Journal of South Asian Literature. v 11, V. 11 ( 1976) p. 209.


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Michael Garman

NISSIM EZEKIEL " PILGRIMAGE AND MYTH*

I. INTRODUCTION

In Ezekiel, one is faced with a poet working in several traditions, many of them classic ones, in a general sense of the word; and yet treating them in basically one style, one voiceo The style is modern, restrained and conversational (increasingly so as he develops) without being discursive. He brings to the established traditions of love, religion and the passing hour a modern attitude of the need for a commitment, an existential plunge into life, and of cold-analytic disgust, becoming more detached and ironical as he develops. The imbalances between the two poles of this attitude point to a dichotomy at the heart of his work, which will be looked at here in some of its many realisations,

Ezekiel is also working at several "levels" (for want of a better name):

the "lowest" being the level of the development of any one theme in a single poem, and the "highest" being the level of a synthetic comprehension of traditions or themes, or even a reconciliation of oppositeSo We shall be examining mainly what appear to be high-level attempts (successful or not) in this sense.

Ezekiel's attitude to poetry belongs to this issue of high-level fusion, and may be briefly outlined here. He is a poet of whom it is not trivial to say that his poetry and his life are inextricable, and whose purpose in writing is to make a harmony (life, poetry) out of a purely biological fact (existence),' In these terms, the individual poem is, worthless in itself, a witness to the achievement of poetryo Thus, in the apologetic preface to his second volume. Sixty Poems (1953), he confesses that he has printed these poems only because "There is in each a line or phrase, an idea or image, which helps me to maintain some sort of continuity in my life o c o poetry is elusive, to write a poem is comparatively easyo"

Again in the first volume, A Time to Change (1951), he declares

A poem is an episode, completed

In an hour or two, but poetry

Is something more.

It is the why,

The how, the what, the flow , . . ,

o . , the residue Is what you read, as a poem, the rest Flows and is poetry.

("Poetry")

*From Critical Essays on Indian Writing in English (Dharwar: Karnatak University, 1968), edited by M. K. Naik, S. K- Desai, and Go S, Amur. Reprinted by permission of the author and the editors.



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