In an earlier time the writers had great crave for using satire and considered it as the greatest literary tool but as they came under the influence of western culture, they felt the need of doing something extra that would be helpful to make them extra-ordinary by making the distance between the writer and his craft. In this reference irony becomes a significant device and confers upon us the finite qualification and discrimination that distinguish a mature experience of the writer.
Irony works with great force and acquires a new meaning in post-modern literature. In fact, irony is the critical device by which a writer or a poet excels all his contemporaries. Ironic mode adds to the dignity and magnitude of the writer or poet’s creative writing technique in handling with the social themes because it helps his experiences an utterly modern shape. Consequently irony becomes one of the most outstanding features of writing. Modern poetry places it first rather than other literary features. Shiv K. Kumar, K.N.Daruwalla,, Nissim Ezekiel, R. Parthasarthy etc. can be counted as the greatest ironists in modern poetry. In this paper we analysis Ezekiel’s poetry in order to know his ironic mode.
Ezekiel’s poetry is ironical and reveals different kinds of ironies such as subtle irony, verbal irony, irony of situation, irony of characters and irony of life. In fact, his irony is direct and woven into the very texture of his poetry. Shiv K.Kumar rightly writes, “his (Ezekiel’s) irony comes through more incisively in his poems written in Indian English, which is a mix of Indian vernacular and half-baked English.” A close study of Ezekiel’s poetry reveals two kinds of irony: “one closely allied to satire where the poet stands at a distance from the object looked at, the other, closely allied to compassion, where the poet examines the experience as if from within.” The first kind of irony can be seen in his early and the second type of irony is clearly visible in the later period. Both type of irony are intermingled in Ezekiel’s middle period. In fact, the ironical method can be visible everywhere in his poetry. Ezekiel makes subtle use of irony and his insight into life finds its true expression through it. He develops irony and ironical contrasts frequently from the superstition and folk beliefs that exist in the society and gives them an utterly modern shape.
As a story teller Ezekiel creates poems out of ordinary incidents, situations and events that one encounters in day to day life. He picks out a situation, analysis it and describes it in such a way that it immediately assumes a kind of social significance because he views the ordinariness of most of the events with sense of detachment. Ezekiel’s ‘Enterprise’ is a beautiful narration of the spiritual journey of our great saints and sages whose mission of life for the people of the country was like a pilgrimage for the enlightening of knowledge. During this pilgrimage a situation is examined with an ironic detachment with a hope that solution would emerge in due course. That’s why, pilgrimage started the journey with a happy note but the difference among the mernbers of the group going on pilgrimage surfaced as they faced difficulties on the way. The difference means here the difference of ideas, rites and rituals between the Hindu and the Muslim before the partition. The difference arose first over the question as to “how to cross a desert patch.”
“Desert patch” suggests the ignorance, darkness and religious differences of the contemporary time. Further they say, “We lost a friend whose stylish prose /Was quite the best of all our patch.” The group was in grief but managed to survive and proceed further till the next phase after being twice attacked by China, once our bosom friend in 1962 and Pakistan in 1965. After the partition, India had to face two attacks which created big bombs in the path of the pilgrims but later on it enjoyed the freedom. Thus the poem shows an ironic detachment. As the poet writes: Another phase was reached when we were twice attacked and lost our way. A section claimed its liberty. To leave the group. I tried to pray Our leader did He smelt the sea.
Ezekiel’s choice of title for this poem is the surest way of making readers feel the pinch of irony. In the gap between the beginning and the end of the poem lies irony: the beginning harping on the purpose, quite sanctimonious and dignified; the end reflecting the utter purposelessness of the journey. The seriousness and the sense of purity and sincerity with which the journey began are lost in the end, as the poet’s intention is to expose the spiritual vacancy of the city-dwellers. These so-called pilgrims in “Enterprise” do not understand the spiritual significance of the thunder. At the end of an enterprise, one is rewarded with a rare sense of delight, one feels elevated; but here in this poem the enterprise ends in purposelessness, and all the participants wear a “darkened face.” Irony reaches climax when the meaninglessness of the enterprise is revealed: “When finally we reached the place/we hardly knew why we were there”
The second type of irony is found in ‘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 situations 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” their tongues. The poet remarks: with every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said. May he still, they said. May the sins of your previous birth be burned away tonight, they said. May your suffering decrease the misfortunes of your next birth they said. The phrase “they said” is repeated four times and it has an effect of incantation of a ritual. This urban and complicated ritual of the chanting is juxtaposed against the primitive quality of its content and it results in the ironic detachment of the poet. Indian belief explains that the previous birth as well as the next birth after one’s death is determined by one’s karma. The protagonist’s father has different perception of life and so he disregards the farmers’ superstitions and puts a match to a little paraffin.
Ezekiel writes: My father, sceptic, rationalist, trying every curse and blessing, power, mixture, herb and hybrid. He eve poured a little paraffin upon the bitten toe and pur a match to it. The protagonist watched the flame “feeding on “his mother and the holy man performs his rites to tame the poison with an incantation. After twenty hours, it lost its sting. The irony of the whole incident is that while the neighbors and the father have been making earnest efforts to assuage the woman’s pain, actually the pain subsides naturally after the long twenty hours of suffering. The poem ends with an overtone of irony. The concluding ironical lines cancel out all earlier responses to scorpion bite. The mother remains in bearable pain till twenty hours as these twenty hours are over. She was not much oppressed by her own suffering but the idea of her children’s suffering in the even of scorpion bite tormented her more. This irony shows itself in the way in which the poet has described the efforts been made by all those who have gathered at the spot to relieve the woman’s pain. R. Parthasarthy comments on the poem: ‘Night of the Scorpion’ evokes superstitious practices we haven’t still outgrown. It enacts an impressive ritual in which the mother’s reaction, towards the end, to her own sufferings ironically cancels out earlier responses, both primitive and sophisticated. The relationship between the domestic tragedy and the surrounding community is unobtrusively established. The poem also demonstrates the effective use of parallelism.
It is noteworthy that Nissim Ezekiel has written many poems ridiculing the absurdities and follies of the Indian people and his chief weapon of attack is irony. Undoubtedly irony has become his most conspicuous quality. He does not attack the superstitious of the people directly but exposes the absurdity of superstitious beliefs by the use of irony. Almost every poem by Ezekiel is characterized by irony to a greater or letter extent. He makes use of the weapon of irony in expressing ideas and depicting situations, characters and life and this weapon is like a great satirist can use with a devastating effect in order to reform society. In other respects, Ezekiel shows originality even in the use of irony and in his mode of attack on the malpractices and the evils from which Indian society has been suffering for years and years, and which are actually growing in magnitude instead of doing brought under control. Thus Ezekiel is a great matter of the weapon of irony and always attempts to use it as a device in his poems and creates truly great poetry. He uses the form of irony and gives a new meaning to his poetry.
Like Kumar he believes that irony can be successfully employed to make one see life in clarity. Kumar writes, “Irony, therefore, is a multifaceted weapon, a kind of poetic stratedy which can be put to very effective use.” Commenting upon the use of irony by Ezekiel a critic states, “the stand-point of Ezekiel is that of a highly educated, cultured and polished man not belonging to any extreme of society, and that such a stand-point is conducive to the development of an ironic attitude.”
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