Vasant A. Shahane
THE RELIGIOUS-PHILOSOPHICAL STRAIN IN NISSIM EZEKIEL'S POETRY
The most recent phase of the poet's development
Nissim Ezekiel is, by common consent of critical opinion, one of the major poets in the modern post-World War II phase of Indo-Anglian poetry. "He has emerged as most outstanding," writes Linda Hess, "in craftsmanship, maturity, range and depth of sensibility."1 In fact, he is regarded as a sort of pater famiHas of many young modern Indo-Anglian poets. "It is significant that Ezekiel is among the older poets of the present Indo-English generation,"2 writes Rajeev Taranath. He has the kind of achievement "which makes him one of the most adult and consistently meaningful poets in Indo-English writing."
This essay is an attempt at appraising only one particular strand of Nissim Ezekiel's poetry which may be described as religious, moral and philosophical and which, incidentally, also indicates the most recent phase of his creative writing. This aspect of Ezekiel's poetry is specially significant, in my view, partly because he has often been described as primarily a poet of the body, of sensory perceptions and physical evocation. Even an early critic like K, Srinivasa lyengar has drawn attention to this aspect of Ezekiel"s poetry: "He was painfully and poignantly aware of the flesh, its insistent urges, its stark ecstasies, its disturbing filiations with the mind."3
Ezekiel's earlier verse is marked by an awareness of physical passion, sexual impulse, intermingling of the corporeal and the spiritual and a sensitive reaction to objects of sensory pleasure or pain. The promptings of the spirit are audible through the limbs of the flesh and the consequential significance of intellectuality, and abstraction are obtained and realized only through the emotively stimulating effect of the human body. Ezekiel as a poet has in recent years shown a greater command over his art, a deeper maturity in thought, a more delicate sense of craft, a higher sensitive awareness of words and their poetical content, a more skillful tightness in organization and a deeper inward awareness of the organic form of a poem than 'n the past. These qualities of the later phase of Nissim Ezekiel's poetry are relevant to the religious and philosophical poems which are my main topic.
In commenting on Ezekiel's religious and philosophical poems especially post-April 1967, a few preliminaries must be stated first. In a letter to Prof. Delmer Bogner at New Paltz, New York, Ezekiel wrote on 14 June 1966: