Comparing and Contrasting Poems

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Comparing and Contrasting Poems.                          



 Culture, tradition and faith, ‘The Night of the Scorpion’ by Nissim Ezekiel and ‘Sacrifice’ by Taufiq Rafat are two poems that revolve around these themes. The poets question and criticise these values and provoke the reader to think; should culture and tradition have any value in today’s society? Is faith still a legitimate factor in the 21st century? Both poets debate this highly controversial issue through their personal recollection and feelings towards them now that they look back on them.

     Both titles have a magnetism to them which draws us in, curious and hungry for more. Rafat’s title ‘Sacrifice’ is short and snappy where he effectively uses the negative connotation of the word ‘Sacrifice’, and uses the utter horror that people feel when they come to know that such a concept is still alive somewhere and not yet banished to the past.

  Ezekiel also employs the effective use of negative connotation of the words ‘Night’ and ‘Scorpion’, as well as drawing the reader in with curiosity, but he does so in a different manner. Ezekiel uses the simplicity of the words to give the reader a taste of his work and plays upon the emotions that words such as ‘Night’ and ‘Scorpion’ arouse in people.

  Scorpions are considered very deadly and unlucky creatures throughout the world and when the reader sees this word immediately visualises a dangerous creature and so using only the title of the poem the poet has already started to evoke imagery and has started to use the reader’s defencelessness. The kinglike qualities we assume the scorpion has after reading the title are the way the poet plays on our curiosity and vulnerability.

  Ezekiel uses the simple words: ‘The Night of the Scorpion’ to catch the reader’s eye, even the words ‘of the’ signify the scorpion and give us such a sense of power that we are left amazed. Some people may also believe that Ezekiel has used this title only to inform us of the time of the event and to set the scene for us; however, I believe the title has greater significance and regard it as almost a window into the poem.  

  I believe that both poets have used many devices such as imagery, connotations of words, repetition, metaphors, similes and much more to trigger a debate. ‘Night of the Scorpion’ is a poem full of techniques and views that touch very sensitive issues, criticising people’s culture and beliefs. Ezekiel and Rafat both criticise the traditions that are sustained by the people of the community by using disparaging words. In ‘Night of the Scorpion’ Ezekiel looks down upon the people of the community – the same community to which many lines show he belongs- and calls them ‘swarms of flies’, also he dislikes their incantations and whilst ignoring them, rather than specifying what the people are doing says they ‘buzzed’ as if to show that their holy rites are meaningless to him.

 Rafat also does the same by using words such as ‘butchering’ for the holy act.

  As much as getting the reader on the poet’s side is important, it’s also important that the reader has an opinion on the poet’s views. In my opinion I think that both poets realize that not only should the poem provide their view but it should spark discussions and a strong feedback from the reader, which is exactly what the poem is doing.

  Another similarity between the poems is that when one reads the title, the poem is thought to be from primitive and quite exotic areas. The reason for this may be because scorpions are found in exotic countries and even in those, developed areas are not home to them, which tells us it’s set in a primitive area. ‘Sacrifice’ also has the same effect; it suddenly makes us think that such rituals are only alive in primitive areas- which is clarified later on in the poem. Although there are these similarities we see but Ezekiel uses different principals to create the same effect as Rafat does.

  Just as the titles are generally different so is the layout of the poems; where Nissim Ezekiel has laid out his poem in chronological order and has provided a story like recollection, Rafat has portrayed his point of view by moving back and forth in time. In the first stanza he gives us an overview of what is happening only to move back in time later to give us a more intricate description and to justify the event. In the first stanza the poet is giving us a visual description of a sacrifice:

‘As he moves the knife across the neck of the goat’

However later on we have moved back in time and he explains to us the ritual and its significance in that culture:

‘                         we stand in a tight circle

Around the animal to be sacrificed;’

 Here the animal is not yet sacrificed but the preparations are taking place and moving further on he describes who is to sacrifice the animal. Personally I believe this technique was used to interest the reader into the poem, this unusual way of portraying a memory is very captivating; the way Rafat shifts perspectives and sometimes is found justifying the ritual while at other times criticising can be interpreted as him and his mind quarrelling, however, another interpretation is also made, it is believed that it is set out rather like a newspaper, at first like the headlines summarising the event and grabbing the readers interest, only to go to describe it. I find this explanation very interesting but for my part I find the idea of his mind quarrelling with his heart more capturing. Even though Rafat is against the ways of the people, he belongs in that particular community, which explains the use of ‘we’ throughout the poem, as opposed to the use of ‘they’ by Ezekiel. Also in the second last stanza Ezekiel says:

Join now!

‘I watched the flame feeding on my mother.

 I watched the holy man perform his rites’

The significant words here are ‘I watched’ once again creating the impression of him not being part of that community and also this line shows us that he is a bystander which can hint to us once again of his age. To me the feeling this line portrays is of helplessness and maybe of shock, he does not go on to describe the event or tell the reader how he feels about the occurrence but as if he is numb, he says it all ...

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