The use of irony in Ezekiel’s verse has undergone a sea change

The use of irony in Ezekiel’s verse has undergone a sea change. In the early poetry it was an instrument that sifted appearance from reality, fact from fiction, but in the later poetry it becomes a mode of perceiving reality, both within and without. Such a transformation or shift could be termed merely stylistic, had there been no change I the poet’s attitude toward life and the creative medium. The poet who had been complaining of the world’s corruption in his early verse is seen as having accepted good and evil with equanimity. He is seen creating his happiness, his sense of joy, even in a hell or in darkness, for he has realized that both constitute the coin of life. In the absence of one, the other becomes meaningless, loses its relevance:
The darkness has its secrets
which light does not know.
It’s a kind of perfection,
which every light
distorts the truth. (147-151)
In the poem “Nudes” the poet presents the woman is ironically described as a shy one she has become to meet the speaker after he had urged her to come to him in his two letters to her and brief telephone call. When she comes she brings a few gifts for him. Then she behaves as if she were a very reserved kind of woman who would not like to become too intimate with a man and would, in any case refrain from any sexual relationship with him saying that she has come because of her desire to know what kind of a man he is she also suggests that he should meet her from time to time but often the man does not waste any time and undresses her quickly. Her reaction to his action is that she herself would not have made the first move but that she would not now mind his performing the sexual act with her because he has taken the character of a so called “shy” woman who is, in fact, impatient to enjoy a sexual experience and who yet pretends that she would not take the initiative in a matter of this kind.
This one announces every act
of pleasure as she does it.
‘I love undressing,’ she has to say,
as she undresses. The verbal
and the visual join in her.
‘Is this a part of you?’ she says,
as she holds it, stares at it.
Then she laughs. ‘Put your finger
there,’ she pleads, as if
I need instructions. It’s only
Impatience, though, becoming frenzy
as I penetrate. ‘Now,’ she claims,
you are within me. Aren’t you
within me?’ And she makes me say, ‘I am.’ (15-28)
In the poem “The Worm” the poet suggests how irony can serve as an instrument that can bring about perfection. At the beginning of the poem the lyric persona is full of praise for the worm, laughing its astounding strength, its inner eye, and its straight movement. Toward the middle of the poem, however because of his own egotism, the speaker crushes the worm and kills it. Ezekiel aptly depicts the incongruity hidden in the persona:
It’s dead. Pretty worm, where is your strength?
The god who made you to be wiser than
The cunning subtleties within my brain
Shall know by this the anger of a man.
Only in anger can I emulate
The worm’s directness. I’ve killed the worm. (15-20)
In the poem “Entertainment” one notices the tacit juxtaposition of satire and humour. Monkey shows are very common on the streets of any Indian city, particularly in Bombay. People gather round, and children, coolies, women of low caste, workers, some office-goers all are entertained by the performances. What is disturbing, however, is that the monkeys remain sad and hungry. There is no end to their misery, even if through them their masters earn a lot. When the show is over and the time for payment comes, the crowd slowly dissipates, some paying but a pittance for the entertainment they have been given. Ezekiel’s observation is accurate and striking:
Only the monkeys are sad,
and suddenly
the baby begins to cry.
Anticipating time for payment,
the crowd dissolves.
Some, in shame, part
with the smallest coin they have.
The show moves on. (20-27)
The poem “The Couple” there is lot of wit in this poem and there is lot of irony in it:
To love her was impossible,
to abandon her unthinkable.
He had to make love to her,
a charade of passion and possession
in which some truth was found in her. (33-37)
The irony is most evident in the lines in which the author says that woman’s false love became in fused with true love only while actually make love.
Her false love became infused
with truest love
only in making love. (30-32)
The idea here is that the woman became genuinely involved in the sexual inter course through her show of love for the man was only a presence. There was thus a curious combination of genuineness and falsehood in the woman’s dealing with the man. As for the man he wanted only to get on with his business of achieving the fullest possible satisfaction of his bodily cravings.
The poem “Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S.” Ezekiel pocking fun at the way semi-educated Indians speak or write the English language. Through the device of irony Ezekiel emphasizes the mistakes made by semi-educated Indians in the course of their conversation through the medium of the English language. The poet ridicules the errors of grammar, syntax and idiom which many Indians commit while speaking the English language. The occasion is of party given by Miss Pushpa’s friends or colleagues to bid her farewell when she is leaving for a foreign country, perhaps for higher education, perhaps for sight-seeing. The poem is ironical in the sense that the people use the present continuous tense when only the present tense is required and they use the present continuous tense even when the future tense is needed:
Our dear sister
is departing for foreign
in two three days,
we are meeting today
to wish her bon voyage. (1-7)
Thus the poet in the poem has used “is departing” where he should have said “will be departing”. The poem “Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S.” the poet has ironically depicted the mistake of tense and other mistakes of tense and other mistakes which most of the Indians make in speaking English language. Apart from this frequent mistake, the habit of the Indians to give extravagant praise at farewell parties to the departing persons has also been ridiculed through the dens of irony. Ezekiel has used the some weapon, namely irony, in several other poems to emphasize the mistakes which these semi educated or ill-educated Indians make in the course of their conversation through the medium of the English language the whole poem has been written in a spirit of mockery and irony to enable us to have a hearty laugh if the people do not make mistakes.
The chances are that may among the people make mistakes of this kind. Apart from that, the people would like to point out that, even if the Indians speak English in correctly, it does not matter as long as they are able to communicate with foreign visitors and among themselves. It is the good fortune of this country that most Indians have pleased enough English to be able to converse with foreigners a majority of whom to have knowledge of English. But for this capacity to speak English even if it is spoken incorrectly a Punjab would not be able to communicate with a Maharastrians family would not able to communicate with a Gujarathi, and so on but for this knowledge of English, even though it may be inadequate or ungrammatical, the different state of India would have remained linguistically cut off from one mother.
Some of the poems from ‘Edinburgh Interlude’, such as ‘Scene’, already feel quotable:
From the life of cheerful degradation
normal in my neighbourhood,
I thought I had escaped. The road
led me back to childhood songs-
which overcame my doubts
about all those festivals.
The food, the fevers are the same.
I have become
part of the scene
which I can neither love nor hate. (1-10)
The Edinburgh poems tend towards the autobiographical narrative, the colloquial, the quietly ironic, and the sequence contains social observation, and offers a sense of a full, varied life. Where others might find little to say or observe, Ezekiel creates a sense of a world of memories, decisions, events, places, even the religious:
I did not expect
to fall in love
with a little room.
What must I do now
to stay awake
and be twice blessed? (97-102)
life is full, flowing, filled with surprise, existentially ‘there’ and yet without any clear pattern or design expect that of his life and what he has seen, felt, and done, the result of choices and the unexpected. It is also passing as it is experienced and only retained as memory and poetry. He remembers a village with ignorant schoolmasters, a beautiful woman walking through a squalid lane in a slum, the mangoes of Bombay, tells a satiric story about a typical Indian family situation, and notes the changing light and weather in Edinburgh.
The Edinburgh sequence not only has a shape, with such interludes as the marvellous ‘Dead-end story’, but is held together by such submerged motifs as life as a road, a journey backwards to the past, the passing of experience expect as recorded by ‘Song’.
The richness of the sequence can be seen by comparing the conclusion to the emblematic ‘Flowers’ with ‘Beauty and Poverty’. ‘Flowers’ is a slight reworking of a traditional image and its moral meaning:
there is a case
for remembering
how soon the flowers die
after they have danced. (39-42)
Compare the abstractness of ‘Flowers’ with the developing and Bombayizing of the theme in ‘Beauty and Poverty’:
She stepped briskly
over pools of gutter-water
and dog-shit.
Perhaps she held a job
in the Railways or the Customs.
Perhaps she taught at school or even college,
English Literature or Psychology.
She looked away modestly
as I started at her.
Her blue-yellow-green sari
sparkled as she swept along.
All I was left with
was this song
about beauty and poverty. (49-62)
“Night of the Scorpion”, which absorbs irony into its very structure. Ezekiel puts a situation, not merely a state of mind but the speaker in the poem, most probably the poet himself is the detached observer of the whole scene, perhaps smiling to him when the woman’s pain ends after a lapse of twenty hours, moves among other characters. The poet records those exact situation of the night when his mother was stung by a scorpion and after biting his mother with a “flesh of diabolic tail” the scorpion vanished somewhere in the darkroom. Then the peasants came like swarms of flies and “buzzed” the name of God a hundred times to paralyze the evil one and they “clicked” the tongues. The poet remarks:
With every movement that the scorpion made
his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.
May he sit still, they said.
May the sins of your previous birth
be burned away tonight, they said. (16-20)