Nissim Ezekiel is one of the prolific Indian writers in English of the 20th century. He was playwright, editor, critic and poet. He was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for his Poetry collection, ‘Latter-Day Psalms. He was also awarded the Padma Shree by the Government of India in 1988. He is often called the “Father of Modern Indian English Poetry.” Ezekiel’s poetry has different themes and styles. His poems are a depiction of his craftsmanship, restraint and intellectual approach to everyday life.
How many of you have read T.S Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi?’ While reading Enterprise, one may think of Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi.’ Though that poem is different in approach but it is also about a very cold and tiring journey by three wise men in search of spiritual pacification. Enterprise is one of those wonderful poems published in Ezekiel’s collection of poems named ‘The Unfinished Man.’ It revolves around a metaphorical journey of man on this earth followed by hardships and failures which man is subjected to by the very nature of the earthly life that he leads.
Summary of Enterprise by Nissim Ezekiel
The poem, Enterprise, begins with a group of people which includes the poet himself (as it is clear from the use of ‘we’ in the sixth line) journeys to a holy place. At that time, their minds were full of ideas to reach their destination. Therefore, they started their journey with a lot of vigour and excitement, sure enough that they can easily overcome all the difficulties that they face. Inconveniences seemed insignificant to them. However, our real strength emerges when we face a crisis, isn’t it? Similarly, the travellers were full of enthusiasm and reached the second stage of their journey. During this second stage, they confronted the adverse natural difficulties, symbolizing the blazing Sun. But nothing could detain them from reaching their destination or take away their enthusiasm. Their passion to reach their destination was as hot as the blazing Sun above their heads. The heat of the sun is symbolic of Mother Nature being hostile towards human ambitions. The more the human beings aspire, the more the nature tries to put up a hindrance to beat them down.
The group of the travelers continues their journey, experiencing the difficulties put in their way. Carried away by the unrestrained excitement, the pilgrims kept a record of the events that they witnessed- goods being bought and sold by the peasants and the ways of serpents and goats. The travelers passed through three cities where a sage has taught. But they were unconcerned about what e taught or what his message was.
The third stanza talks about the differences that cropped up among the members which made a hole in their unity as they continued their journey. As they reached a desert, differences arose among on the question of how to cross the challenging landscape. One of the members, an excellent prose writer, left the enterprise. He was considered the most intelligent among the lot. Therefore, a shadow of discord fell onto their enterprise and continued to grow as one of the members parted from the group.
The poet describes the hindrances that follow the enterprise. In the next stage of their journey, the travelers are attacked twice and while saving themselves they lose their ways and forget the noble ambitions which had motivated them to come so far. The enterprise slowly breaks into two. Some of the members, claiming their freedom, quit the journey and went their own ways. The poet feels helpless and upset at the breaking of the enterprise, looking at the disorganized lot of pilgrims, the only thing he could do was to pray. And why do you think we pray? The answer is that the act of praying implies seeking the help of a divine personality when human efforts go in vain.
There is still an assurance from the leader of the group. He assures them that the sea or the destination was at hand. It seems that they members have lost their enthusiasm and hope as they see nothing noticeable as they move forward. The pilgrims have now turned into a crowd of aimless wanderers instead of being bounded by a well-focused goal like before. They were not bothered about the roar of the thunder; some of them were too exhausted to stand erect.
The final stanza of Enterprise is a relief to the readers, as the poet tells us that they did reach their destination in total disorder- exhausted and frustrated- and without any sense of satisfaction. Instead of bringing a sense of fulfillment and achievement, the journey had only brought them frustration. They now started to doubt the importance of their journey; they began to find it futile and meaningless. They found nothing heroic in their achievements. They had a belief that their journey would be unparalleled and that its success would give them a place in history. So was it disillusionment? They later realized that such a journey was already undertaken by others before them and would be repeated in the near futile. This gave them a sense of disillusionment and they felt the journey was futile. In the end, they feel that staying back home would have been better than venturing out on such a dangerous journey with disastrous consequences.
There might be a question that may come to our minds. That was the journey really a fruitful one or was it as the members think, meaningless? What are your views?
For a better understanding of the poem, the critical appreciation is discussed below, go to Page 2.