blessing_night_of_the_scorpion

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					     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.      a congregation: every man woman
There never is enough water.     child for streets around
                                 butts in, with pots,
                                 brass, copper, aluminium,
Imagine the drip of it,
                                 plastic buckets,
the small splash, echo
                                 frantic hands,
in a tin mug,
the voice of a kindly god.
                                 and naked children
                                 screaming in the liquid sun,
Sometimes, the sudden rush
                                 their highlights polished to
of fortune. The municipal pipe
                                 perfection,
bursts,
                                 flashing light,
silver crashes to the ground
                                 as the blessing sings
and the flow has found
                                 over their small bones.
a roar of tongues. From the
huts,
 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,              When the poet
the small splash, echo               imagines
in a tin mug,                        water, it is so
the voice of a kindly god.           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        a congregation: every
sudden rush           man woman
of fortune. The       child for streets around
municipal pipe        butts in, with pots,
bursts,               brass, copper, aluminium,
silver crashes to     plastic buckets,
the ground            frantic hands,
and the flow has
found
a roar of              provided by the
tongues. From          local council
the huts,
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                What sort of
  a pod                   skin/pod do you
  crack?                  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        They clicked their tongues.
was stung by a scorpion. Ten          With every movement that the
hours                                 scorpion made
of steady rain had driven him         his poison moved in Mother's
to crawl beneath a sack of rice.      blood, they said.
Parting with his poison - flash       May he sit still, they said.
of diabolic tail in the dark room -   May the sins of your previous
he risked the rain again.             birth
The peasants came like swarms of      be burned away tonight, they
flies                                 said.
and buzzed the name of God a          May your suffering decrease
hundred times                         the misfortunes of your next
to paralyse the Evil One.             birth, they said.
With candles and with lanterns        May the sum of all evil
throwing giant scorpion shadows       balanced in this unreal world
on the mud-baked walls                against the sum of good
they searched for him: he was not     become diminished by your pain.
found.
                 Night of the Scorpion

May the poison purify your flesh   trying every curse and blessing,
of desire, and your spirit of      powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.
ambition,                          He even poured a little paraffin
they said, and they sat around     upon the bitten toe and put a
on the floor with my mother in     match to it.
the centre,                        I watched the flame feeding on my
the peace of understanding on      mother.
each face.                         I watched the holy man perform
More candles, more lanterns,       his rites
more neighbours,                   to tame the poison with an
more insects, and the endless      incantation.
rain.                              After twenty hours
My mother twisted through and      it lost its sting.
through,
groaning on a mat.                 My mother only said
My father, sceptic, rationalist,   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?
                                                             The poet uses
                                                             language to
                 Language                                    convey his
                                                             ideas.

                                            The title is in some ways
Night of the Scorpion
                                            deceptive. It leads us to believe
                                            we are in for a frightening and
     I remember the night                   dramatic tale about a
     my mother                              scorpion.However, the poem is
     was stung by a                         not about the scorpion, but the
     scorpion.                              reactions of different people to its
                                            sting.
 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.
                   Language
                            Ezekiel does not show the
Ten hours                   scorpion as a villain: it was
of steady rain had driven   driven to shelter 'beneath a sack
him                         of rice' (line 4) after ten hours of
to crawl beneath a sack     rain. It probably stung the poet's
                            mother instinctively as a warning
of rice.                    to her when she approached its
Parting with his poison -   hiding place, rather than
flash                       harming her on purpose; and
of diabolic tail in the     having delivered the sting,
                            scared of the people indoors, '
dark room -                 he risked the rain again' (line 7
he risked the rain again.
                                  Language
The peasants came like swarms of flies             With every movement that the
and buzzed the name of God a hundred               scorpion made
times                                              his poison moved in Mother's
to paralyse the Evil One.                          blood, they said.
With candles and with lanterns                     May he sit still, they said.
throwing giant scorpion shadows                    May the sins of your previous
on the mud-baked walls                             birth
they searched for him: he was not                  be burned away tonight, they
found.                                             said.
They clicked their tongues.                        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                The events of the night are
against the sum of good                      described in rich detail - we
become diminished by your pain.              know about the mud hut
                                             and the candles and
May the poison purify your flesh             lanterns, yet we know little
of desire, and your spirit of ambition,      about the individual
they said, and they sat around               neighbours: Ezekiel lumps
on the floor with my mother in the centre,   them together as they.
the peace of understanding on each face.     What effect does this
More candles, more lanterns, more            have?
neighbours,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat.
                                          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
My father, sceptic, rationalist,          final, simple 'After twenty hours / it
trying every curse and blessing,          lost its sting' (lines 44-5) is a put
powder, mixture, herb and hybrid.         down: nothing worked, after all.
He even poured a little paraffin
upon the bitten toe and put a match to
it.
I watched the flame feeding on my
mother.                                   The final three lines are important.
I watched the holy man perform his        We hear Ezekiel's mother's exact
rites                                     words, her simple speech
to tame the poison with an incantation.   contrasting to the gabbling
After twenty hours                        neighbours. She doesn't show any
it lost its sting.                        bitterness over her ordeal: she is
                                          just grateful that it was she who was
My mother only said                       hurt rather than her children.
Thank God the scorpion picked on me       (Children are more vulnerable to
And spared my children.                   scorpion bites than adults.) She
                                          thanks God (line 47).
                             Imagery
Ezekiel uses a simile, comparing the
                                              •The neighbours' candles
villagers to 'swarms of flies' (line 8). It
                                              and lanterns throw 'giant
is striking that he uses an insect
                                              scorpion shadows' on the
image to describe the people's
                                              walls (line 13). We know
reaction to an invertebrate's sting. He
                                              that the scorpion has
develops the simile in the following
                                              already fled, so are these
line: 'they buzzed the name of God'
                                              images of the people
(line 9). What does the fly simile
                                              themselves? (A scorpion
suggest about Ezekiel's attitude to the
                                              has eight legs, so the
neighbours?
                                              shadow of a small group
                                              of people standing
 •There is a contrast between the             together could look like a
 neighbours' 'peace of understanding'         scorpion.) If so, what does
 (line 31) and the mother who 'twisted        this show about Ezekiel's
 ... groaning on a mat' (line 35). It is      attitude to the neighbours?
 ironic that they are at peace because
 of her discomfort.
                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'.      More candles, more
Ezekiel initially sees the         lanterns, more
scorpion quite                     neighbours,Ezekiel
sympathetically, but here it is    seems irritated. More
linked with the devil.             and more peasants are
                                   arriving with their lamps
                                   and nothing can help
Thank God the scorpion picked      his mother. The
on me ..By using direct speech,    repetition of more
Ezekiel shows his mother's         shows how frustrated
selflessness. He chooses her       he is.
simple words to end the poem
to highlight his love and
admiration for her.
                  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
                                    trench and ate the
of sunbreak a vulture
perching high on broken             things in its bowel. Full
bone of a dead tree                 gorged they chose their
nestled close to his                roost
mate his smooth                     keeping the hollowed
bashed-in head, a pebble            remnant
on a stem rooted in                 in easy range of cold
a dump of gross                     telescopic eyes ...
feathers, inclined affectionately    Strange
                                    indeed how love in other
to hers. Yesterday they picked
                                    ways so particular
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water-logged
                       Vultures
                               and pick up a chocolate
will pick a corner            for his tender offspring
in that charnel-house         waiting at home for
tidy it and coil up there,    Daddy's return ...
perhaps
even fall asleep - her face   Praise bounteous
turned to the wall!           providence if you will
... Thus the Commandant       that grants even an ogre
at Belsen                     a tiny glow-worm
Camp going home for           tenderness encapsulated
the day with fumes of         in icy caverns of a cruel
human roast clinging          heart or else despair
 rebelliously to his hairy    for in every germ
nostrils will stop            of that kindred love is
at the wayside sweet-shop     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 description of the vultures is in the
 The title is in some         past tense but the Belsen Commandant
 ways deceptive, like         is described in the present tense,
 Ezekiel's The Night of       perhaps to remind us that evil is all
 the Scorpion. Although       around us now.
 the poem begins with a
 cold and repulsive           The concentration camp Commandant cannot
 portrait of the vultures,    escape the evil deeds he has spent the day
 we realise that they are     performing - the fumes of human roast [cling]
 a symbol of evil and         rebelliously to his hairy nostrils (line 32). The word
 their main purpose is        roast makes us think of food, so it is doubly
 to introduce us to the       repulsive that he then buys chocolate for his tender
 theme of the poem.           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          •We see the Belsen
  death: the dead tree (line 6) branch on     Commandant - a mass
  which the vultures are roosting is          murderer - as Daddy. Why
  described in as a broken bone (line 5),     does Achebe use a child's
  while the male vulture's bashed-in          name for him rather than
  head is a pebble on a stem (line 9)         'father'?
  and its body is a dump of gross
  feathers (line 11).


•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 glow-
worm 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           ..they picked / the eyes of a
dwell on the word and prepares            swollen / corpse .. Achebe
us for the image of love settled in       picks the most gruesome
an evil place. By the end of the          images he can find when
poem, Achebe shows that even              describing the vultures to
the most evil people experience           emphasise their evil. This
kindred love, but that love is not        prepares us for the human
powerful enough to halt the evil.         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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