10 BEAUTIFUL AND FAMOUS POETRY BY NISSIM EZEKIEL
Nissim Ezekiel ( December 16, 1924 – January 9, 2004) was an Indian Jewish poet, actor, playwright, editor and art-critic. He was a foundational figure in postcolonial India’s literary history, specifically for Indian writing in English.
He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983 for his Poetry collection, “Latter-Day Psalms”, by the Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters. Ezekiel has been applauded for his subtle, restrained and well crafted diction, dealing with common and mundane themes in a manner that manifests both cognitive profundity, as well as an unsentimental, realistic sensibility, that has been influential on the course of succeeding Indian English poetry. Ezekiel enriched and established Indian English language poetry through his modernist innovations and techniques, which enlarged Indian English literature, moving it beyond purely spiritual and orientalist themes, to include a wider range of concerns and interests, including mundane familial events, individual angst and skeptical societal introspection.
10 Beautiful Poems By Nissim Ezekiel
#1: Night Of The Scorpion – Nissim Ezekiel
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.
#2: Philosophy – Nissim Ezekiel
There is a place to which I often go,
Not by planning to, but by a flow
Away from all existence, to a cold
Lucidity, whose will is uncontrolled.
Here, the mills of God are never slow.
The landscape in its geological prime
Dissolves to show its quintessential slime.
A million stars are blotted out. I think
Of each historic passion as a blink
That happened to the sad eye of Time.
But residues of meaning still remain,
As darkest myths meander through the pain
Towards a final formula of light.
I, too, reject this clarity of sight.
What cannot be explained, do not explain.
The mundane language of the senses sings
Its own interpretations. Common things
Become, by virtue of their commonness,
An argument against their nakedness
That dies of cold to find the truth it brings.
#3: Island – Nissim Ezekiel
Unsuitable for song as well as sense
the island flowers into slums
and skyscrapers, reflecting
precisely the growth of my mind.
I am here to find my way in it.
Sometimes I cry for help
But mostly keep my own counsel.
I hear distorted echoes
Of my own ambigious voice
and of dragons claiming to be human.
Bright and tempting breezes
Flow across the island,
Separating past from the future;
Then the air is still again
As I sleep the fragrance of ignorance.
How delight the soul with absolute
sense of salvation, how
hold to a single willed direction?
I cannot leave the island,
I was born here and belong.
Even now a host of miracles
hurries me a daily business,
minding the ways of the island
as a good native should,
taking calm and clamour in my stride.
#4: Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher – Nissim Ezekiel
To force the pace and never to be still
Is not the way of those who study birds
Or women. The best poets wait for words.
The hunt is not an exercise of will
But patient love relaxing on a hill
To note the movement of a timid wing;
Until the one who knows that she is loved
No longer waits but risks surrendering –
In this the poet finds his moral proved
Who never spoke before his spirit moved.
The slow movement seems, somehow, to say much more.
To watch the rarer birds, you have to go
Along deserted lanes and where the rivers flow
In silence near the source, or by a shore
Remote and thorny like the heart’s dark floor.
And there the women slowly turn around,
Not only flesh and bone but myths of light
With darkness at the core, and sense is found
But poets lost in crooked, restless flight,
The deaf can hear, the blind recover sight.
#5: Jewish Wedding In Bombay – Nissim Ezekiel
Her mother shed a tear or two but wasn’t really
crying. It was the thing to do, so she did it
enjoying every moment. The bride laughed when I
sympathized, and said don’t be silly.
Her brothrs had a shoe of mine and made me pay
to get it back. The game delighted all the neighbours’
children, who never stopped staring at me, the reluctant
bridegroom of the day.
There was no dowry because they knew I was ‘modern’
and claimed to be modern too. Her father asked me how
much jewellery I expected him to give away with his daughter.
When I said I did’t know, he laughed it off.
There was no brass band outside the synagogue
but I remember a chanting procession or two, some rituals,
lots of skull-caps, felt hats, decorated shawls
and grape juice from a common glass for bride and
I remember the breaking of the glass and the congregation
clapping which signified that we were well and truly married
according to the Mosaic Law.
Well that’s about all. I don’t think there was much
that struck me as solemn or beautiful. Mostly, we were
amused, and so were the others. Who knows how much belief
Even the most orthodox it was said ate beef because it
was cheaper, and some even risked their souls by
The Sabbath was for betting and swearing and drinking.
Nothing extravagant, mind you, all in a low key
and very decently kept in check. My father used to say,
these orthodox chaps certainly know how to draw the line
in their own crude way. He himself had drifted into the liberal
creed but without much conviction, taking us all with him.
My mother was very proud of being ‘progressive’.
Anyway as I was saying, there was that clapping and later
we went to the photographic studio of Lobo and Fernandes,
world-famous specialists in wedding portraits. Still later,
we lay on a floor-matress in the kitchen of my wife’s
family apartment and though it was part midnight she
kept saying let’s do it darling let’s do it darling
so we did it.
More than ten years passed before she told me that
she remembered being very disappointed. Is that all
there is to it? She had wondered. Back from London
eighteen months earlier, I was horribly out of practice.
During our first serious marriage quarrel she said Why did
you take my virginity from me? I would gladly have
returned it, but not one of the books I had read
instructed me how.
#6: Minority Poem – Nissim Ezekiel
In my room, I talk
to my invisible guests:
they do not argue, but wait
Till I am exhausted,
then they slip away
with inscrutable faces.
I lack the means to change
their amiable ways,
although I love their gods.
It’s the language really
separates, whatever else
is shared. On the other hand,
Mother Theresa; her guests
die visibly in her arms.
It’s not the mythology
or the marriage customs
that you need to know,
It’s the will to pass
through the eye of a needle
The guests depart, dissatisfied;
they will never give up
their mantras, old or new.
And you, uneasy
orphan of their racial
Polish up your alien
techniques of observation,
while the city burns.
#7: Soap – Nissim Ezekiel
Some people are not having manners,
this I am always observing,
For example other day I find
I am needing soap
For ordinary washing myself purposes.
So I’m going to one small shop
nearby in my lane and I’m asking
for well-known brand soap.
That shopman he’s giving me soap
but I’m finding it defective version.
So I’m saying very politely — –
though in Hindi I’m saying it,
and my Hindi is not so good as my English,
Please to excuse me
but this is defective version of well-known brand soap.
That shopman is saying
and very rudely he is saying it,
What is wrong with soap?
Still I am keeping my temper
and repeating very smilingly
Please to note this defect in soap,
and still he is denying the truth.
So I’m getting very angry that time
and with loud voice I am saying
YOU ARE BLIND OR WHAT?
Now he is shouting
YOU ARE CALLING ME BLIND OR WHAT?
Come outside and I will show you
Then I am shouting
What you will show me
Which I haven’t got already?
It is vulgar thing to say
but I am saying it.
Now small crowd is collecting
and shopman is much bigger than me,
and I am not caring so much
for small defect in well-known brand soap.
So I’m saying
Alright OK Alright OK
this time I will take
but not next time.
#8: The Professor – Nissim Ezekiel
Remember me? I am Professor Sheth.
Once I taught you geography. Now
I am retired, though my health is good.
My wife died some years back.
By God’s grace, all my children
Are well settled in life.
One is Sales Manager,
One is Bank Manager,
Both have cars.
Other also doing well, though not so well.
Every family must have black sheep.
Sarala and Tarala are married,
Their husbands are very nice boys.
You won’t believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
How many issues you have? Three?
That is good. These are days of family planning.
I am not against. We have to change with times.
Whole world is changing. In India also
We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.
Old values are going, new values are coming.
Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.
I am going out rarely, now and then
Only, this is price of old age
But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
This is because of sound habits in youth.
How is your health keeping?
Nicely? I am happy for that.
This year I am sixty-nine
and hope to score a century.
You were so thin, like stick,
Now you are man of weight and consequence.
That is good joke.
If you are coming again this side by chance,
Visit please my humble residence also.
I am living just on opposite house’s backside.
#9: The Patriot – Nissim Ezekiel
I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting –
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.
Other day I’m reading newspaper
(Every day I’m reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming –
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.
You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I’m the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.
What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers –
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.
You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.
#10: Urban – Nissim Ezekiel
The hills are always far away.
He knows the broken roads, and moves
In circles tracked within his head.
Before he wakes and has his say,
The river which he claims he loves
Is dry, and all the winds lie dead.
At dawn he never sees the skies
Which, silently, are born again.
Nor feels the shadows of the night
Recline their fingers on his eyes.
He welcomes neither sun nor rain.
His landscape has no depth or height.
The city like a passion burns.
He dreams of morning walks, alone,
And floating on a wave of sand.
But still his mind its traffic turns
Away from beach and tree and stone
To kindred clamour close at hand.
Something is wrong.