In “Night of the Scorpion” – Nissim Ezekiel we are able to see how a threatening moment allows a community to display their traditions to save a life.
In “What Were They Like?” – Denise Levertov we see how devastation of war can lead to the deterioration of a culture.
Both use structure to show peoples lives. “What Were They Like?” uses questions and answers, the fact that the questions are separated from the answers shows that the poet is answering the questions herself but is also separating herself as she doesn’t want to be associated with the war against a peaceful nation. The questions are straight forward but the answers are quite detailed, these two points together create a sympathetic portrayal of people who live simple, plain lives working in the paddy fields. It could also be said that it’s a soldier reporting back because of the use of the word “Sir”. In contrast Ezekiel uses a traditional layout, with only two stanzas, the lines lengths are irregular and unrhymed but there is a loose pattern of full stops every 3-4 lines but still flows thoroughly.
In “What Were They Like?” the tone of questions seem uninterested but then the answers are dramatic and emotive for example the people’s “quiet laughter” is contrasting against “burned mouths”. The word “burned” is a connotation of how their culture and lives were also “burned” along with the people who were actually murdered, as US soldiers killed innocent civilians. Similarly in the “Night of the Scorpion” the tone changes as we read and find out acout aspects of their lives. This helps alleviate the realism in the poem as it’s a short narrative, which sounds like a speech where we are told what people did indirectly. The poet uses the word “May” a lot to show how he thinks the on-going prayers from the community is repetitive and unthinking, “May” also suggest the uncertainty he has of his Mother’s survival.
In “Night of the Scorpion” the poet uses language to show how aspects of people’s lives in his community annoy and frustrate him. One aspect is the community’s belief in reincarnation. The poet has a very atheist view on life, the scorpion which bit his mother is described as ‘diabolic’ and as the ‘Evil One’, personifying the scorpion as the devil. The use of personification and religious reference is symbolic for the devil and the terror people face from sudden illness and deaths. The alliteration ‘parting with poison’ helps the reader sense the dangerous nature of the sting, as the P sound is a quick and harsh tone. The use of the simile ‘swarm of flies’ in which he uses to describe the villagers suggest that they are not wanted due to flies being associated with annoyance. The poet describes the villagers as insects perhaps making an indirect link between them and the scorpion.
In contrast hard hitting language, with no metaphorical resemblances, that we find in “What Were They Like?”, helps to shows devastating effects. The poet has distinctively said ‘the children were killed’ immediately creates a feeling of sympathy from the reader, as the word ‘children’ is associated with innocence. In the last line the poet starts to question herself by saying ‘Who can say? It is silent now’, the poet builds up this hatred towards America for going to war with a peaceful nation.