The poem Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel is about an incident that the poet has not forgotten in his life. It was a night when a scorpion bit his mother and all the superstitious villagers did irrational things rather than helping her.
The poem exposes the superstitions that dominate the minds of Indians and also the motherhood of a lady who just only of her children even in the worst condition. The poem has no rhyme scheme. It has eight stanzas with a different number of lines in each.
In stanza 1, the poet says that he remembers well that night when her mother was stung by a scorpion. The poet is of the views that the heavy rain which lasted for 10 hours made the scorpion crawl beneath a sack of rice. The last phrase shows the poet’s sympathy towards the scorpion.
In stanza 2, the poet says that after biting his mother with its diabolic (monstrous tail), the scorpion went back to rain outside again. The poet here shows sympathy as well as anger towards the scorpion. He is angry when he talks about its biting and sympathetic when he talks about its going to rain again.
Hearing about the incident, the villagers rush to the poet’s home. However, he is not happy with them and calls them swarms of flies who buzz the name of God a hundred times to paralyse the Evil One.
The poet then explains how the villagers searched for the scorpion. According to him, the villagers began searching for the scorpion and their shadows themselves seemed to be like a giant scorpion on the mud-baked walls.
The villagers begin searching for the scorpion because they believe that the poison spreads across the body with the movement of scorpion so if the latter is stopped and paralysed, the poison effect can also be controlled.
This is a superstition and Nissim knows that well. This is why he hates the coming of villagers to his home. The stanza also depicts the Indianess that prevails in a number of other poems as well.
Having failed in finding the scorpion, they begin giving their own interpretation to the biting of the scorpion. Some of them said that his mother’s sins which she committed in her previous birth (as believed in Hinduism) have been forgiven.
The others assumed that she is going to die and said that the pain that she is suffering from will decrease the troubles in her next birth. Some others put forward that her good deeds will be balanced against her bad deeds because of the bite of the scorpion.
Some others said that the poison will purify and refresh her flesh of desire and her spirit of ambition. All of them seemed to be in peace because of their thoughts.
More and more people come with candles & lanterns. His mother is however crying and rolling on the mat with severe pain but nobody cares for her except for his father who is a sceptic, rationalist. He leaves no stone unturned to cure her.
He uses powder, mixture, herb and hybrid to help her recover from the pain. He even poured a little paraffin upon the bitten toe and then fires it up. The poet watches the flames of fire burning on the skin of his mother.
He also watches the holy man perform his rites to tame the poison with an incantation. The phrase again refers to superstitious people of his village who believe in irrational measures to cure a person. His mother ultimately recovers from the poison after 24 hours.
The last line is quite emotional and heart touching. It reflects the motherhood of a lady. The poet says that after recovering from the poison, his mother’s words were Thank God the scorpion picked on me and spared my children.
Even in such condition, his mother remains more concerned about the safety and health of her children.