Night of the Scorpion
L/O: Learning about the context
and main ideas of the poem.
Nissim Ezekiel was born in
Bombay to Jewish parents in
1924. He was raised in a Hindu
culture and was influenced by
As a Jew living in a Hindu society
Ezekiel was something of an
outsider. ‘Not being Hindu I
cannot identify myself with India's
past as a comprehensive heritage
or reject it as if it were mine to
reject’. He wrote about modern
India and the little mysteries of
The Night of the Scorpion
• What is Night of the Scorpion about?
• The poem is about the night when a woman (the
poet's mother) in a poor village in India is stung
by a scorpion. Concerned neighbours pour into
her hut to offer advice and help. All sorts of
cures are tried by the neighbours, her husband
and the local holy man, but time proves to be the
best healer - 'After twenty hours / it lost its
• After her ordeal, the mother is thankful that the
scorpion stung her and not the children.
The Hindu belief in
reincarnation is in Night of
the Scorpion. This is the
idea that when individuals
die the spirit leaves the body
and is reborn into a new
A person’s new self on
reincarnation is determined
by the good (or bad) things
he or she has committed in
his or her preceding life.
There are three main parts to the poem. Do you know
what they are? The first one has been done for you
What is happening?
The scorpion comes into the
home to escape the rain and
stings the poet’s mother
Night of the Scorpion
I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten hours
of steady rain had driven him
Scorpion is just
Trying to stay dry
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison - flash
Stung the mother
Religious imagery to show
The scorpion is demonic
Scorpion is afraid and risks the
rain to get away from the people
Sets the scene
of diabolic tail in the dark room –
by showing it’s
a poor Indian house
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.
Symbolic of the
Devil – capitalised
To make it a name
Simile which makes the
peasants seem panicstricken and illogical
how ill-educated the
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.
Sounds like a prayer, but having the same word
At the start of so many lines makes this reaction
Seem repetitive and unsympathetic
reincarnation – they think
she will die
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next birth, they said.
May the sum of evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
Pain is seen as a way of cleansing
the soul before the next life
May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and your spirit of ambition, They think that
she is going to
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.
the word more
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
The event was so
serious that his father
My father , sceptic rationalist,
tried anything to save
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.
Personification of the
I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites
to tame the poison with an incantation.
Time was the only
After twenty hours
It lost its sting.
nature of a
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
Separate stanza concluding the
and spared my children.
story. The mother is rational
which contrasts with the
Look at the description of the village peasants.
What does the imagery suggest about them?
they ‘came like swarms of flies’
they ‘buzzed the name of God’
They threw ‘giant scorpion
shadows /on the mud-baked walls’
They ‘clicked their tongues’
Notes on the images