I’ve tried my best with the notes, but some errors might have crept in. If you find any error(s) please comment.
THE NIGHT OF THE SCORPION
This is a poignant poem by one of the India’s foremost modern day poets, Nissim Ezekiel. Using imagery relating to the senses of sight, smell, touch and hearing, the poet depicts the selfless love of a mother who is stung by a scorpion. She nearly dies and yet is thankful that the scorpion had spared her children. The poem can also be seen as a comment on a culture where superstitions still play a significant role.
The poet recalls very vividly (clearly) the night when his mother was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours of incessant rain had forced the scorpion to seek refuge in the poet’s house (rain water must have flooded its hiding place in the open) It sought refuge under a bag of rice and stung the poet’s mother when she went into that room. The viciously wicked creature poured its poison into her in a flash of its devilish tail and ventured out into the rain. On hearing of the unfortunate incident, the peasants rushed to the poet’s house with lighted candles and lanterns. They uttered the name of God countless times and prayed to God to immobilise the evil creature. Against the light of the lanterns, the shadows of the crowd cast on the mud walls looked like huge scorpions. The peasants looked for the scorpion everywhere where but it in vain. Being unsuccessful in their attempt to capture the scorpion they clicked their tongues. They were superstitious people and made several observations. They said that with every movement of the scorpion, its poison would also spread/course in the mother’s blood. Hence, it was imperative (essential) that the creature should not move at all and remain still. Some peasants said that her pain that night would burn away all her sins of her previous birth. They wished that her present agony should reduce her suffering in the next birth. They hoped that in this illusionary world where evil outweighs good deeds, her pain would diminish the quantum of evil. Some tried to console the mother with the remark that the scorpions poison would purify/cleanse her body of all desires and her soul of sinful ambition. They sat around the mother on the floor. Their faces were calm and peaceful. They believed that the mother’s agony was for her good.
More and more neighbours arrived with lanterns and candles. The presence of the insects and the rain added to the chaos. There seemed to be no end to the mother’s pain. The rain continued unabated. All this while the poor suffering mother was groaning and writhing in pain as she lay on a mat.
The poet’s father acted differently because he did not believe in prayers, religion and was a man of reason and logic. He was distraught at the sight of his wife’s agony and even cast aside his beliefs to somehow reduce her suffering. In his concern for his wife he tried out herbal medicines, magic and prayers to diminish her pain. The child watched helplessly as his father even poured some paraffin on the bitten toe and set fire to it. The flame burned brightly making the mother’s pain acute. The poet remained a mute spectator as he watched the holy priest perform his rituals and used spells to curb the poison. But all efforts to diminish the mother’s pain proved futile. Her pain subsided after twenty hours. Forgetting all her torment, the self sacrificing mother uttered words of thanks-giving to God in making the scorpion choose her as a victim, not her children. Thus the poem which begins with pain and anxiety ends on a grateful and optimistic tone.