In this poem, the speaker recalls an event in which he found a worm on the ground after it had rained. The worm was moving with "astounding strength" (line 1). Even though worms are blind, the worm's intuition, or "inner eye," was helping it move where it wanted to go (3). The fact that the worm follows a straight trajectory causes the speaker to exclaim to God: "It moved so straight! Oh God!" (4). The speaker then compares himself to the worm by noting that, in contrast to the worm, he gets where he's going through "absurd and devious routes" (line 5).
Following this, the speaker moves into a rhetorical question in which he asks where he can find a worm that is blinder than himself, who is both blind and "monstrously incapable" of being blind (line 8). The speaker characterizes this worm, which is paradoxically blinder than and not as blind as the speaker, as existing by itself, moving according to its instincts, and completely "free" (11).
Out of contempt for the worm, the speaker crushes it in an attempt to disregard the worm's "victory" over him (line 14). The speaker notes that the worm is dead and mocks it, asking it where its strength has gone. He notes that the God that made the worm wiser than the speaker will understand the speaker's decision to kill the worm as "the anger of a man" (line 18). The speaker comes to the conclusion that he is most like the worm through his anger. He ends the poem with a repetition of his action: "I've killed the worm" (20).
Ezekiel's "The Worm" is ruled by oppositions and paradoxes, beginning with the character of the speaker himself. The speaker, who wishes so badly to emulate the worm, can only do so through anger and destruction, which is the opposite of the worm's own indifferent directness. Thus, even though he believes himself to be similar to the worm at the end of the poem, he also reveals himself to be inherently different, as he is not "free" from outside influences (as the worm is in line 11). The speaker and the worm are thus paradoxically both the same and different. Ezekiel emphasizes this paradox through the rhetorical question at the middle of the poem: "Is there anywhere / A worm blinder than I have been or proved / So monstrously incapable of being" (lines 6-8). In these lines, the speaker sees himself as both blind and "monstrously incapable" of being blind. Thus, the speaker's act of defining himself in opposition to the worm does not lead to a stable definition—they are inherently different and alike at the same time. The speaker, who starts the poem praising the worm, ends up killing it as a result of his own egotism. Finally, the speaker reveals his intense guilt after the act of killing the worm, which reveals a further split in his consciousness, between the desire to kill and the desire not to kill the insect.
An opposition found in "The Worm" is the opposing forces of creation and destruction. When considering the worm, the speaker meditates on the god that created it: "The god who made you to be wiser than / The cunning subtleties within my brain / Shall know by this the anger of a man" (15-7). The speaker blames the natural endowments that were given to the worm and himself during creation for his own act of destruction: "Only in anger can I emulate / The worm's directness. I've killed the worm" (19-20). Thus, according to the logic set up within the poem, it is the creation of both the speaker and the worm that results in this moment of destruction.
The internal contradictions of religion are also at issue in "The Worm." When mulling over the worm's directness, the speaker makes an exclamation: "Oh God!" (4). The capitalized "G" in "God" signifies that the speaker is a believer in one God and therefore capitalizes his name. Even though Ezekiel himself is skeptical when it comes to religion, he often makes the decision to capitalize the "G" in "God" throughout his poetry. In contrast, however, the speaker makes the decision NOT to capitalize the "g" in "god" when musing over whoever created the worm: "The god who made you to be wiser than / The cunning subtleties within my brain / Shall know by this the anger of a man" (lines 16-8). This displays the speaker's split, contradictory religious feeling: he at once respects a God which might acknowledge his existence, while simultaneously bringing god down grammatically as the speaker destroys the god's creation.
All in all, this poem expresses a wish to return to the animalistic. The speaker demonstrates a wish to escape society and understand himself and his own motives. Because self-knowledge is such an important theme throughout Nissim Ezekiel's poetry, it is interesting that the speaker is so astutely aware of his own folly in this poem. In a way, the speaker uses this encounter with the worm as a momentary lapse in rational behavior or understanding. Because of this, he can understand and relate his senseless decision to kill the worm completely.
Formally, "The Worm" stands apart from Ezekiel's other early poems because it does not contain a strict meter or rhyme scheme. Instead, the entire poem is clumped into one stanza that relates the entire encounter with the worm over the course of 20 lines. Ezekiel also uses enjambment, which is characteristic of his later poems, in this early work to create visual and sonic tension within the poem. For example, at the climax of the poem, the speaker reveals that the word is dead with a line break in the middle: "So now / It's dead" (14-5). There is a beautiful pause for ambiguity in between those lines. Additionally, the words themselves are stretched out over the page, which brings the reader's attention to that moment.
The themes of self-knowledge and self-awareness, which extend throughout the Collected Works, are introduced in this poem. Even though the speaker has just killed the worm, he forgives himself in the eyes of God: "The god who made you to be wiser than / The cunning subtleties within my brain / Shall know by this the anger of a man" (10). Ultimately, the worm can be read as a symbol of fear and self-doubt. However, once it's gone, only the hollow repetition of what he has done remains: "I've killed the worm" (20).