attention of one’s sense. Then the poet turns to its growth and marks that if, on the one hand, very tall buildings have come into existence here, on the other hand, slums too are spreading fast. This kind of uneven growth is reflecting the growth of the poet’s mind as some of his mental faculties have developed fast while only regress is to be noted in the rest of them. The poet reflects that he has to live in this city and find what he can achieve here.

The poet does not find his life on this island a smooth-sailing: sometimes he finds things here to be beyond him to manage with the result that on such occasions he urgently seeks help from others. However, most of the time he depends on his own perception and understanding. The solutions which occur to him are usually ambiguous. The same thing in a distorted way he finds in the reactions of the people of the island. In these reactions he also finds the distorted echoes of the voice of those who are as bad as dragons though they claim to be human beings.

There come occasions when there is pleasant atmosphere and everybody on the island appears that the past, which was bad, has been buried and the future is going to be different from it. This brings stillness all around and one is at rest but even at this time activity is still going on. In such a situation it is not possible for one to delight oneself with the realization that problems have been solved for ever and salvation has been achieved, and one cannot devote one’s energies to the single task one has chosen for oneself. The persona loves the island so much that he cannot leave it: he has a claim over the island as he was born here and he belongs here. He means to say that even though the conditions prevailing on the island disturb him considerably yet he will not go elsewhere, and since he was born here and belongs here he has a right to see it to be what he likes it to be.

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Since the conditions prevailing on the island are so disturbing that life cannot sail here smoothly, it is nothing less than a miracle that he discharges his daily business with swiftness and efficiency, at the same time keeping in mind the ways of the island like a good native; and while he does that he is conscious of the fact that if there is calmness in one part of the island, people are clamouring in some other part.

The poet asserts his right to see the island to be what he likes it to be, but he should also accord this right to everybody born on the land. However, if a man claims a right to be his on the ground of his birth, he must allow that right to each and everybody on that ground. If the poet’s statement implies that everybody born on the island of Bombay has a right to see Bombay to be what he likes it to be, then the right does not remain one person’s but becomes a right of the group as a whole.

The poem consists of five stanzas of five lines each. The poem has been written in free verse as the lines do not rhyme. The poet does not follow the rule of metre: if some lines are decasyllabic, some are hexasyllabic while some others are even octosyllabic. The line

Unsuitable for song as well as sense”

is, for example, decasyllabic,

the line

“the island flowers into slums”

is octosyllabic, while the line,

“as a good native should”

is hexasyllabic. Likewise, the lines

“Bright and tempting breezes
flow across the island, …”

are hexasyllabic.

In the last stanza of the poem when he writes:

Even now a host of miracles
hurries me to daily business …”

he has violated a rule of grammar. The expressions ‘a host of’ and ‘a number of’ are used as the substitutes of ‘several’ and if a noun following this adjective is plural, the verb agrees with the plural noun. In the same way since the subject in the sentence at hand is ‘miracles’ and ‘a host of’ is an adjective like ‘several’, the verb in the sentence should agree in number and person with ‘miracles’ rather than with ‘a host’. The poet seems to have treated ‘host’ as the subject and makes his verb agree with this.

Critical appreciation of An Island by Nissim Ezekiel

An Island is a characteristically modern poem by one of the best Indo-Anglian poets, Nissim Ezekiel who died a few years back. Deeply influenced by such modernist poets as Pound, Eliot Yeats and Auden, his poetry strikes into the heart of modern man, awakens anxiety, guilt and desperation. It also distinguishes itself by being splendidly evocative and satisfyingly sensuous. In his early poetry, persons and places, memories and situations, literary echoes and moments of vision all inspired Ezekiel to poetic utterance. He was painfully and poignantly aware of the demands of flesh, its insistent urges, its stark ecstasy, its disturbing filiations with the mind. In his later poetry, however, more conscious intellectuality than in the early poetry. There is a gain in quality and integrity. Moreover, as Dr. lyengar points out, the recurrent note in Ezekiel’s recent poetry is the hurt that urban civilization inflicts on modern man, dehumanizing him and subjection his verities to pollution and devaluation.

At one place Ezekiel remarks, ‘I an at clarity, above all, claim never to have written an obscure form. I like to make controlled, meaningful statements, avoiding extremes of thought and expression. His poetry also draws our attention for its development from the predominantly external world of flesh and bone to the myths of light, from the physical to the spiritual. The poem An Island captures the reality of the city of Bombay which the poet calls island both in its historical and contemporary context. Once an island, the poet now finds it turned into a network of slums and skyscrapers. In fact the poet goes on to identify himself with the island comparing its growth to his mind.
The opening of the poem reminds us of W.B. Yeats’ Sailing to Byzanitum – This is no country for the old. Nissim begins in the same fashion :

Unsuitable for song as well as sense
The island flowers into slums
and skyscrapers.

As a matter of fact, the poem exhibits the process of experience which ends up in the acceptance of the ways of the island – that is the consciousness of paradox. Thus it signals a sense of satire- Dragons claiming to be human. It suggests the lack of humanity and morality. In fact, it imposes order on the chaos which lends unpleasantness to the poem.

Furthermore, the poet juxtaposes past, present and future, While the image of bright and tempting breeze, stands for the sensual pleasures of modern life, the still air, and the sleep of ignorance’ do suggest the strange kind of passivity and impotence that characterizes modern life. These images signify the changing panorama of the modern world symbolized in the island itself. The next stanza presents an ironical view of the debasement of faith and the directionlessness of modern life.

Moreover, the poem on account of its
autobiographical elements achieves a personal tone. Nonetheless here one can find the gradual mental development of the poet. As a matter of fact, the poem An Island is quite modern since it raises the question of identity. The language is simple and the thought logical. Phrases like distorted’ and ‘bright’ and tempting breeze’ work as intensifiers. In fact, the situation plays the role of image agreeing with Eliot’s idea of objective co-relative.

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