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 paralyses 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 center,
the peace of understanding on each face.
More candles, more lanterns, more neighbors,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
My father, skeptic, 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.
The poem “Night of the Scorpion” is perhaps the most popular and most admired poem of Ezekiel. It depicts a common situation in rural India and juxtaposes the opposites for ironic contrasts which make it more effective. The poem is written in free verse. The poem is the replay of a very touching scene in which the poet witnesses his own home many years ago when he was a child.
It had been raining hard for more than ten hours. A scorpion, in its attempt to escape the fury of the rain, enters the poet’s home and finds a safe shelter beneath a sack of rice. The instinct for survival had forced the poisonous creature to seek safer shelter. The room was dark and as the mother tried to get some rice from the sack, the creature flashed its diabolic tail and stung the mother discharging all its poison.
The same instinct for survival that had brought the scorpion to the room now forced him to creep out into the rain fearing death at the hands of the inmates, as if the creature was conscious of its diabolic act and thought of escaping the greater threat. The mother’s painful cries at once brought in all neighbors. They are very anxious to provide relief to the mother and start chanting prayers. They have a strong faith in the efficacy of the prayers which can ‘paralyze’ or make the harm done by the insect ineffective and stop the poison from spreading.
Many of them took out lanterns and candles and start searching for the poisonous insect and in their search, they clicked their tongues. These people believed that as long as the scorpion moved, the poison in the mother’s blood will also move and spread. They start chanting mantras to bring relief to the mother. They are supposed to be wise men who can exorcise the evil spirits by casting spells and magical incantations. Their wisdom is reflected on their faces.
The world of magic, superstition, irrationality and blind faith is juxtaposed with the world of science, skepticism and rationality represented by the father – who tries all sorts of powders, mixtures, herbs etc, in contradiction to the magic rituals being done by the poor neighbors. He even pours a little paraffin on the mother’s toe and gives fire to it in order to burn the poison. The son, in complete silence, observes the efforts being made by both the sides.
There is yet another set of wise people who console the mother by saying that her sufferings in this unreal world would reduce her sufferings in the real world (next life).
But the irony is that both the traditional, superstitious ways and the modern, scientific ways are equally futile and vain. The mother continues to suffer intense pain and agony for full twenty hours after which the pain automatically subsides.
The last lines of the poem are an ironic contrast to the measures taken by the neighbors and by the father. While all others were eager to bring quick relief to the suffering mother, the mother herself is more concerned for her children and does not think of her own self or her own suffering. She feels rather glad that the scorpion had bitten her and had spared her children. Thus, the poet highlights the self-effacing love of the Indian mother for her children.
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