Enterprise By Nissim Ezekiel
“Enterprise” sums up a philosophy of life that we can still achieve some measure of dignity despite the essential meaninglessness and purposelessness of life. This thing has been presented with the help of the journey metaphor. In a way journey or pilgrimage is the symbol of life. A group of people set out together on their mission. They are full of hope and joy. But soon there were differences regarding the manner of continuing the journey. Then, some of the pilgrims desert the group. They lose their joy as the pressure of the journey mounts on them. Despite discouragement the pilgrims move on and finally arrive at their destination. But they do not find any joy here as the whole exercise is discovered to be futile and yet, the last line of the poem sums up “Home is where we have to gather grace”. According to Ezekiel, life is not wholly a heroic enterprise.
Summary of the Poem
It started as……………… match our rage.
At the very beginning of the poem, the poet confirms that, with a group of people he has started for a pilgrimage (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. All of them were so enthusiastic that, Inconveniences seemed insignificant to them.
The poet has divided the journey into stages. The travellers were full of enthusiasm and reached the second stage of their journey. The second stage was somewhat different from the first one, since they faced the hostility of nature on the way. They confronted the adverse natural difficulties. The sun, symbolic of the hostility of nature, was radiating (beat down) its scorching heat on them as if to match their spirit (rage) in intensity. 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. Thus, the second stage gave them some tough moments (explored), but that was not enough to test their keenness. In short, though nature tried to present some obstacles, it hardly succeeded to unnerve them or pose a real threat. All the members of the group were excited at the prospect of going out to a pilgrimage. The thought of a holy expedition elevated their minds and made all the burdens light. By the very nature of our minds when people are enthusiastic, the burdens seem to be lighter. That is why nothing could pose a challenge before them at that moment.
We stood……………………………..had taught.
In this stanza of the poem, the poet has satirically described what they were doing during their journey. He indicates to how people get distracted from the main mission. They were wasting their time and energy taking notes on various things the farmers were selling and buying, and on the ways of snakes and goats. They observed and took note on the cities without concerning themselves with what the sage had taught or what his message was.
But when………………………………… grows.
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. Some members didn’t agree with the others on crossing a patch of desert on the way. As a result, the best prose writer and intellectual person among them parted from the group. Therefore, a shadow of discord fell onto their enterprise and continued to grow. So, we see that a holy journey for a noble cause no longer holds its integrity. People are becoming egotistic and concentrating on trivial matters. Their main concern now is the way, not the ultimate aim. Even the seemingly intellectual did not bother to reconcile the differences and hold the members together. Ironically, he sought the easier way to part from the group. A shadow of friction and conflict befalls the enterprise and continues to grow. They now lacked the zeal with which they started.
Another phase………………………………… the sea.
The poet describes the hindrances that follow the enterprise. In the next stage of their journey, the travellers are attacked twice (local or external forces) 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. Possibly they were unhappy with the leadership. So, the disagreement continues. We human beings often face the opposition of fellow men on our way of life. Sometimes we lose our way by the hostility or misguidance of others. Moreover, when we find ourselves in trouble, we forget the larger perspective and run away to save our narrow interests. 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. The act of praying implies seeking the help of a divine personality when human efforts go in vain.
We noticed…………………………………….. merely bent.
There is still an assurance from the leader of the group. He assures them that the sea or the destination was at hand. But it is a false hope from the leader. As they progressed, they could see nothing. They now looked like a group of aimless and hopeless wanderers. 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. They are physically drained. Some members are not able to walk any more, and the others just bent down with pain.
When finally……………………………………our grace.
The final stanza of Enterprise is a relief to the readers, as the poet tells us that they reached 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 has only brought them frustration. They now started to doubt the importance of their journey; they begin to find it futile and meaningless. They find 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.
Critical Appreciation of the Poem:
Language and form
About the language and form of the poem ‘Enterprise’, it employs very simple language as Nissim Ezekiel’s poems generally tend to do. The poem consists of only six stanzas of five lines each with a regular rhyme scheme of ABABA. The pattern is iambic tetrameter.
Use of Verbal Antithesis: The poem has used verbal antithesis to achieve a balance. Antithesis is a contrast or opposition in the meanings of contiguous phrases, lines or stanzas. In this poem, verbal antithesis is not only found in the entire poem but in the same stanza and in the same lines. Some of the examples are listed below:
- The initial activities of the pilgrims are juxtaposed with those in the final stage as the pilgrims turn into ‘a straggling crowd of little hope.’
- The ‘exalted minds’ of the pilgrims are turned into ‘darkened faces.’
- In the beginning the pilgrims found themselves as the ‘burdens light’ but at the end of the poem they are broken in spirit and bent down physically.
Symbolism in Enterprise
‘Enterprise’ is a symbolic poem. Symbolism refers to the use of symbols to represent ideas or facts. The various symbols used in Enterprise are listed below:
- Pilgrimage in the poem symbolizes life.
- The ‘crowd of pilgrims’ symbolizes a group of men, who undertake to achieve common goal which begins with excitement and hope but ends with disillusionment and frustration.
- The ‘Sun’ is the symbol of hostility of nature towards human aspirations and ambitions.
- A ‘desert patch’ is symbolic of the challenges and hardships which the group faces or the differences that rise among them.
- ‘A shadow falls on us and grows’ is symbolic of the differences in opinion that leads to a discord in the enterprise and consequently, a member leaves the group and the disharmony grows.
- ‘A straggling crowd of little hope’ symbolizes a group of people who had a well-focused goal and during the course of their journey loses their zeal and becomes a crowd of aimless and frustrated wanderers.
- ‘Thunder’ is symbolic of man’s inner voice.
- ‘Home’ symbolizes remaining rooted to the soil or remaining true to oneself.
Allegory: Allegory can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning. The poem ‘Enterprise’ is allegorical in nature. The group of men all set for the journey, enthusiastic and full of vigour set out for the spiritual quest. They face hardships, difficulties yet they do not lose their aspirations. But during the second stage of their journey, disharmony and differences in opinions among the members arises and soon a conflict breaks out which results in disunity. The final stanza raises a question, ‘Was the journey worth all the struggles?’ The journey here is a metaphor of life. The poem is a stark depiction of the condition of men on this earth who are subjected to such failures, hardships and disillusionment during their course of journey of life. There are many critics who feel that this poem is a search for the meaning of life’s journey. Our life also begins with high expectations. But we often deviate from the aim or face tough challenges in the middle, and finally reach the last stage without much achievement.
An epigram is a brief, sharp, witty and polished saying giving expression to a striking thought. It is used to convey the poet’s message in the poem.
‘Home is where we have to gather grace’ is epigrammatic. Here, the poet wants to convey the message that in the journey of life, home is symbolic of one’s inner self which must be accepted and faced and not shirked away. This is the only sane and balanced way of life that man should accept.