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Night of the Scorpion – Nissim Ezekiel


  • Years ago, when the poet was a child, he witnessed the brutality of his ‘loving’ neighbors who didn’t allow his father take his wife, the poet’s mother, to a hospital after she was stung by a scorpion.
  • His village was ruled by superstitions and there was hardly anyone who was not superstitious.
  • If you are stung by a scorpion or bitten by a snake in this village, call the priest in, perform a series of prayers and rituals, god will cure you.
  • If you suffered, it is good, because this way you can burn your sins away and enter eternal life.
  • If you died, don’t worry, it was how your fate had been decided. This was the general line of belief in this village.
  • Now we will see what really had happened in the night. It was raining for ten long hours in the village.
  • A scorpion, having been forced to abandon his flooded hole, came to the poet’s house for shelter and warmth.
  • Once inside, it sat in a dark corner but the poet’s mother entered the room and accidentally made a false step on the scorpion and was stung in the toe.
  • She screamed with pain and the scorpion, which was aware of the brutality of the superstitious villagers, fled.
  • What happened to the scorpion? What happened to the poet’s mother? Was she rushed to a hospital? Was a doctor called for?


  • The theme of the poem is presented through an incident in which the poet’s mother is bitten by a scorpion on rainy night.
  • The villagers on hearing of this unfortunate event, come to see her, praying to god and giving all kinds of justifications for her suffering. With their prayers and words they try to console the victim.
  • The victim’s husband who is otherwise a skeptic and a rationalist also gives in to every curse and blessing.
  • The poem shows how when a critical situation arises, human beings are always willing to help one another.
  • The ordinary villagers show their simplicity and sympathy; though they are not of much help, and give in to superstitions and false beliefs, they try to help out.


  • Poet’s mother
    A little careless woman. She should not have gone into the kitchen without a lantern. The mother bears the pain and suffering for twenty hours, writhing in pain and when she recovers, she is thankful that she was bitten and not her children, bringing out the maternal love of a mother for her children.
  • Poet’s father
    The father is logical and scientific in his thinking and does not believe in superstitions and blind beliefs. Yet when his wife is bitten by the scorpion he is anything but logical. He tries out every curse and blessing, every possible antidote. He summons the holy man to perform his rites and even pours paraffin on the bitten to and ignites it. The mother suffers the bite of the scorpion. She groans and moans on the mat twisting and turning in pain. As soon as the poison loses its effect she thanks god for sparing her children. She epitomizes motherhood and like a typical Indian mother is selfless in her love for her children.
  • The Scorpion
    A wise creature. Probably it was advised by elders – “Son, if you happen to sting someone in the village, do not stay there or hide; the people here are mad; they will chase for you and find you and kill you because they believe that by stopping you, they can stop the movement of your poison in the victim’s body.”

Stanza 01

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.


  • Stung is the past tense of sting (Sting – stung – stung)
  • Part with – Give away (here it refers to the scorpion’s stinging the poet’s mother)
  • Diabolic – Devilish; evil
  • Risk (v) – Run risk; “take risk”

Questions and Answers

  1. Why does the poem begin with the poet’s remembering the night?
    The night in which the poet’s mother was stung by a scorpion had been a terrible one for him. It was the night when a superstitious culture made his mother suffer from a scorpion-sting which she could have escaped with the help of medicines. It was the night when the poet, a child at that time, witnessed the evil face of his society.
  2. What forced the scorpion take shelter in the poet’s house?
    It was a rainy night and water streamed down into the scorpion’s hole. Having been forced to abandon its flooded hole, the scorpion, without any intention to sting anyone, came to the poet’s house for shelter and warmth.
  3. Under what circumstances did the scorpion sting the poet’s mother?
    The scorpion had no intention to sting the poet’s mother so what happened was accidental and unintentional. It was probably the poet’s mother who walked over the scorpion in the dark kitchen and hurt it and the scorpion’s reaction was quite natural.
  4. How did the scorpion ‘part with its poison?’
    The scorpion parted with its poison by stinging the toe of the poet’s mother, thus injecting its poison into her veins.

The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred
times to paralyze the Evil One.


  • Peasants – Villagers
  • Swarms – Group
  • Buzzed – (here) Chanted
  • Evil One – The scorpion is the Evil One because the peasants believed that it was the incarnation of Devil.

Questions and Answers

  1. Why are the peasants compared to a swarm of flies?
    The comparison is the poet’s expression of discontent with the peasants. He hated them because they made the night a hell for him, his father and most importantly, for his mother.
  2. Who is the Evil One here? Why is it evil?
    The Evil One is the scorpion that stung the poet’s mother. It is considered Evil because the people associated the sting of scorpions with that of the evil power.
  3. Why is the peasants’ prayers sound like buzzing in the poet’s ears?
    Though the peasants meant good and swarmed around the poet’s house to help the family and the victim of the sting, their actions and intentions brought endless pain to the poet’s mother.
  4. How did the peasants try to stop the scorpion?

With candles and with lanterns,
throwing giant scorpion shadows on the
mud-baked walls they searched for him:
He was not found.


  • Lanterns – Old-fashioned oil-lamps.
  • Giant scorpion shadows – Shadows of the peasants that looked like scorpions.

Questions and Answers

  1. In what sense, do you think, were the neighbors virtuous/good?
    The neighbors were essentially good and virtuous. Their running into the poet’s house for help in a rainy night was more than just helping and caring. Their attempts to find and kill the scorpion was another complementing example though the civilized mind can’t find it sensible.
  2. What is the pun (double-meaning) applied in the ‘giant scorpion shadows?’
    The giant scorpion shadows is an expression of extreme contempt. With each one searching for the scorpion with a candle or lantern behind another, so many shadows fell on the walls. Though these were shadows of the neighbors, the poet’s childish yet civilized mind saw them as giant scorpion shadows – deadlier and more poisonous than the scorpion who had fled the scene.

They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the
scorpion made his poison moved in
Mother’s blood, they said.

Questions and Answers

  1. Why did it appear to the neighbors that they should get the scorpion?
    The neighbors were of the belief that they could stop the poison that flowed to the victim’s brain by stopping the perpetrator, the scorpion.

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 evil balanced in this unreal world
against the sum of good become diminished by your pain.

Questions and Answers

  1. Why did the peasants want the scorpion sit still?
    The peasants believed that the poison in the mother’s blood moved swiftly as the scorpion moved. They therefore wanted the scorpion to sit still.
  2. Throughout the poem the scorpion is addressed ‘he.’ What sense does this personification make?
    This indicates the villagers’ superstition. These people were of the opinion that a poisonous scorpion that dares to sting a woman in the darkness could only be the Devil in disguise and devils were considered more close to humans or at least, possessing human characteristics.
  3. What were the prevailing concepts of sin and the power of suffering that could rise against the power of sin?
    The villagers attributed one’s sufferings to her sins in some previous birth. They said that one’s present suffering would burn away her previous birth’s sins and had considerable effect on the sins she would commit in the next births.
  4. Does this poem attempt to disqualify Hinduism?
    No. It is true that Hinduism, like all the other religions in the world, is a little superstitious. What the poet slams in the poem is not the essence of Hinduism but the evil elements in it especially when it is interpreted by ignorant people.
  5. What do you mean by Sum of evil?
    The sum of evil, as understood by the peasants in the story, is a concept that each sin committed by a person is stored in the book of virtue to judge a person’s eligibility to enter Heaven.

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 center, the peace of understanding on each face.


  • Purify – Make pure
  • Flesh – Body
  • Spirit – Mind/soul
  • Ambition – Greed

Questions and Answers

  1. How was poison expected to purify the flesh of desire?
  2. What does ‘spirit of ambition’ mean?
  3. What kind of peace and understanding did the villagers have in common?
    Although the villagers were sad to see the mother suffering, the understanding that it was doing some good to both her body and her spirit – brought peace on their faces. The peasants believed that the suffering would cleanse some of her sins of the poet birth or of the next birth. With her suffering the balance of evil in this world would be reduced. It would cleanse her soul and kill the spirit of desire which is the root cause of suffering in the world.

More candles, more lanterns, more neighbors,
more insects, and the endless rain.
My mother twisted through and through,
groaning on a mat. 


My father, skeptic, 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.


  • Skeptic – Non believer
  • Curse and blessings – Spells, mantras
  • Herb –
  • Hybrid
  • Paraffin – A chemical pain-killer

Questions and Answers

  1. How far was the poet’s father different from the other peasants?
    The poet’s father was not the least superstitious as the other peasants. He was a man of reason. As a pure skeptic, he reasoned first and he suspected religion and faiths.
  2. “Trying every curse and blessing.” Explain.
    Here curse refers to the priest’s chanting of mantras while blessings refer to the use of medicines and medicinal hybrids like paraffin.
  3. What did the poet’s father do for his wife?
    The poet’s father was resorting to every possible, sensible ways to cure his wife. While the villagers went on searching for the scorpion and the priest chanted mantras, the man of reason made use of herbs and hybrid medicines.

I watched the flame feeding on my mother.
I watched the holy man perform his rites to
tame the poison with an incantation.

Questions and Answers

  1. What came to the poet’s mind when he saw the fire?
    “The flame” probably reminds the poet of the funeral or burning or cremation of a dead body according to funeral rites. In it, the dead body is consigned to flames. So the burning of the mother’s toe, probably reminds the poet of that.
  2. How was the holy man trying to tame the scorpion’s poison in the poet’s mothers body?

After twenty hours it lost its sting.
My mother only said,
“Thank God the scorpion picked on me,
And spared my children.”

Questions and Answers

  1. How was the mother finally cured? Do you think it was the result of prayers and incantations? Explain.
    The mother was finally cured when the poison got dissolved in her blood. No, it was not. It was quite a natural process. If the prayers had been heard and incantations had any powers, she should not have suffered for such a long time like twenty hours.
  2. Why did the mother thank God for letting the scorpion sting her and sparing her children?
  3. The poem projects superstition. Mention any superstition that still prevails in India.


    • Most religions have superstitions. In this poem the poet criticizes certain old Hindu religious superstitions. (Sati, for example, was a Hindu practice)



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