The Poems of Nissim Ezekiel
Nissim Ezekiel as a Poet
Nissim Ezekiel is generally known as a poet who has written in only language, and his example is often cited in contrast to the careers of other Indian poets who are often bilingually accomplished (for instance, Arun Kolatkar, Kamla Markandaya, Dilip Chitre and Kamla Das). In Ezekiel’s case, English functions as his mother tongue, the only language he can use for creative expression. Ezekiel is an intensely personal poet; his writing is inextricably interwoven with his life and that poetry is guided by a search for commitment. A characteristic feature of Ezekiel’s poetry, one becoming increasingly dominant with the progress of his work as a poet and critic, is the search for detachment or non-involvement, hence the preponderance of irony in his writing.
These observations may be applied to Ezekiel’s Background Casually, which is rich in ambiguities and is divided into three sections. Its three sections describe his progress from childhood through youth to maturity, exploring the essence of one’s true vocation as a poet. Notably, the ‘I’ of the poem speaks in the direct lyrical mode without the use of ironic mask. The poem could be read as a poem in the autobiographical confessional mode; indeed, it might be assigned to the genre to which such poems as Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey belong. The poet reflects on both his failures and achievements and gives expressions to his love for his native soil in unequivocal terms. He affirms in the poem that he is very much an Indian and that his roots lie deep in India. As Ezekiel notes, “I am not a Hindu and my background… I am an Indian.” In the following lines, Ezekiel documents some of the key formative influences that shaped his subjectivity. There is a role for self-mockery and irony that predominates in the poem: ‘A poet rascal clown was born.’ Yet there are darker and perhaps more intense moments: the persona of a Jewish boy growing up in an overwhelmingly non-Jewish environment attending a Roman Catholic School is plagued by fear and anxiety, as reflected in the following lines: ‘A mugging Jew among the wolves,’ a phrase that is perhaps a mechanism of self defense.
At the same time, Ezekiel showed early signs of alienation from his own minority religious ethos: “At home on Friday … The more I searched, the less I found…” Coming upon to Ezakeil’s next poem, which is once again a very much Indian in English, we discover that the poet has not only parodied ‘pidgin’ or ‘basic English’ is called, but has also made fun of the craze for , ‘foreign’ or fashionable young ladies and their mental vacuity. It is a social satire in which the poet has treated ironical affections and pretensions as well as wrong use of English of Indian Sahibs and Memsahibs. The poem is in a form of farewell speech. The party is thrown in the honor of Miss Pushpa who is “departing for foreign” in two or three days to improve her prospects. Speaker praises the quality of her heart by saying that she is sweet both internally and externally. She always smiles even when there is no reason for her to smile tough the speaker does not remember the place where exactly she lives, “I am not remembering which place…That was long time ago”. There is a touch of drama when someone tells speaker that she belongs to Surat; she is equally popular among both men and women.
The “Jewish Wedding in Bombay” is direct expression of one of Ezekiel’s realizations about his background. The poem is autobiographical too because it is the recollection of Ezekiel’s marriage with Daisy Jacob. The poem begins with “Her mother shed a tear… and said be silly”. He has expressed his feelings on how the religious places and religious occasions are spoiled by the people, “Even the most orthodox it was said ate beef… and swearing and drinking”. His nuptial night was celebrated in the kitchen of his wife’s family apartment and instead of bed they had floor mattress. The poem ends with the description of the first serious marriage quarrel as Ezekiel says, “During our first serious marriage quarrel… I had read instructed me now.” Hence, after analyzing the above poem, one can conclude that the new poets or the post-independence poets were attuned to such everyday events.
Ezekiel, ultimately, perceived that it was not necessary for a poet to copy or imitate the writing style and language of English poets. Originality of ideas and concepts was most important for a person, whatever his religion or background, in order to become a truly insightful poet.