Background information:
Imtiaz Dharker lives in India, in the city of Bombay. During the dry
season, the temperature can reach 40 degrees. The poem is set in a
vast area of temporary accommodation called Dharavi, on the
outskirts of Bombay, where millions of migrants have gathered from
other parts of India. Because it is not an official living area, there
is always a shortage of water.
In an interview, the poet says: 'But when a pipe bursts, when a
water tanker goes past, there's always a little child running behind
the water tanker getting the bits of drips and it's like money, it's
like currency. In a hot country in that kind of climate, it's like a
gift. And the children may have been brought up in the city and
grown up as migrants, but the mothers will probably remember in
the village they've come from they would have to walk miles with
pots to get to a well, to the closest water source. So it really is
very precious. When the water comes, it's like a god.'
Blessing
The skin cracks like a pod.
There never is enough water.
Imagine the drip of it,
the small splash, echo
in a tin mug,
the voice of a kindly god.
Sometimes, the sudden rush
of fortune. The municipal pipe
bursts,
silver crashes to the ground
and the flow has found
a roar of tongues. From the
huts,
a congregation: every man woman
child for streets around
butts in, with pots,
brass, copper, aluminium,
plastic buckets,
frantic hands,
and naked children
screaming in the liquid sun,
their highlights polished to
perfection,
flashing light,
as the blessing sings
over their small bones.
The poem starts with a simple statement, 'There is
never enough water', and shows what it is like to be
without water.
The skin cracks like a pod.
There never is enough water.
Imagine the drip of it,
the small splash, echo
in a tin mug,
the voice of a kindly god.
When the poet
imagines
water, it is so
special it is
compared to a
god.
When a water pipe bursts, we are shown how
the community responds: they collect as
much water as possible.
Sometimes, the
sudden rush
of fortune. The
municipal pipe
bursts,
silver crashes to
the ground
and the flow has
found
a roar of
tongues. From
the huts,
a congregation: every
man woman
child for streets around
butts in, with pots,
brass, copper, aluminium,
plastic buckets,
frantic hands,
provided by the
local council
Children enjoy playing in
it
and naked children
screaming in the liquid sun,
their highlights polished to
perfection,
flashing light,
as the blessing sings
over their small bones
Structure
The poem is structured in four stanzas of different
lengths.
•Why has the poet organised her thoughts in this
way?
It is significant that short stanzas (with short,
abrupt sentences) express what it is like to be
without water, and longer stanzas (with
flowing sentences) show what it is like
suddenly to have water.
Structure
Look at the full stops in this poem.
How many full stops are there in
the first half of the poem (up to
line 11)?
How many are in the second?
What is the effect of
this?
Language
Stanza 3 refers to 'men, women
and children', but stanza 4
focuses on the children alone, as
the water pours over 'their small
bones'.
Look at the different reactions of the adults
and the children to the pipe bursting.
Why did the poet choose to end her poem in this
way?
Imagery
The poem opens with a striking
image of dryness: 'The skin
cracks like a pod.'.
How does
a pod
crack?
What sort of
skin/pod do you
imagine here?
What effect does this simile have on you?
Imagery
The sound of a drip of water is described in a
metaphor as 'the voice of a kindly god', while
water itself is referred to as fortune, as silver,
and as 'the blessing'. What do these words have
in common?
'Blessing' is a religious word: blessings come
from gods. A congregation can just mean 'a crowd
of people', but its main meaning is 'a crowd of
worshippers'.
What does this imagery suggest about the importance
of water? Why did the poet choose Blessing as the
title of her poem?
Sound
Can you find any words in this
poem which rhyme?
For example, note pod/godand
ground/found/around. What is
the effect of these words?
Can you find any
alliteration?
Try 'the flow has found' (line 10),
'polished to perfection' (line 20).
What is the effect of this?
Sound
When the water appears, we get
words like rush, burst, crash, flow,
roar.
What do these words have in common?
What's the effect of putting them close
together?
Tone
How should the poem be read?
In a pitiful voice, sympathising with the
poor of India?
OR
Excitedly, celebrating the blessing of the pipe
bursting?
Ideas
The main idea in this poem is
that water - so essential to life
- comes to be seen by people
in a hot, dry country as
supremely precious, a divine
gift - a blessing.
Quotation Commentary
The skin cracks like a pod.This image of the effect of
drought refers to the skin of the earth, which cracks when
dry and becomes useless for growing things, and the skin of
a seed-pod, which dries up and becomes brittle once it has
fallen to earth. But it also reminds us of the pain we feel
when our own skin splits ...
silver crashes to the ground .. The rushing water,
shimmering in the bright sun, shines like silver; but the
word also suggests its value to the villagers - like an
outpouring of precious metal, which will make them
rich.
From the huts / a congregation ...Congregation, like
blessing, suggests that the outpouring of water is a
kind of holy communion, a religious event - 'the voice
of a kindly god.'
Background information:
Nissim Ezekiel was born in India in 1924 to an Indian
Jewish family. He studied in Bombay and in London.
Over the past fifty years, he has written eight
collections of poetry. He won the Akademi Award for a
volume called Latter Day Psalms. He is also a
renowned playwright, art critic, lecturer and editor.
He is credited with beginning the modernist movement
in India and has become one of India's best known
poets.
Night of the Scorpion
I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion. Ten
hours
of steady rain had driven him
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.
Parting with his poison - flash
of diabolic tail in the dark room 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.
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not
found.
They clicked their tongues.
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.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next
birth, they said.
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
Night of the Scorpion
May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and your spirit of
ambition,
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.
My mother twisted through and
through,
groaning on a mat.
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
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.
I watched the flame feeding on my
mother.
I watched the holy man perform
his rites
to tame the poison with an
incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked
on me
And spared my children.
What is the poem 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 sting.'
After her ordeal, the mother is merely thankful that the
scorpion stung her and not the children
Structure
The poem is written in free verse with varying line
lengths and no rhyme. The first part is long and full of
activity - the scorpion's bite and the reaction of the
villagers. The second part, the mother's reaction, is
just three lines long.
Sometimes you will see this poem printed as if it were
prose. What differences does it make when it is set out
in lines? What, if anything, do the lines and the breaks
between them contribute?
Language
Night of the Scorpion
I remember the night
my mother
was stung by a
scorpion.
The poem starts off in the first person
- Ezekiel describes an event that really
happened. However, he does not give
his own feelings or reactions: we
realise he is merely the narrator. Most
of the poem is in the third person, as
Ezekiel reports on what other people
do and say.
The poet uses
language to
convey his
ideas.
The title is in some ways
deceptive. It leads us to believe
we are in for a frightening and
dramatic tale about a
scorpion.However, the poem is
not about the scorpion, but the
reactions of different people to its
sting.
Language
Ten hours
of steady rain had driven
him
to crawl beneath a sack
of rice.
Parting with his poison flash
of diabolic tail in the
dark room he risked the rain again.
Ezekiel does not show the
scorpion as a villain: it was
driven to shelter 'beneath a sack
of rice' (line 4) after ten hours of
rain. It probably stung the poet's
mother instinctively as a warning
to her when she approached its
hiding place, rather than
harming her on purpose; and
having delivered the sting,
scared of the people indoors, '
he risked the rain again' (line 7
Language
The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred
times
to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not
found.
They clicked their tongues.
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.
May your suffering decrease
the misfortunes of your next
birth, they said.
However, the villagers are more superstitious and link the scorpion to 'the Evil
One' (line 10). They claim that the poison will help in many ways, for example
by burning away the sins of the woman's former life - 'her previous birth' (line
19) and ease her life after this one - 'her next birth' (line 22). Perhaps this is
their way of making sense of the event: if 'good' comes out of it, it is easier to
bear.
NEXT…….
May the sum of all evil
balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good
become diminished by your pain.
May the poison purify your flesh
of desire, and your spirit of ambition,
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.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
The events of the night are
described in rich detail - we
know about the mud hut
and the candles and
lanterns, yet we know little
about the individual
neighbours: Ezekiel lumps
them together as they.
What effect does this
have?
My father, sceptic, rationalist,
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.
I watched the flame feeding on my
mother.
I watched the holy man perform his
rites
to tame the poison with an incantation.
After twenty hours
it lost its sting.
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.
Ezekiel's father is usually a sceptic
and a rationalist - in other words, he
does not believe in superstitions and
is not religious. Yet when his wife is
suffering, he tries 'every curse and
blessing' (line 37) to help her. The
final, simple 'After twenty hours / it
lost its sting' (lines 44-5) is a put
down: nothing worked, after all.
The final three lines are important.
We hear Ezekiel's mother's exact
words, her simple speech
contrasting to the gabbling
neighbours. She doesn't show any
bitterness over her ordeal: she is
just grateful that it was she who was
hurt rather than her children.
(Children are more vulnerable to
scorpion bites than adults.) She
thanks God (line 47).
Imagery
Ezekiel uses a simile, comparing the
villagers to 'swarms of flies' (line 8). It
is striking that he uses an insect
image to describe the people's
reaction to an invertebrate's sting. He
develops the simile in the following
line: 'they buzzed the name of God'
(line 9). What does the fly simile
suggest about Ezekiel's attitude to the
neighbours?
•There is a contrast between the
neighbours' 'peace of understanding'
(line 31) and the mother who 'twisted
... groaning on a mat' (line 35). It is
ironic that they are at peace because
of her discomfort.
•The neighbours' candles
and lanterns throw 'giant
scorpion shadows' on the
walls (line 13). We know
that the scorpion has
already fled, so are these
images of the people
themselves? (A scorpion
has eight legs, so the
shadow of a small group
of people standing
together could look like a
scorpion.) If so, what does
this show about Ezekiel's
attitude to the neighbours?
Sound
There is alliteration throughout the poem which
helps to link or emphasise ideas: the scorpion is
seen 'Parting with his poison' (line 5), Ezekiel's
father tries 'herb and hybrid' (line 38), Ezekiel
sees 'flame feeding' (line 41) on his mother.
Underline other examples of alliteration. Can you
explain their effect?
•There is a lot of repetition so that we 'hear' the
villagers' prayers and incantations. Ezekiel uses direct
speech, May... , to dramatise the scene and the
echoed 'they said' is like a chorus.
Tone
Should this poem be read:
In a factual tone, like a report, narrating the
events of the night?
In a mystic tone, to contrast the different
calls to gods and God throughout the
poem?
Reverently, to show Ezekiel's pride in his
mother?
Ideas
The ideas in this poem concern our
difficult feelings toward aspects of
the natural world which seem to
threaten us - the frightened insect
becomes the Evil One! - and the
complex ways in which individuals
and communities respond when
disaster strikes one of their number
Quotation Commentary
flash / of diabolic tail in the
dark room -It is hard to know
whose opinions this is Ezekiel's or the neighbours'.
Ezekiel initially sees the
scorpion quite
sympathetically, but here it is
linked with the devil.
Thank God the scorpion picked
on me ..By using direct speech,
Ezekiel shows his mother's
selflessness. He chooses her
simple words to end the poem
to highlight his love and
admiration for her.
More candles, more
lanterns, more
neighbours,Ezekiel
seems irritated. More
and more peasants are
arriving with their lamps
and nothing can help
his mother. The
repetition of more
shows how frustrated
he is.
Background
Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930, where
his father worked for the Church Missionary Society.
After university, he worked in Lagos for the Nigerian
Broadcasting Service, after studying broadcasting at
the BBC.
He is one of the most admired African writers in
English. His novels trace Africa's transition from
traditional ways to modern ways. He also writes
poetry and essays.
Vultures
In the greyness
and drizzle of one despondent
dawn unstirred by harbingers
of sunbreak a vulture
perching high on broken
bone of a dead tree
nestled close to his
mate his smooth
bashed-in head, a pebble
on a stem rooted in
a dump of gross
feathers, inclined affectionately
to hers. Yesterday they picked
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water-logged
trench and ate the
things in its bowel. Full
gorged they chose their
roost
keeping the hollowed
remnant
in easy range of cold
telescopic eyes ...
Strange
indeed how love in other
ways so particular
Vultures
will pick a corner
in that charnel-house
tidy it and coil up there,
perhaps
even fall asleep - her face
turned to the wall!
... Thus the Commandant
at Belsen
Camp going home for
the day with fumes of
human roast clinging
rebelliously to his hairy
nostrils will stop
at the wayside sweet-shop
and pick up a chocolate
for his tender offspring
waiting at home for
Daddy's return ...
Praise bounteous
providence if you will
that grants even an ogre
a tiny glow-worm
tenderness encapsulated
in icy caverns of a cruel
heart or else despair
for in every germ
of that kindred love is
lodged the perpetuity
of evil.
Vocabulary
charnel-house (line 26)a vault where dead bodies or bones
are piled
Belsen Camp (line 30)Bergen-Belsen was one of the most
notorious concentration camps of World War II. It was
founded in 1943 and used by the Nazis to exterminate
50,000 Jews - including Anne Frank - and other political
'undesirables'. It was liberated in 1945.
kindred (line 49)related by blood, close family
perpetuity (line 50)going on for ever
What is the poem
about?
The poem begins with a graphic and unpleasant description of a
pair of vultures who nestle lovingly together after feasting on a
corpse. The poet remarks on the strangeness of love, existing in
places one would not have thought possible. He goes on to
consider the 'love' a concentration camp commander shows to his
family - having spent his day burning human corpses, he buys them
sweets on the way home,
The conclusion of the poem is ambiguous. On one hand, Achebe
praises providence that even the cruelest of beings can show
sparks of love, yet on the other he despairs - they show love solely
for their family, and so allow themselves to commit atrocities
towards others.
Structure
The poem is written in free verse, with lines of
different lengths. The lines are short so we read the
poem slowly and can appreciate its full horrors.
It is divided into four sections. Each is marked by an
indented line rather than a new stanza, perhaps to
emphasise the logical flow of ideas. There is minimal
punctuation - why?
Language
The title is in some
ways deceptive, like
Ezekiel's The Night of
the Scorpion. Although
the poem begins with a
cold and repulsive
portrait of the vultures,
we realise that they are
a symbol of evil and
their main purpose is
to introduce us to the
theme of the poem.
The description of the vultures is in the
past tense but the Belsen Commandant
is described in the present tense,
perhaps to remind us that evil is all
around us now.
The concentration camp Commandant cannot
escape the evil deeds he has spent the day
performing - the fumes of human roast [cling]
rebelliously to his hairy nostrils (line 32). The word
roast makes us think of food, so it is doubly
repulsive that he then buys chocolate for his tender
child (or children) on the way home.
Which of the two conclusions in the fourth section of the poem is stronger? How do
you feel Achebe wants us to leave the poem - with hope because love can exist in
even the most evil creatures, or with despair because, despite that love, they cannot
stop committing evil?
Imagery
•There are metaphors of horror and
death: the dead tree (line 6) branch on
which the vultures are roosting is
described in as a broken bone (line 5),
while the male vulture's bashed-in
head is a pebble on a stem (line 9)
and its body is a dump of gross
feathers (line 11).
•We see the Belsen
Commandant - a mass
murderer - as Daddy. Why
does Achebe use a child's
name for him rather than
'father'?
•In the fourth section the poet again uses metaphors: the evil
Commandant is an ogre (line 43) with merely a spark of love - a tiny glowworm tenderness (line 44) in the icy caverns of a cruel heart (line 46).
These are fairly clichéd images, perhaps because Achebe wanted to
suggest that what he is describing is nothing new: there will always be
love and evil in the world.
Sound
•There is some alliteration in the poem,
but otherwise Achebe concentrates on
visual images rather than sound effects
to present his ideas.
Tone
Should the poem be read:
In a nightmarish tone, as in a horror film?
In a cold, dead tone, to emphasise all the
horrors described?
In a warmer tone, to celebrate the love
that does exist?
Ideas
The ideas in this poem concern the relationship
between evil and love. In the first part the vultures
are used as a symbol for the paradox that evil and
love can co-exist; in the second part Achebe uses
the Belsen Commandant as an actual example of
this. Have a look at the quotations below, and our
suggestions about how they fit in to this theme.
Quotation Commentary
Strange ..Strange is isolated in a
single-word line. This makes us
dwell on the word and prepares
us for the image of love settled in
an evil place. By the end of the
poem, Achebe shows that even
the most evil people experience
kindred love, but that love is not
powerful enough to halt the evil.
..they picked / the eyes of a
swollen / corpse .. Achebe
picks the most gruesome
images he can find when
describing the vultures to
emphasise their evil. This
prepares us for the human
evil he goes on to explore.
for in the very germ...is lodged the perpetuity of evil.It is poignant
that Achebe concludes the poem with the idea of the
predominance of evil. Evil is lodged within love - and evil is the
haunting final word of the poem.
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