Nissim Ezekiel’s Poem, The Company I Keep, Critical Analysis

Critical Analysis of the Poem:

Ezekiel has a very high sense of his profession as a poet. He is laboriously dedicated to the art of poetry. In “The Promotion of Literature” he maintains: “Literature is wholly concerned with the discovery and expression of truth whereas any machinery for promoting literature attaches importance to prestige, reputation, glamour, and extra literary aspects of writing such as real or alleged piety and national - traditional myth making”.

Nissim Ezekiel’s Poem, The Company I Keep, Critical Analysis


A good poet has a strong feeling for poetic reality which is unfathomable. Ezekiel writes in “Hymns in Darkness”

Belief will not save you 
nor unbelief 
All you have 
is the sense of reality 
as it yields its secrets 

Ezekiel once remarked: “..... through poetry we experience a reality that is surely greater than poetry. But then only great poetry can point to a reality greater than itself.”

Ezekiel, who has such a high conception of poetry and has worked as a critic and editor for a pretty long time, came to know about much trash that Indian poets have written in English. Such trash lacks in real poetic worth but has plenty of rhyming and versifying, bombast and pedantry. He strongly condemns such poetasters who debase and devalue poetry. He satirises such poets in Indian English in “The Stuffed Owl” and “The Company I Keep”. Contemporary poets who write trash and clothe it with bombast and pedantry are “stuffed owls” and being a poet he is forced to keep their company. He is also compelled to read such poetry and write about it. 

Ezekiel himself is a perfect poetic craftsman. He can handle both rhymed verse and free verse with equal command and ease, and can use words with great precision. But it is his destiny to keep company with “the stuffed owls” of poetry. So he expresses his condemnation and indignation at poetasters in “The Company I Keep”. 

This poem is written in the style of modern verse. He mildly rebuffs minor versifiers who mix “metaphors with platitudes”: 

Damn all your sensitive poets 
Seducers of experience 
Self - worshippers and publishers 
Editors of small magazines 
Broadcasters of small weather woes 
Victims of your own spontaneous fraud. 
You are in hell 
And do not know it.
When did you last write 
A real poem? 

Ezekiel deplores the feeling of publicity and self - advertisement in such poets. He uses a fine and suggestive image to show what such poetasters do in the name of poetry: 

Our self-release a trial of smoke 
to tickle the nostrils of gullible folk. 

They have neither individuality nor originality. By using rhetorical and bombastic language Ezekiel parodies the diction and manner of the poetasters whose company he is forced to keep. How ironically he makes a dig at them: 

The only art we master 
Is the art of economising 
In intelligence and skill. 
With a rhyme or two to show 
We can still do it, our self - release 
A trial of smoke 
To tickle the nostrils of gullible folk. 

Chetan Karnani rightly comments on this poem. “Ezekiel's great achievement lies in the fact that he has avoided - to use his own phrase from the poem "The Company I Keep”—monumentality of vanity”—which Indian English poetry pursues. Instead, he has tried to be authentically Indian without having the fault of his fellow practitioners of verse.”

Saurabh Gupta

My name is Saurabh Gupta. I have designed this blog to help those students and people who are greatly interested to get knowledge about English Literature. This blog provides precious knowledge and information about English Literature and Criticism.

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