The poem belongs to Nissim Ezekiel’s collection entitled The Exact Name that was published in 1965. The poem in the narrative mode reveals the speaker’s objective account of how a scorpion stung his mother one night. The poem is titled the Night of the Scorpion, for, the major part of the poem, the scorpion is the victor or champion of the poem.
The scorpion crawls into the house one night to evade the heavy rain outside and hides behind a sack of rice. Crawling towards the speaker’s mother with its conspicuous diabolic tail, the scorpion stings her and sneaks back into the rain. The peasants in the neighborhood come to sympathize with the lady in question. The peasants are described as ‘swarms of flies’ to mark their intrusion as parasites. Their ‘buzzing’ the name of God also signifies their irrational ‘collective consciousness.” They chant the name of God repeatedly to nullify the stinging experience. For them, the scorpion was an agent of the devil. Their superstitious frame of mind, make them search desperately for the spider, for, with every movement the scorpion made, the poison injected into the woman’s blood would progress and increase its pain. They ardently pray that scorpion stay motionless wherever it is. They fervently plead with God that the sins she had committed in the previous life be washed away by the pain of the sting; and that the pain that she endures lead to a decrease in her misfortunes. They also hope that the woman’s pain diminish the totality of evil in this world that is unreal. Moreover, they pray that the woman be rid of her bodily physical desire and all worldly ambition.
The peasants gather around the mother on the floor with a serene expression on their faces .They bring more candles and lanterns to search for the scorpion. These shadows turn out be the shadows of superstition haunting steady progress. The scorpion is not to be found, but throws ‘giant scorpion shadows’ that haunts the onlookers. The scorpion’s effect overshadows its presence. The click of tongues again reflects that theirs is a collective response to the predicament, not an individual one. In contrast, the speaker-a child, seems to hold an individual stance, in that he is not politically correct..
The speaker’s father held a scientific temperament. He acted in opposition to the irrational outlook of the peasant folk. He adopted a more practical approach. He applies a herb to his wife’s flesh, and next a concoction of herbs. He also pours a little paraffin over the affected flesh and applies a burning matchstick to it in order to burn the sting from the lady’s toe. In perfect contrast, stood the speaker’s father burning his mother’s toe, and a religious person burning away the stings with his incantations. After a period of twenty hours, the effect of the poison wears off, and the lady is relieved.
The lady rises over the sympathy of others with her maternal empathy. She praises God for preferring her over her children to endure the painful experience. She is an inch taller than the others in that-she did not perceive how empty the glass was; she only observed how full it is.
R.Parthasarthy asserts:” It enacts an impressive ritual in which the mother’s reaction, towards the end, to her own suffering ironically cancels out earlier responses, both primitive and sophisticated.”
© Rukhaya MK 2008
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