Every poet, good or bad, writes a poem that strikes the right chords with a majority of readers. Say, Frost. He is so much loved for so many poems, yet many take the name of ‘Road not taken’ or ‘Sleeping by woods..’ when you mention his name. With the Nissim Ezekiel such an oft remembered poem is The Night of the Scorpion. In this poem the speaker, an adult now in awe of his mother’s love for her children, remembers the time in his childhood when a scorpion had stung his mother. It was a rainy night, cold, and a scorpion had slipped into the house, perhaps for warmth. The skill of Ezekiel in this poem is in making it so evocative. It has his characteristic irony, and even a hint of satire. But what catches our attention is the vividity of the description.
For example, see how the poet refers to the remembered detail of the visiting neighbours who come expressing sympathy and solidarity: “The peasants came like swarms of flies”. This image gathers together at once a statement and a description of the behaviour of the neighbours: villagers coming to visit in big numbers and the continuous noise (not very useful speech but an endless stream of repetitive chatter) they make. Rarely do we come across vividity of such density.
Similar is the lines: “With candles and with lanterns throwing giant scorpion shadows/ on the sun-baked walls they searched for him; he was not found”. The image here is at once apt, vivid and accurate. The villagers with candles or lanterns are searching for the scorpion. It is obvious that they bend forward in this search. This action would require them to hold the lamps ahead of them and at a low height. The light from these lanterns catches the bending shapes of the villagers and throws shadows on the walls which naturally are amplified in the process. To the bewildered child who is seeing all these commotion, these shadows appear like giant scorpions because of their bloated size and because scorpion is on everyone’s mind and talk.