Journal of South Asian Literature. v 11, V. 11 ( 1976) p. 241.


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Christopher Wiseman

THE DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNIQUE IN THE POETRY OF NISSIM EZEKIEL

From Formality to Informality

The Exact Name 1s a fascinating volume of poetry, not only for its quality and its evidence of a major extension of the poet's themes, but because of its pivotal position in the development of Ezekiel's craftsmanship and poetic techniques. In this collection we can see a poetic in transition; a new voice slowly making itself heard as an important poet tries to cast off derivative techniques and break away from forms which are beginning to stifle and constrict him in a damaging way. The Exact Name embodies three distinct voices or styles representing the old, the transitional and the new, and in this paper I hope to show, by a technical examination of some of the poems, the development of new techniques and the strong thrust towards a new and personally viable poetic.

Prior to The Exact Name, Ezekiel's poetry is notable for an extreme tecnnical formality. In this, of course, he was merely reflecting the conventions of the 1950's, when most poets of tne English-speaking world were obsessed with low-toned ooetry, carefully worked in traditional metrical and stanzaic forms. Auden, Empson, Graves, Yeats, Frost were looked to for inspiration and imitation; sestinas, viTI-anelles and many kinds of traditional forms were rediscovered and employed. The fastidious use of meter, rhyme and stanza-form was highly appropriate for the understated ironic modes which were so typical of the 19b0's; the influence of American West Coast and Black Mountain poets was still an unworrying distant echo, exotic but by no means threatening to tne poetic mainstream.

Not surprisingly, Ezekiel's poetry of this period fits squarely into this convention with strong meters, formal stanza structures and regular rhymeğ It is my contention, however, that he is never completely happy in this style, that it often restricts and limits him, and that his own real voice is often suppressed. It is, I think, significant that Ezekiel never experimented with traditional forms to the extent that most British or American poets did, seeming to be content with strict accentual-syllabic patterns and relatively straight-forward stanza-forms, and, for all his obvious innate talent, many of his earlier poems suffer from an almost mechanical rigidity, a monotony of sound which deadens and weighs down the bright buoyancy of his content.

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We may usefully look at The Unfinished Man (1959) for examples of this "old" style. All ten poems are exactly regular in form. All are fully rhymed, all are written in regular stanzas and iambic meter. Most poets, when using strict forms, rely heavily on variations to give rnythmic power and subtlety, especially through tne employment of foot-substitutions, run-on lines and half-rhymeSo The patterns of meter, stanza and rhyme become norms against which variations are sounded, moving away from and back towards the pattern in a creative tension. What we miss in The Unfinished Man is sufficient variety. In good poetry, prosody articulates the movement of feeling, and the total meaning



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