Night of the Scorpion By Ezekiel: A Complete Study

 I. About Nissim Ezekiel:

Nissim Ezekiel is an Indian Jewish. He is a very great Indian English poet. He left an indelible mark of his excellence in the world of Indian English poetry. Night of the Scorpion is beautiful poem by him.
Nissim Ezekiel was born in Bombay in 1924. His father, Moses Ezekiel, was a professor of Botany. His mother was the Principal of her own school. Ezekiel had a consistently meritorious academic career. He received his early education in Antonio D'Souza High School. He graduated from Wilson College, Bombay and he got his postgraduate degree in English from the University of Bombay. In 1948 he went to London. In Birkbeck, University of London, he studied philosophy under C.E.M. Joad.
Nissim Ezekiel served as a professor of English at the University of Bombay. He retired in 1984. He was a visiting professor at the University of Leeds. He received the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award in 1983. He passed away in 2004.
Ezekiel's literary contribution is appreciated in the entire world. He is a conscious craftsman. His poetry incorporates a variety of themes such as alienation, search for identity, love and marriage. Indianness is also a remarkable feature of his poetry. He tried to look at any typical Indian situation with an Indian attitude.
 Ezekiel used Indian English or Pidgin English in his poetry. As a poet he had a keen ear for English prosody. He communicates his poetic experience through the use of figurative and stylistic devices like simile, metaphor, imagery, symbol, repetition etc. His poetry is imbued with clarity, directness and precision.

II. Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel (Text)

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 mud-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 all evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain, they said.
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.

III. Night of the Scorpion: A Summary

Nissim Ezekiel is one of the greatest Indo-Anglican poets. His 'Night of the Scorpion' is a fantastic poem. Here the poet has depicted a brilliant and real picture of rural India. He beautifully exposes the illiteracy and ignorance of people of our country.
'Night of the Scorpion' has a dramatic beginning. The poet describes the night when his mother was stung by a scorpion. The poet says:
I remember the night my mother
Was stung by a scorpion.
After this incident a large number of villagers assembled to express sympathy with poet’s mother. They uttered the name of God to give her relief. They attempted to search for the scorpion in the light of their lanterns. But they could not succeed in their search mission.
The assembled villagers expressed their views on the situation. The narrator's father was different from them. He was a sceptic. He tried every herb to offer relief to his wife. A priest voiced mantras to relieve the poet’s mother of her pain. After twenty four hours the narrator's mother got complete relief. She then thanked God for the safety of her children. The poet concludes the poem with the following marvelous lines that show the greatness of a mother:
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.
The imagery of the poem is vivid and varied. The scorpion appears as a symbol of evil. The poem has the essence of free verse. In short, 'Night of the Scorpion' is, no doubt, an excellent poem.

IV.  Objective Type Questions:

1. Who drove the scorpion inside the house:
a. Steady rain
b. Snake
c. Noise
d. Water
Ans: a. Steady rain
2. The scorpion is referred to as:
a. the evil one
b. poisonous one
c. dangerous
d. ill spirit
Ans: a. the evil one
3. The phrase 'clicked their tongues' expresses:
a. The peasants' worries about the sting
b. The peasants' sorrow for the mother
c. The peasants' failure to find the scorpion
d. none of the above.
Ans: b. The peasants' sorrow for the mother
4. The poem 'Night of the Scorpion' is about:
a. Peasants' concern for the suffering woman
b. Mother's love for children
c. endurance of women
d. Father's rationalist approach
Ans: b. Mother's love for children
5. What did the villagers do when they heard of the scorpion sting:
a. They were indifferent
b. They visited the temple
c. They flocked to the poet's house
d. They went in the search of the scorpion
Ans: c. They flocked to the poet's house
6. The peasants came like 'swarm of flies'. This figure of speech is:
a. Metaphor
b. Simile
c. Personification
d. Alliteration
Ans: b. Simile
7. What assessment of the father's character have you made by reading the poem:
a. He is detached and cruel
b. He is harsh but effective
c. He is concerned but helpless
d. He is a holy man and very pious
Ans: c. He is concerned but helpless
8. A sceptic is a person who:
a. doubts everything
b. believes everything
c. always thinks of God
d. removes curses
Ans: a. doubts everything
9. In the poem 'Night of the Scorpion' who was stung by the scorpion:
a. Poet
b. Poet's mother
c. Poet's father
d. None of these
Ans: b. Poet's mother
10. 'Night of the Scorpion' has been composed by:
a. Tagore
b. Toru Dutt
c. Nissim Ezekiel
d. Kamala Das
Ans: c. Nissim Ezekiel
11. 'Night of the Scorpion' carries the theme of:
a. Mother's love for children
b. Empowerment of women
c. Psychology of men
d. None of these
Ans: a. Mother's love for children
12. Nissim Ezekiel has composed:
a. Tree
b. Night of the Scorpion
c. The Rainbow
d. None of these
Ans: b. Night of the Scorpion
13. Nissim Ezekiel is:
a. An American poet
b. An Indian poet
c. A Canadian poet
d. A German poet
Ans: b. An Indian poet
14. Nissim Ezekiel was born in:
a. London
b. Delhi 
c. Bombay
d. Lahore
Ans: c. Bombay
15. What drove the scorpion inside the house?
a. Steady rain
b. Snake
c. Noise
d. Water
Ans: a. Steady rain
16. What had driven the scorpion to the poet's house?
a. Fear
b. Rain
c. Sun
d. Poison
Ans: a. Rain

V. Short Answer Type Questions:

1. Do you agree with the title of the poem?
Ans: Yes, I agree with the title of the poem because it deals with the night when a scorpion stings poet's mother.
2. Who is the 'I' in the poem 'Night of the Scorpion'?
Ans: 'I' in the poem 'Night of the Scorpion' is  the poet.
3. How did the peasants try to paralyse the evil one?
Ans: The  peasants tried to paralyse the evil one by buzzing the name of God a hundred times.
4. Why does the poet refer to scorpion's tail as diabolic?
Ans: The poet refers to scorpion's tail as diabolic as it contains poison.
5. How did the peasants search for the scorpion?
Ans: The peasants searched for the scorpion with their candles and lanterns.
6. How did the villagers react  to the mother's agony?
Ans: The villagers clicked their tongues to the mother's agony.
7. Why did the peasants say the name of God a hundred times?
Ans: The  peasants tried to paralyse the evil one by buzzing the name of God a hundred times.
8. Why did the villagers want the Scorpion to sit still?
Ans: The villagers wanted the scorpion to sit still  as its movement will spread poison in mother's blood.
9. What attempts were made by the holy man to tame the poison?
Ans: The holy man recited mantras to tame the poison.
10. What was the mother's reaction to the scorpion bite?
Ans: The mother thanked God that the scorpion stung her and spared her children.
11. What drove the scorpion inside the house?
Ans: Steady rain drove the scorpion inside the house.
12. Who was stung by the scorpion?
Ans: The poet's mother was stung by the scorpion.

VI.  Give Antonyms of the following words :

(Night, Parting, Unreal, Pain, Peace, Blessing, Tame, Lost, Holy)
1. Night: Day
2. Parting: Meeting
3. Unreal: Real
4. Pain: Pleasure, Joy
5. Peace: War
6. Blessing: Curse
7. Tame: Wild
8. Lost: Found
9. Holy: Unholy

VII. Use the words given below in sentences of your own:

(Crawl, Diabolic, spirit, ambition, rationalist, incantation, purify, sting)
1. Crawl: Ram's baby crawls on the ground.
2. Diabolic: The poet refers to scorpion's tail as diabolic as it contains poison.
3. Spirit: I love Devi for her teaching spirit.
4. Ambition: My ambition is to be a successful teacher.
5. Rationalist: The poet's father was a rationalist.
6. Incantation: My mother recites holy incantation. 
7. Purify: One can purify one's mind by worshiping.
8. Sting: The scorpion stung the mother of the poet.
Sandal S Anshu, Satna


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