The Poems of Nissim Ezekiel

The Poems of Nissim Ezekiel Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

There is no consistent speaker or narrator throughout Ezekiel's collected poems.

Form and Meter

There is no single form or meter that is consistent throughout Nissim Ezekiel's collected works. However, there are certain poems that contain a very specific poetic form and meter, particularly in his early works. For example, Ezekiel's early poem, "An Affair," contains a specific rhyme scheme of ABBA. "The Affair" also contains an iambic meter. See, for example, the first line of the poem: "I took her to a cinema, we saw."

Metaphors and Similes

Ezekiel uses a simile to describe the nature of a stone in his poem "The Stone." He notes that the stone "holds itself together as a bone," which uses the word "as" to give the bone's attributes to the stone (40). In “Squirrel,” from Sixty Poems, the speaker compares a squirrel’s movements to the quickness of a thought: “An agile flick of grey and brown / And he is gone, like a thought, / To sport with leaves and sun, / Indifferent to the bait” (62). This simile stands apart from other similes in Ezekiel’s work because he usually uses the natural world to describe his own intellectual state, and not the other way around. By comparing a squirrel’s movements to a “thought,” Ezekiel demonstrates that there is an ever-flowing connection between the individual and his surroundings, and he is not separate from the world, despite his fear of death and ultimate lack of self-knowledge (two other huge themes in the Collected Poems).

Alliteration and Assonance

Alliteration is the occurrence of the same sound or letter at the beginning of consecutive or nearly consecutive words. We find alliteration in "A Time to Change," the first poem of Ezekiel's collected works, with the phrase "virginal veracity" (p 4, Oxford India Paperbacks). There is also alliteration in the third part of "Something to Pursue": "At the vacant vegetative hours of the day, / The sensual dreams of solitude" (p 17). In this passage, the repetition of the "v" and "s" sounds leads up to the speaker's assertions about faith.


Ezekiel employs irony frequently throughout his "Collected Works." An early instance of irony can be found in "The Double Horror" in which the speaker explains how he has been corrupted by the world. As a result of this corruption, he "secretly rejoice[s] / When fifty thousand Chinese have been killed" (p 8). The speaker explains that this callousness towards human life deviates from who he was as a child, who "wept to see a rat destroyed" (p 8). As a result, even though the speaker is rejoicing over these deaths, there is an understanding that this act of rejoicing is seriously wrong and caused by the world's corruption. This passage says something on the surface that is different from what it actually means, which is an example of verbal irony.

Another example of irony is in "A Word for the Wind," in which the speaker laments not being able to find a word that describes the wind and then constructs a poem that evokes the wind through its line breaks and syntax. The wind imagery pushes at the lines "like a sail" full of wind, as it pushes across the page like a gust of air.

Ezekiel uses humor and irony in “The Stuffed Owl” to poke fun at both himself and his profession: “What is the poet but a bore?” (70). The speaker also makes fun of Ezekiel’s practice of calling upon Antiquity or other periods in the Western canon to add a sense of depth to his poetry: “Flaunting by the way a myth or moral / Stolen from an antique page” (70). In this way, Ezekiel is able to poke fun at the “much bad poetry” that he has read by placing most of his criticism on himself. Ezekiel even notes that he loves to write about love and nature for inspiration: “He turns at first to love, / Simulating passion with a metaphor / … / Suffers sky and wind to fill his blanks / With feeling, sun is always there” (70). All in all, “The Stuffed Owl” enjoys a perfectly balanced ironic tone, in which the speaker (who is also the poet) condemns everything that he does that may be seen as cliché or uncreative and also shows his poetic skills by remaining self-aware and rising above these clutches. Thus, “The Stuffed Owl” is a true example of situational irony: the reader expects for the poet to rag on other poetry and come off as completely egotistical. The reader is quickly delighted, however, to see that the only poet the speaker is making fun of is himself. The poem ends with a joyous couplet that drives home the point that the speaker is writing about himself: “A calculated couplet ends the game, / The tired poet quickly signs his name” (70).


Lyric poetry


India, particularly Bombay


The most prevalent tone throughout the "Collected Works" is satirical and ironic. However, there are also threads of directness that cut through the satire with their piercing honesty. For example, in Part 3 of "Second Theme and Variations," the speaker sees right through his own bravado and brings himself down a peg: "I am tired of myself, the mixture as before, / The wench on a bachelor's bed, boredom wooing / Ceaselessly the frantic efforts to be wise" (78). In moments like these, the speaker reveals his own frustration with the practice of self-knowledge and writing. Ezekiel oscillates between irony, exultation, and sharp honesty to provide the reader with a work that can represent the multitudes of human experience both as an outsider who has enough distance from it to make fun of it and an insider who must endure it.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Major Conflict

There is no major conflict throughout Ezekiel's "Collected Works." However, there is a repeated emphasis on the tension between faith and the world. Additionally, there is a recurring tension between the city and nature, which is outlined further in the "Themes" section.



The Collected Poems does not contain instances of foreshadowing that allude to the ending of the work as a whole. However, there are certain poems that have a tone of foreshadowing, as the speaker looks ahead and predicts what will come in the future. For example, in “Nothingness,” the speaker foreshadows what he believes will become of his own existence. He writes that he has “been reconciled / to simple nothingness” because that is what is going to become of him in the end. “Time,” he writes in the final line, “the great consumer, cancels all” (51).

Similarly, in “Foresight,” the speaker predicts what the end of his life will look like and mean to him: “For us the last convulsion is just another shadow, staring hard but revealing nothing, as in life self-knowledge was elusive, a landscape brave with life beyond the mountains where ancient gods are buried” (51).


In “Jewish Wedding in Bombay,” the speaker downplays the event of his wedding as well as the excitement of those in attendance: “Well, that’s about it all. I don’t think there was much / that struck me as beautiful. Mostly, we were / amused, and so were the others. Who knows how much belief / we had?” (235). Additionally, the speaker plays off the wedding guests breaking Kosher laws: “Even the most orthodox, it was said, ate beef because it / was cheaper, and some even risked their souls by relishing pork. / The Sabbath was for betting and swearing and drinking” (235).


In “My Cat,” Ezekiel alludes to Verlaine’s “Cat and Lady” and Baudelaire’s “Le Chat.” Both of these poems come from the mid-nineteenth century, which is almost a century before Ezekiel himself started writing. In this poem, Ezekiel subtly shows how his poetry diverges from past literary tradition. Verlaine and Baudelaire’s poems each use the cat as tools for decadent associations: Verlaine’s cat brings up associations of evil while Baudelaire’s cat is sexualized and reminds the poet of his lover. As the speaker in “My Cat” puts it, the cat is “diabolic” and “a sphinx” (65). In contrast, Ezekiel’s cat in “My Cat” is a perfectly normal cat, which does not bring up unnatural associations of any kind: “She has a single mood, she’s merely bored, / Yawns and walks away, retires to sleep” (66). However, the speaker in Ezekiel’s poem is unsettling in a way that the speakers in Verlaine and Baudelaire poems are not. He admits in the final line to feeling violent tendencies towards his pet: “One night I’ll drown this cat” (66). The difference between Ezekiel’s predecessors and his own work shows how he consciously chooses to deviate from the literary tradition: instead of making the cat the oddity or chaotic force in the poem (as Verlaine and Baudelaire did), Ezekiel chooses instead to show how unhinged the speaker is through his interaction with an everyday cat. Thus, instead of drawing from the outside world and imbuing it with symbolic meaning, Ezekiel embraces the tenets of modernism and chooses to delve into the human psyche, to show what truly might be unsettling in a relationship between a man and his cat.

In “Episode,” the speaker alludes to Helen of Troy, who is a classical figure famous for the war that was fought over her due to her beauty. This war is known as the Trojan War and is detailed in Homer’s Iliad. She ran away from her husband, King Menelaus, to be with a beautiful man, Paris. She is a controversial character in Western literature, and references of her carry a suspicion of her honesty and her character.

“A Morning Walk,” from The Unfinished Man, compares the city to Dante’s purgatory: “Barbaric city sick with slums, / … / A million purgatorial lanes, / And child-like masses, many-tongued, / Whose wages are in words and crumbs” (119). Additionally, the hill that the speaker yearns for in the beginning of the poem alludes to the hill at the beginning of the Inferno that Dante tries to climb until he is stopped by three feral animals.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

In “In India,” the speaker says that he has “a Cézanne around [his] neck” (131). This is metonymy, since the speaker uses the painter’s name as a placeholder that signifies the speaker is wearing a physical painting rather than having to say “a Cézanne painting around my neck” or “a painting by Cézanne.”


Ezekiel uses personification to describe the impression that one gets from the road after it rains in Sixty Poems: “I want to know if, after rain, / The air is purer, sweeter. / If the road in wetness speaks / A different language” (63). In this passage, Ezekiel is very poetically wondering if the wet road is intrinsically different from the dry one, and he endows it the power of speech, so that it can express itself. Just a few pages later, Ezekiel personifies the rain again: “Walking in deserted streets / Heedless of the sky sobbing / Rain upon her slender shoulders” (68). By describing rain as the “sky sobbing,” Ezekiel calls upon well-known cultural metaphors about the sky in order to imbue his poem “Episode” with a dark and gloomy mood from the very first few lines.



Onomatopoeia is when a word is written in the way that it sounds. In “Speech and Silence,” Ezekiel uses the sounds that are made by flying fish and frogs to emphasize the folly of man: “Uneasy croaking, whirr of wings / And echoes of our casual wrongs” (53). “Croaking” and “whirr” are both examples of onomatopoeia, because they sound like what they are describing when they are read aloud. In this passage, the speaker does not have to say which animal is emitting each sound and instead uses the sounds themselves, which the reader can recognize and has probably heard before, and contrasts them with the human condition.