Enterprise by Nissim Ezekiel
It started as a pilgrimage
Exalting minds and making all
The burdens light, The second stage
Explored but did not test the call.
The sun beat down to match our rage. 5
Meaning. A group of intellectually-oriented sets out on foot on a journey to explore the unknown. The author is one among them. The intrepid explorers are agog in excitement. The hazards of the journey, the wrath of the elements, and the perils of the unknown land they are venturing into do not deter them a bit. They are determined to overcome the odds to reach their destination. However, some way into their journey, they get to see the harsh realities of their voyage. The Sun’s scorching heat challenges the grit and doggedness of the itinerant knowledge seekers. The going gets tough. In other words, the vagaries of journeying into un-trodden terrain take its toll on the travelers.
We stood it very well, I thought ,
Observed and put down copious notes
On things the peasants sold and bought
The way of surpants and of goats.
Three cities where a sage had taught 10
Meaning .. The travelers were undaunted by the brush with the elements. In their travelogue, they noted down all the new things they encountered. The life in the countryside was interesting. The travelers saw the way the peasants traded in their farm produces. They also saw the curious ways of the serpents and the goat herds walking in the rural tracks. They pass through three cities where sages of great renown had given their sermons. What exactly they preached is all lost in time.
But when the differences arose
On how to cross a desert patch,
We lost a friend whose stylish prose
Was quite the best of all our batch.
A shadow falls on us and grows . 15
Meaning …. In their way, they come to see a desert. Traversing through it appears fraught. The members of the group argue over the ways to cross it, but can’t reach a consensus. A distraught member of the group brakes rank, and charts a different course for himself. He was a prose writer of great flourish – possibly the best in the group. His loss is painful. Hard times seem to approach the rest of the group. Things get worse. All round gloom sets in.
Another phase was reached when we
Were twice attacked , and lost our way.
A section claimed its liberty
To leave the group. I tried to prey.
Our leader said he smelt the sea 20
Meaning .. A difficult phase has begun. On their way, they are twice waylaid by bandits. In their effort to evade the thugs, The members of the group run in different directions. Soon, they lose their way. Misery befalls the group, as a few members decide to drop out and go their own ways. The group is thus further depleted. The leader of the truncated group tries to instill some optimism among the distraught members. He says, the sea (implying their final destination) is not very far off. He can sense it.
We noticed nothing as we went ,
A straggling crowd of little hope,
Ignoring what the thunder ment ,
Deprived of common needs like soap.
Some were broken , some merely bent. 25
Meaning .. Crestfallen and sapped, the members of the group trudge on, unmindful of the comrades. They have no hope, and no energy. The trauma of the past days has robbed them of all life and cheer. The hardly take notice of other calamities along the way. The thunder means no danger to them. Inured to the past sufferings, they have become surprisingly stoic. They have run short of even the basic necessities of life – like a cake of soap. Some are weighed down by the grind and the despair. They are virtually down on their knees.
When, finally , we reached the place ,
We hardly know why we were there.
The trip had darkened every face,
Our deeds were neither great nor rare.
Home is where we have to gather grace.
Meaning .. At last, they reach their destination. By then, they have endured so much misery that their senses have been numbed. They feel no elation, no exuberance. The satisfaction of finally making it brings them little cheer. The trip has inflicted untold misery on the members. They look so dull and emaciated. To add to their frustration, they find that their exploration, undertaken with so much sacrifice, was not unique. So many others had successfully undertaken similar ventures earlier.
The realization dawns upon the group member that home sweet home is possibly the best abode for humans.
[Additional notes, question-answers and analysis will be added soon.]