Nissim Ezekiel


Nissim Ezekiel

Nissim Ezekiel was an Indian Jewish poet, actor, and art critic.

He is one of the most important figures in India's postcolonial literary history.

‘Enterprise’, a poem by Nissim Ezekiel, has manifold layers on its actual meaning. Readers can interpret the poem in their own way. It being a well-written piece of art, welcomes various critical appreciations. Apart from the meaning of the text, the essence of Indianness is there in the poem. These elements make it so dear to the Indian readers. The language used in the poem isn’t so tough that one cannot understand the meaning after reading it for the first time.

Enterprise by Nissim Ezekiel


Summary of Enterprise

‘Enterprise’ by Nissim Ezekiel is an allegorical poem describing the journey of life and the poet’s realization at different stages of his journey.

In ‘Enterprise’ the poet, Nissim Ezekiel talks about going on a pilgrimage. He is not alone in the journey. There are other pilgrims too in that group. They have set out to reach a destination that is unknown to the readers. It is not disclosed even at the end of the poem. There is a hint in the poem that the place is somewhere near the sea. The poet divides their journey into some stages. In each stage, the path they have chosen is not that smooth. They have to face some difficulties in order to reach their goal. Some members leave the group for their difference of opinion. One such person is an intellectual and prose writer.

The situation worsens when they are close to their destination. But the ending is paradoxical. Even after suffering from hardships to reach their coveted goal, they feel dejected after reaching there. At last, the poet paradoxically remarks, “Home is where we have to gather grace.”

You can read the full poem here.


Form and Structure of Enterprise

‘Enterprise’ by Nissim Ezekiel has a specific structure and rhyme scheme. The poet himself is the sole speaker in the poem. So readers can say it is a lyric poem. There are specific instances where the poet uses a first-person narrative technique to describe the journey.

The poem is 30 lines long. There are a total of 6 stanzas in the poem each containing 5 lines. The rhyme scheme is ABABA and it continues throughout the poem without any break.

If we scan the poem metrically we can find another regularity in the poem. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter. In a poem composed in Iambic tetrameter, contains 4 feet in each line and the stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. There is an important variation in the last line of the poem. It is justified as the poet is in a paradoxical mood at the end of the long journey. The last line is in trochaic pentameter and the last foot is catalectic. The falling rhythm at the end is significant as per the mental condition of the poet.


Literary Devices in Enterprise

The first line is an example of sarcasm. The poet says that their journey isn’t an ordinary one. It was like a pilgrimage for the group. It is meant to bring a sense of humor at the same time a smell of irony in the poem. There are some other instances where the poet uses the same literary device. Such lines are, “We stood it very well, I thought”, “On how to cross a desert patch” and “…I tried to pray”.

In the last line of the first stanza, the sun is personified. In the second stanza, “The way of serpents and of goats” is a metaphor. “Serpents” is a metonym of mischievous persons with whom the poet met during the enterprise. In the 4th stanza, readers can find another metonymy in the word “section”. Here “section” stands for the persons in the poet’s group. In the line “he smelt the sea”, the poet uses another metonymy. Here the sea symbolizes the sea breeze.

In the last stanza, Ezekiel invests the abstract idea “trip” with the ability to blacken their face. It is definitely a use of personification. The last two lines of the poem contain a deep meaning which seems absurd to the readers at this juncture of the poem. Here the poet uses a literary device which is called epigram in the art of rhetoric.


Analysis of Enterprise

Stanzas One and Two

It started as a pilgrimage


Three cities where a sage had taught

In the first stanza of ‘Enterprise’, Nissim Ezekiel says that their journey began as a pilgrimage. At the beginning of the journey, the poet’s mind was in an exalted state and all the burden of his life seemed nothing in comparison to his endeavor. At the second stage of the journey, the poet faced some difficulties but he wasn’t in the mood of leaving the journey in the middle.

In the second stanza, the poet makes it clear that he was alone on the journey. He was in a group of people who had the same goal in their minds. During the journey, the poet took a descriptive note of his surroundings. He came across different people in his way and he especially mentions a sage whom he saw preaching his lessons in three cities. After reading this stanza it becomes clear that the poet was much focused on the surroundings instead of thinking about his aim.


Stanzas Three and Four

But when the differences arose


Our leader said he smelt the sea

Later in their enterprise, some differences of opinion arose among the team members “on how to cross a desert patch”. The matter was trivial but it made an intellectual of the group leave the journey. The poet says that the person was skilled in prose writing and was the best among the group.

The way was not smooth for the poet and his group. They faced difficulties from both sides. In the next phase of the journey, they were attacked twice and had lost their way. Some members of the group were so distressed that they couldn’t carry on the journey and they left. In such a condition the poet resorted to praying for gathering some hope.


Stanzas Five and Six

We noticed nothing as we went ,


Home is where we have to gather grace.

There is a use of enjambment between stanza 4 and 5. So readers have to begin from the last line of the previous stanza to understand the whole meaning. In this stanza, the poet says that the leader of the group had gotten a hint of their destination which was near a sea. They didn’t find any such thing on their way. It brought more frustration in the poet’s mind and he was just left with a little ray of hope. In the course of their journey, they couldn’t even fulfill their basic needs. Here the poet sarcastically remarks that they were “Deprived of common needs like soap.”

At last, when they reached the place in their “broken” and “bent” state, they felt unsatisfied. The long and arduous journey seemed meaningless. They realized that their feat was “neither great nor rare”. At the end of the poem, Ezekiel ironically remarks, “Home is where we have to gather grace.”

Last lines of Enterprise by Nissim Ezekiel

It becomes clear to the readers that this poem isn’t about a mere journey. It is the story of our life. After reading the poem readers can understand that chasing the dream is more meaningful than attaining the result. Our dream is not unique but the path we follow and the experiences we get are unique. In this way, the poet presents his idea of an enterprise to the readers.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

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