Life and Works of Nissim Ezekiel 

Life and Works of Nissim Ezekiel 

Life and Works of Nissim Ezekiel 

Birth and Early Life

Nissim Ezekiel, who occupies a significant place in the post-independence Indo-Anglian literary scene, was born in Mumbai in 1924 in a Jewish family. He had his early education at Antonio D’Souza High School, a Christian missionary school of Mumbai. As a Jew he found himself in alien surroundings in the school. He said:

I went to Roman Catholic school,

A mugging Jew among the wolves,

They told me I had killed the Christ

That year I won the scripture prize,

A Muslim spots man boxed my ears,

I grew in terror of the strong

But undernourished Hindu lads,

Their prepositions, always wrong,

Repelled me to passivity

After completing his school education he entered Wilson College, Mumbai for his higher studies. Later he went to England to study at Birthbeck College, London. He describes his life in London in the following words:

Twenty-two: time to go abroad,

First, the decision, then a friend

To pay the fare, Philosophy,

Poverty and Poetry, three

Companions shared my basement room

Return to India

In 1952 he finally returned to India to settle permanently. On return he became a teacher and finally retired as a Professor of English from Mumbai University. For sometime he also worked as an advertiser. He was also the first editor of Quest, an influential cultural journal of Mumbai. As editor he also dabbled in politics. He has often changed his jobs but he has always remained a dedicated poet. He is still writing poetry. Currently, his also the Director of the Theatre Unity, Mumbai. In 1964 he went to Leeds University as a visiting professor. Two years later he went to the United States for a lecture tour.

The Poem ‘Case Study’

Nissim Ezekiel’s poem. ‘Case Study’ has an obvious reference to his own life pattern. As such it has autobiographical value. The poet,; like the protagonist of ‘Case Study’ had changed jobs at frequent intervals. On his return to India, after his studies in London, Nissim Ezekiel Joined as sub-editor in The Illustrated Weekly of India. He occupied this position for hardly two years and then he shifted himself to advertising business. He remained with Shilpi Advertisers for almost four years. Then he became a visiting lecturer at Leeds. In between he was for some time editor of ‘Quest and of Poetry India.’ He also remained associated with imprint for some time. He also worked as art editor for The Times of India. He earned his passage on the ship by working as deck-scrubber and coal-carrier. During all this period his interst in poetry did not slacken in any way and today we have from him some memorable verses. In the poem ‘Case Study’ we have these lines which obviously have confessional value. The use of the third person ‘he’ is used as a mask:

He worked at various jobs and then he stopped

For reasons never clear nor quite approved

By those who knew; some almost said he shopped

Around for dreams and projects later dropped

(Though this was quite untrue), he never moved

Unless he found something he might have loved,

He came to me and this is what I said:

The pattern will remain unless you break

It with a sudden jerk; but use your head,

Not all returned as heroes who had fled,

In wanting both to have and eat the cake,

Not all who fail are counted with the fake.

Influence to Ezekiel

The first major influence on Nissim Ezekiel was that of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. He desire to devote himself to poetry and his belief that poetry needed diligence and solitude and that it depended upon inspiration are some of the ideas that he got from Rilke. Yeats, was another influence on Ezekiel. The method of discovering himself in poetry was derived in Ezekiel from Yeats. T.S. Eliot also influenced him. His belief that Donne thought with his body while Tennyson and Browning ruminated in verse, was directly taken by him from Eliot. But at the centre of these influences was Nissim Ezekiel’s own mind which required probing.

Nissim Ezekiel’s Work

On his return to India from Lees, Nissim Ezekiel joined The Illustrated Weekly of India as its sub-editor. His first volume of verses appeared in 1952. Since then he has remained in the limelight. His volumes of verse, so far published are the following:

  1. A Time to Change (1952)
  2. Sixty Poems (1953)
  3. The Third (1959)
  4. The Unfinished Man (1960)
  5. The Exact Name (1965)
  6. Snakes in and Other Poems (1974)
  7. Hymns in Darkness (1976)

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