The Poems of Nissim Ezekiel

The Poems of Nissim Ezekiel Character List

the stubborn workman

This character comes from "A Time to Change," the first poem of the collection. The speaker describes the stubborn workman as someone who "breaks the stone, loosens / Soil, allows the seed to die in it, waits / Patiently for grapes or figs and even / Finds, on a lucky day, a metaphor" (5). He is an allegory for the poet himself, who must toil over the blank page and language in order to create something with meaning.


Homer is mentioned in "A Word for the Wind" from A Time to Change. Homer is a poet from Ancient Greece. He was allegedly blind. He wrote two very famous works, the Iliad and the Odessey.

The dying man

In "Advice," found in A Time to Change, the speaker gives advice to another person, which turns out to be futile, since the man dies in the last two lines: "And then I watched him die and turned away, / Could not save him, merely had my way" (23).

the naked man

In “Nakedness I” and “Nakedness II,” Ezekiel paints the picture of a man who is sitting on a bed naked and cannot recognize his own body. The first poem is from the perspective of the man while the second poem is from the perspective of another person who is watching him. Both poems communicate how it is impossible to truly know oneself through physical characteristics alone. They also seem to suggest that ultimate, complete self-knowledge and peace with oneself is unattainable, as the naked man sadly laments: “But when my soul will you be bare, / And body naked, breathe no shame?” (60).

Paul Verlaine

Paul Verlaine is mentioned in “My Cat” from Sixty Poems. He was a French poet from the mid-nineteenth century who famously wrote about a cat that was a metaphor for decadence and debauchery in “Cat and Lady.”

Charles Baudelaire

Like Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire is mentioned in “My Cat” from Sixty Poems. He is also a mid-nineteenth-century French poet who was known for his surrealist poetry. In his poem about a cat, “Le Chat,” the speaker meditates upon his cat and how it reminds him of his lover, who holds a similarly dangerous power. In this poem, the cat is a symbol for lust, bodily pleasure, and decadence.

Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert is quoted in “Agony in the Morning” from Sixty Poems. He is a mid-nineteenth-century novelist who is known for spearheading the movement for literary realism in France.

Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne was a mid-nineteenth-century modern painter who was known for repetitive, exploratory brushstrokes. He is credited with helping the Western art world transition from the artistic standards of the nineteenth century to the radically different innovations of the twentieth century. He is mentioned in the first part of “In India,” in which the speaker says that he has a Cézanne painting “slung around [his] neck” (131).


Dhanya appears in “The Truth About Dhanya” from “Poems Written in 1974.” He is an old, poor man, who works for the speaker’s family however he can. They support him minimally, leaving him sleeping in rags on the ground, giving him odd jobs when they can (169).

Miss Pushpa T.S.

Miss Pushpa T.S. appears in the poem “Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S.” from Hymns in Darkness. In the poem, her community gathers around her as she prepares to go abroad. She doe not have any speaking lines in the poem, but she is characterized as “sweetness” externally and internally and someone who “is smiling and smiling / even for no reason / but simply because she is feeling” (190).

The speaker’s neighbor in “How the English Lessons Ended”

In “How the English Lessons Ended,” from Hymns in Darkness, the speaker describes her neighbor's daughter, who “wears a burkha when she leaves for school / a hundred yards away” (200). This girl’s parents ask the speaker of this poem to teach her English in order for her to find a husband. The girl becomes friends with the speaker’s daughter and “takes her home one day / and shows her pictures / in a certain kind of book” (201). The speaker’s daughter tells his wife, who then tells his mother, who tells the speaker. When the speaker’s neighbor returns for lessons, she knows that the speaker knows, and refuses to return. She is married a month later.

Edna Lobo

Edna Lobo is the student that “Advice to a Painter” from Hymns of Darkness is dedicated to. She was Ezekiel’s student in Goa. She now teaches at Saliago, which Ezekiel visits twice a year. Ezekiel gives her advice on how to be a good artist, including encouraging her creative spirit: “Do not be satisfied with the world / that God created. Create your own” (205).

The typist

The typist in “Occasion” lives very far away and works for very little pay. His employer feels bad for his situation: “’He works all day in a bank, / then comes to me / for another hundred rupees or so a month. / Three children, a mother to support, / invalid wife, how do these people live?’” (277). Ezekiel’s ironic tone emerges in this poem, as the speaker and his friend feel very bad for the typist and yet seem unable to recognize their own privilege.