Ezekiel, Nissim

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Nationality: Indian. Born: Bombay, 16 December 1924. Education: University of Bombay (Lagu prize, 1947), 1941–47, M.A. 1947. Family: Married Daisy Jacob in 1952; two daughters and one son. Career: Lecturer, Khalsa College, Bombay, 1947–48; professor of English and vice-principal, Mithibai College, Bombay, 1961–72; reader, 1972–81, and professor of American literature, 1981–85, University of Bombay. Visiting professor, University of Leeds, 1964, and University of Chicago, 1967; writer-in-residence, National University of Singapore, 1988–89. Editor, Quest magazine, 1955–57; associate editor, Imprint magazine, 1961–67; art critic, The Times of India, Bombay, 1964–67. Since 1985 editor, Indian P.E.N. Lived in London, 1948–52. Awards: Farfield Foundation travel grant, 1957; National Academy award, 1983; Padma Shree, 1988. Address: 18 Kala Niketan, 6th Floor, 47-C, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Bombay 400026, India.



A Time to Change and Other Poems. London, Fortune Press, 1952.

Sixty Poems. Bombay, Strand Bookshop, 1953.

The Third. Bombay, Strand Bookshop, 1959.

The Unfinished Man: Poems Written in 1959. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1960.

The Exact Name: Poems 1960–1964. Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1965.

Pergamon Poets 9, with others, edited by Howard Sergeant. Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1970.

Hymns in Darkness. New Delhi and London, Oxford University Press, 1976.

Latter-Day Psalms. New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1982.

Collected Poems 1952–1988. New Delhi and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989.


Three Plays (includes Nalini, Marriage Poem, The Sleep-walkers) (produced Bombay, 1969). Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1969.

Don't Call It Suicide: A Tragedy. Madras, Macmillan India, 1993.


The Actor: A Sad and Funny Story for Children of Most Ages. Bombay, India Book House, 1974.

Our Cultural Dilemmas: Tagore Memorial Lectures 1981–82. Ahmedabad, Gujarat University, n.d.

Selected Prose. Delhi and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992.

Editor, Cultural Profiles. Bombay, International Cultural Centre, 1961.

Editor, A New Look at Communism. Bombay, Indian Committee for Cultural Freedom, 1963.

Editor, Indian Writers in Conference. Mysore, P.E.N. All India Writers Conference, 1964.

Editor, Writing in India. Lucknow, P.E.N. All India Writers Conference, 1965.

Editor, An Emerson Reader. Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1965.

Editor, A Martin Luther King Reader. Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1969.

Editor, All My Sons, by Arthur Miller. Madras, Oxford University Press, 1972.

Editor, with Ursula Bickelmann, Artists Today/East-West Visual Arts Encounter. Bombay, Marg Publications, 1987.

Editor, with Meenakshi Mukherjee, Another India: An Anthology of Contemporary Indian Fiction and Poetry. Delhi, Penguin, 1990.


Critical Studies: The Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel by Meena Belliapa and Rajeev Taranath, Calcutta, Writers Workshop, 1966, and article by Taranath, in Quest 74 (Bombay), January-February, 1972; Nissim Ezekiel: A Study by Chetan Karnani, New Delhi, Arnold-Heinemann, 1974; Nissim Ezekiel issue of Journal of South Asian Literature (Rochester, Michigan), September-December 1974; The Poetry of Encounter: Three Indo-Anglian Poets by Emmanuel Narendra Lall, New Delhi, Sterling, 1983; Perspectives on Nissim Ezekiel: Essays in Honour of Rosemary C. Wilkinson edited by Suresh Chandra Dwivedi, Delhi, K.M. Agencies, 1989; Three Indian Poets: Nissim Ezekiel, A.K. Ramanujan, Dom Moraes by Bruce King, Madras, Oxford University Press, 1991; Nissim Ezekiel, Poet of Human Balance by Harish Raizada, Ghaziabad, India, Vimal Prakashan, 1992; Essays on Nissim Ezekiel edited by Ted Shrama, Meerut, Shalabha Prakashan, 1994; "Nissim Ezekiel: Quest for Linguistic Identity" by R.S. Pathak, in Creative Forum (New Delhi), 5(1–4), 1995; "Irony in the Poetry of Nissim Ezekiel" by Niranjan Mohanty, in World Literature Today (Norman, Oklahoma), 69(1), winter 1995.

Nissim Ezekiel comments:

(1974) I do not identify myself with any particular school of poetry. Labeled "Indo-Anglian" or "Indo-English," i.e., an Indian poet writing in English, I accept the label. I am satisfied at present to be included among the poets of the Commonwealth but hope to be better known in the U.K. and U.S.A. as an Indian poet. I consider myself a modernist but not avant-garde.

I have written in the traditional verse forms as well as in free verse. Major influences: Pound, Eliot, Auden, MacNeice, Spender, Yeats, and modern English and American poetry in general. My latest poetry, 1966–73, is beyond all influences. Some of my recent poems are in Indian English. I have written found poems on scientific subjects and several on newspaper reports and personal letters. Major themes: love, personal integration, the Indian contemporary scene, modern urban life, spiritual values. I aim at clarity above all, claim never to have written an obscure poem. I like to make controlled, meaningful statements, avoiding extremes of thought and expression.

(1995) I believe that it is possible to have a full and final view of the nature of poetry. The search for the essential in poetry has its positive value, as it rejects diffuseness and abstraction in favor of the concentrated and the concrete. But it tends to overemphasize image, form, and music in poetry, treating its substantial content as of secondary value. The human ethos is sacrificed to mere method. A reasonable view of poetry on the other hand would not insist on purity but on integrity. It would allow for the functional role of different elements in poetry, including the role of ideas.

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The jacket of his Collected Poems 1952–1988 describes Nissim Ezekiel as India's best-known English-language poet. The claim is probably justified. Certainly justified is the claim that he helped initiate the postromantic phase of modern Indian poetry in English. Although there are signs of a reaction against his mode of poetry and even a reevaluation of his role in the history of English-language poetry in India, his place is secure.

Ezekiel's poems are Indian in their use of urban landscape, their imagery, and their themes. The themes are related mostly to urban life in India, particularly Bombay, where Ezekiel lives. He deals with these themes in a spirit of ironical detachment, skepticism, amusement, and mockery, sometimes self-mockery. Often there is a deflating comment that is made part of the narrating voice and tone. His critical intelligence is especially aroused by all forms of hypocrisy, hard-heartedness, bogus spirituality, middle-class smugness, social and political dogma, religious bigotry, and received wisdom that has not been freshly examined. His commitments are to the value of the human individual, to living in India, with all of its pains, pleasures, and discomforts, and to the importance of poetic speech. His style is distinguished by precision, economy, and clarity. The tone is usually that of easy, informal conversation, but with none of the carelessness of conversation.

Ezekiel has succeeded in creating and developing a distinct personality in his work. His love poems render the many moods of love with honesty, frankness, and a conspicuous lack of romanticism. (One misses, however, a note of tenderness and gratitude.) His religious poems are skeptical and questioning; they do not scoff at belief or reject it but rather seek valid and reliable bases for belief. Ezekiel's social verse shows a keen eye for all forms of highfalutin humbug, hypocrisy, and corruption, and the poems are informed with compassion and a keen awareness of suffering and exploitation. No remedial action is proposed, however, for Ezekiel is not that kind of writer. He has written some amusing and effective dramatic monologues on certain Indian character types by exploiting poetically common Indian misuses of English idiom. Ezekiel has written both regular and free verse.

No notice of Ezekiel is complete without gratefully acknowledging the help and encouragement he has given new writers, both informally and as an editor of verse magazines.

—S. Nagarajan