Journal of South Asian Literature. v 11, V. 11 ( 1976) p. 223.


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Chetan Karnani

THE POETRY OF NISSIM EZEKIEL

A brief overview

For most Indo-AngIian poets, poetry tends to go to two extremes. Either it is bourgeoise dream or bohemian practiceJ Ezekiel has avoided both extremes by refusing either to wallow in sloppy sentiment or by becoming a full-time poet in the art for art's sake traditiono Instead, he has followed a healthy mean between these two extremes.

As an urban poet, he has successfully translated Bombay's bogus hurly-burly into his poetry. He does this with devastating irony in The Unfinished Man. The city-dweller finds a fine image for his mechanical movement and habitual actions: "He knows the broken roads and moves / In circles tracked within his head."^- In terms of Gestalt psychology, he explores the wide chasm between his geographical and perceptual environment. The citizen artist feels uneasy in his actual environment:

At dawn he never sees the skies which, silently, are born again. Nor feels the shadows of the night Recline their fingers on his eyes. He welcomes neither sun nor rain» His landscape has no depth or height.

It is for this reason that he appeals to the city -- to use the phrase of Michael Garman -- as "the purgatory before blessedness,"3 "The city like a passion burns," while the poor protagonist gets conditioned to the city's vulgar noiseSc Here, Ezekiel makes a fine use of "the shifting of perspective" technique^ Just as Yeats was reminded of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," while walking on the "grey pavements" in London, in the same way, Ezekiel nostalgically recalls the countryside while he is busy with the "kindred clamour close at hand": "He dreams of morning walks alone, / And floating on a wave of sand." In this way, Ezekiet manages to create a picture of a man who wants to run away from the city's turmoil but does not know how he should do it. Hence, he keeps daydreaming about "beach and stone and tree. n

Few Indo-AngIian poets have shown the ability to organize their experience into words as competently as Ezekiel has done. Unlike other amateurs of verse, he has shown remarkable dedication to his art. In this, he has believed in Yeats's dictum that poets, like women, "must labour to be beautiful."4 Ezekiel rightly says that "the best poets wait for words," like an ornithologist sitting in silence by the flowing river or like a lover waiting for his beloved till she



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