‘Night of the Scorpion‘ is one of the well-knit poems by Nissim Ezekiel. The poem recalls an unforgettable night in the poet’s life when his mother was stung by a diabolic scorpion and how the villagers came like swarms of flies to share the griefs of the family.
Nissim Ezekiel is an Indian poet and playwright who wrote in English. He was awarded with Padma Shri in 1988 and Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983 for his poetry collection “Latter Day Psalms“.
Nissim Ezekiel’s notable works include Enterprise, The Professor, Goodbye party for Miss Pushpa T.S, Entertainment, Poet, Lover and Birdwatcher and so on. This literary piece, ‘Night of the Scorpion’ is one of his most read and critically acclaimed poems.
NIGHT OF THE SCORPION POEM
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.
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.
NIGHT OF THE SCORPION SUMMARY
In this poem, ‘Night of the Scorpion‘, the poet remembers the night his mother was stung by a scorpion. Due to ten hours of steady rain, the scorpion took shelter beneath a sack of rice. It bit his mother because of its predatory impulse. Then it risked the rain again.
The peasants of the village came to his house like swarms of flies. In the hope to paralyse the scorpion, they buzzed the name of God hundred times since they believed that when the scorpion moved, the poison would move in her body.
The peasants searched for the scorpion with lanterns and candles, but in vain. It was found nowhere. The poet illustrates the shadows of the villagers on the mud-baked walls looked like giant scorpions. It is apparently the fear of the poet as a young boy which reflected the scorpion in everything.
The superstitions of the illiterate villagers revealed when they tried to provide reasons for her suffering. They buzzed that she may be cleansed of her sins of her previous birth and her suffering would decrease the misfortunes of her upcoming birth and her blood be purified by the poison.
More villagers came with lanterns and sat around his groaning mother to provide comfort to her. His father was a rational and skeptic. Contrarily, he tested all the superstitious methods in order to tame the poison. He even poured a little paraffin on the mouth of the sting and put it on fire. A holy man came and read an incantation to tame the poison.
After twenty hours his mother became normal. His mother simply said “Thank God! The Scorpion picked on me and spared my Children“.
NIGHT OF THE SCORPION THEME
Night of the Scorpion deals with at least two major things. The love of a mother and the superstition. Even when his mother is experiencing unbearable pain, she is more concerned about her family, particularly children.
‘Night of the Scorpion’ also brings up various typical Indian phenomena which are permeated in Indian rural arena.