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.