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Nissim Ezekiel as a Poet

Nissim Ezekiel as a Poet

Nissim Ezekiel as a Poet 


Nissim Ezekiel is one of the most significant living poets on the Indo-Anglian horizon. After the death of Sri Aurobindo, he is the first major voice that represents, more or less, the change of an era in the history of Indo-Anglian poetry. William Walsh is of the opinion that Indo-Anglian poetry before 1950 has nothing more than historical value. He says, “Genuine Indian poetry in English really began in the nineteenth fifties, and the reader of today who is strictly interested in poetry can ignore, except for historical purposes, earlier versifying” And he gives Nissim Ezekiel the pride of place among the poets writing today.

His Indian Background

A Jew by birth, Nissim Ezekiel is a poet of India by choice. William Walsh calls this a creative discontinuity. He writes “This is constituted by his being of Jewish descent in a Hindu culture. It is both a theme of his poetry and a source of considerable energy in it.” The Indian poetry of Nissim Ezekiel, in his opinion is both inward and detracted, a combination making for a peculiar strength and validity :

The Indian landscape sears my eyes,

I have become part of it

To be observed by foreigners

They say that I am singular,

Their letters overstate the case,

I have made my commitments now,

This one : to stay where I am,

As others choose to give themselves

In some remote and backward place,

My backward place is where I am.

William Walsh asserts : “One is aware of a double impulse in the poet, which on the one hand keeps him at a distance from his environment as the clutches his private history and aspiration and which one the other, by means of a free and painful act of will, reconciles him to his environment.”

His Use of English

Another significant aspect of the poetry of Ezekiel is that he has used English like a native speaker. He is an Indian Jew, belonging to a community which has long roots in India. English was indeed the language spoken at his home and as such his use of it is both instinctive and natural. This mastery over English has provided him with a conversational directness and ease without being hemmed in by discursiveness. K.R. Srinivas, Iyengar observes: “Obsecurity and mere angularity are avoided, and beauty and bareness of statement often go together.

The discipline of rhyme and regular stanza form is not avoided, except where special effects are intended as, for examples, in “Memo for a Venture.’ :

Not power nor success

not popularity but principle,

a point of view a passion

like Alexander’s

and something of the saint,

from these come plenitude

and prodigality

in gestures of greatness,

The Nissim Ezekiel is the only poet in English, except Furtado, who has seriously considered to use of Pidgin English. The more notable of his poems which use Pidgin English are ‘A Very Indian Poem in Indian English” Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S. and ‘The Professor’ R. Pathasarathy observes “These poems imitate the ideological fractures of English used by Gujarati speakers. Some of these features are also present in other Indian languages the use of the present progressive tense for the simple present tense, in English collection of lexical items, and literal translation of phrases and idioms.” All these features can be encountered in the poems referred to above. Here is an excerpt from A Very Indian Poem in Indian English:

Other day I’m reading in newspaper

(Every day I’m reading Times of India

To improve my English languages)

How one goonda fellow

Throw stone at Inrabehn

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.

His Story-telling power

Ezekiel is a gifted story teller in verse. Some of more important poems which tell stories are ‘How the English Lesson Ended.,. Entertainment and ‘Ganga’. Let us take an example from the poem ‘How the English lesson Ended. ‘A Muslim neighbour’s daughter, who had failed to English for three consecutive years, was sent to the poet for coaching. She showed a ‘picture book’ to the poet’s daughter and did not turn up for the lesson. The poet was suspected of making obscene overturn towards the Muslim girl and soon she was married off. The poet says:

and suddenly

She knows, I know. The English lessons

end abruptly. I have learnt enough she claims

She has learnt enough to say she’s learnt enough.


David Mc Cutchion- says that Ezekiel “belongs with Thom Gunn. R.S. Thomas, Elizabeth Jennings, Anthony Thwaite, and other like them. He has their cautions discriminating style, precise and analytical with its conscious rejection of the heroic and passionate as of the sentimental and cosy. The technique is immaculate”: rhymes and carefully varied at regular rhythms, lines that run with a poised deliberateness. But behind the casual assurances one senses the clenched fist, the wounded tenderness.”

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