Nissim Ezekiel was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983. He is one of the most celebrated Indian Poets of the post colonial India. In his writings we can notice a deep philosophical and religious awareness which has motivated a lot of young writers of India and abroad. There was a time when he left religion after finishing his school days. He was brought up in an orthodox Jewish home which brought him the tag of a liberal Jewish. He is a kind of person who is rational in approach and his understanding of religion is different from others. He has his own school of thoughts. It is reflected in his poems and it is one of the reasons that he is considered as one of the most eminent and popular poets of mature India. Michael Garman has remarked about him that-
“He brings to the established tradition of love, religion and the passing hour the modern attitude of the need for a commitment, an existential plunge into life, and of cold analytic disgust becoming more detached and ironical as he develops.”1
Poetic composition has always been a supreme task for Nissim Ezekiel. His understanding of religion is secular, humanistic, logical and rational. He believes in the religion of charity and love. It becomes clear through the following lines-
“And yet to speak is good, a man
Is purified through speech alone
Asserting his identity
In all that people say and do”2
It seems that he is detached from the sensual and worldly pleasures because he has a very strong urge of secularism. He believes that he belongs to the world. He is sinful because he is mortal. In his poems ‘departure and journey’ flourish together and he uses such words like a metaphor. It is most probably that he understands that departure and journey is the ultimate reality of human kind. Let us not be confused that he only talks about life and death related to religion. It becomes clear by his remarks when he says that-
“I am not a religious or even a moral person in any conventional sense. Yet I have always felt myself to be religious and moral in some sense. The gap between these two statements is the existential sphere of my poetry.”3
Thus, it seems that there is a sense of dualism in his behavior. Words like ‘God’ and ‘Prayer’ is common in his poems yet he is not religious. It seems that he is a humanist who is philosophical both in nature and in approach. His understanding of prayer can be felt by the following lines-
“If I could pray, the gist of my
Demanding would be simply this.
Quietude. The ordered mind.
Erasure of the inner lie,
And only love in every kiss.”4
This kind of religious and philosophical strain can be found in his poetry like ‘Choices’, ‘Process’, ‘In the Theatre’ , ‘Blessings’ and many more. V.A.Shahane gives us an insight to understand the religious stance of the poet. He remarks that-
“The poet has achieved a new faith ‘in a process that can perform such miracles’. In April 1967 Nissim Ezekiel had his first LSD trip, which he would like to describe as the voyage of discovery-this happened during his second visit to the United States. He explained to me an aspect of this experience in a letter: ‘I came out of that with my ‘philosophy’ turned inside out in eight hours, and became a believer: in God, religion, the metaphysical nature of the universe and life, ESP, etc’ this entirely new change in Ezekiel’s mode of thought and values is a basic shift from his earlier rationalist atheist phase reflected in his early poetry.”5
In several poems of Ezekiel there is a continuous quest for religion and knowledge. His spiritual dilemma is not an easy task to express and understand through the lines of poetry. He knows it yet he tries because he believes in trial and error. He believes in action. He wants to learn things by doing experiments. In “Choices” he conveys his ideologies of his moral belief and spiritual quest. This ideology makes him aware that God is not outside but he is closer to us. We need to find him with a truthful soul. This realization is actually self surrender. It creates a kind of space for the poet where he relaxes himself. This space is spiritual which parallels to his physical world where he keeps himself busy in writing poems and thinking about the world. It can be felt by the following lines-
Is always open
But I can not leave
I mock myself here
As if my very existence
The philosophical realization of the poet can be seen in the concluding section of “To a Certain Lady”. He uses paradoxical language to make his feelings understand to the readers. One can understand God from his point of view in a unique manner. Yet it is difficult to define God because nobody can say what his God is exactly like. Swami Vivekananda has once said that-
“To the other nations of the world, religion is one among the many occupations of life … but here, in India, religion is the one and the only occupation of life.”7
Scholars and critics have said that it is merely an exaggeration. In India Jews are the minorities who search for an identity and in the wr4itings of Nissim Ezekiel it is expressed through his sense of philosophy and religion. He asserts his identity by saying that he too exists because he too has God particle inside him.
- Ezekiel, Nissim. Collected Poems. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005,53.
- Prayer- collected poems,54
- Shahane,V.A. “The Religious- Philosophical Strain in Nissim Ezekiel’s Poetry”, in Dwivedi, Suresh Chandra(ed.). Perspectives on Ezekiel, Allahabad:K.M.Agencies, 1989,p.25.
- Ezekiel, Nissim.”The room”- Collected Poems. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005, 206.
- Vivekananda, Swami.”India’s message to the world”. Floral Hall, Colombia:16 Jan.1897.