Critical Analysis of The Railway Clerk

Critical Analysis of The Railway Clerk by Nissim Ezekiel

Critical Analysis of The Railway Clerk: Nissim Ezekiel’s poem “The Railway Clerk” deals with the life and work of the Railway Clerk; it depicts both private and professional life of the railway clerk. Critical Analysis of The Railway Clerk throws light on his life style, attitude towards his life and work and his way of thinking. The poem “The Railway Clerk” by Nissim Ezekiel was published in his collection of poetry named “Hymns in Darkness” published in 1976. His famous poems such as “Goodbye Party for Miss Pushpa T.S.” and “Very Indian Poem in Indian English” were also included in the volume.

The poem “The Railway Clerk” is typical example of poems written in Indian English which conveys the typical thought processes. The poem is tinged with existential, spiritual, and physical concern.

Critical Analysis of The Railway Clerk

Like Ezekiel’s other poems “The Railway Clerk” is imbued with irony, sarcasm, and paradox. It reveals the common mistake in the use of English by Indians such as use of present progressive tense in place of the simple present. Ezekiel has artistically exploited the flaws of the Indian users of English in “The Railway Clerk”.

The speaker uses several variants which are glaring mistakes in Standard English usage. M. Siavaramkrishna states that the attempt to write Indian English poems is in itself ‘comic since it hardly transcends in most cases the level of the hybrid and that it only represents the Indo-English poet’s own predicament.


Nissim Ezekiel’s poem “The Railway Clerk” vividly reflects how a railway clerk thinks of and performs his job. The readers can find the Railway Clerk in a precarious condition due to his inability to prosper in a department due to his low income and household worries. The readers can find him in a dilemma. The Railway Clerk is always worried about his petty problems; it is reflected from the very first stanza to the last one.

“It isn’t my fault.

I do what I’m told

But still I am blamed.

This year, my leave application was twice refused.

Every day there is so much work

And I don’t get overtime.”

The Railway Clerk of the poem complains that his leave application has been twice refused by the boss. He believes that he gets a meagre amount as salary for his hard work. He gets small amount which is not enough to put the wolf away from the doors; so he is not satisfied with the salary.

“My wife is always asking for more money.

Money, money, where to get money?

My job is such; no one is giving bribe,

While other clerks are in fortunate position,

And no promotion even because I am not graduate.”

In addition to this, there is little chance of promotion as well. Besides that, he his wife complains about his small salary and demands more money from him in order to run the household. She often argues with him on this matter. The problem of poor financial condition; and her demands puts on him heavy burden. It makes him anxious and worried. He is also unhappy and disturbed because he has not been appointed in fortunate position in the office. So he cannot earn extra money by taking bribe like his colleagues. His colleagues have got upper hand in the office and they earn extra amount of money by taking bribe.

Though the Railway Clerk receives salary and excellent facilities from the Railway Department, he is dissatisfied and complains about its shabby environment. Ironically the Railway Clerk is unhappy and disillusion because most of his colleagues are in fortunate position in the office.

Nissim Ezekiel has artistically illustrated the corruption in offices and a mental state of an employee who earns small amount of money as salary of the Railways. The Railway Clerk further complains that there are few opportunities of promotion because he is an undergraduate. He expects promotion but due to his under qualification he receives no promotion.

Ezekiel has described the mental state of the clerk with the help of figures of speech such as paradox and rhetorical questions. There is also an example of an Indian way of using present progressive tense in place of simple present; it presents the thought process of the clerk.

The Railway Clerk craves for promotion despite having the required qualification for promotion. It seems that the happiness of others makes his thoughts ugly. He blames others and complains about the poor facilities provided in the office.

The Railway Clerk thinks that he is responsible person and carries out the orders with efficiency and diligence. He is a hardworking person; and he does his job with attentiveness. But his hard work is not properly appreciated and rewarded by anybody.

“I am not neglecting my responsibility,

am discharging it properly,

am doing my duty, but who is appreciating?

Nobody, I am telling you.

My desk is too small,

The fan is not repaired for two months,

Three months.”

Nissim Ezekiel has employed figures of speech such as rhetorical questions in the second stanza of the poem which requires no answers. In addition to this, he has also shown the wrong usage of present progressive tense in place of simple present. The Railway Clerk complains about petty things in the office instead of doing his job. He considers all these things responsible for his sorry state. For example, he complains about the fan which has not been repaired for three months; and the small desk at which he does his work in the office.

“I am living far off in Borivli,

My children are neglecting studies,

How long this can go on?

Once a week, I see film

And then I am happy, but not otherwise.

And also I have good friends,

That is only consolation.”

Critical Analysis of The Railway Clerk gives an excuse of his swelling at long distance so he cannot manage to commute conveniently to his office. The office is located at far distance in Borivli, Bombay. He has to travel to his office which is tiresome and tiring thing for him. He also adds that he fails to pay attention to his family due to his office work. As a result, his children have become less attentive to and irregular in their studies.

Sometimes we are meeting here or there

And having long chat.

We are discussing country’s problems.

Some are thinking of foreign

But due to circumstances, I cannot think

My wife’s mother is confined to bed

And I am only support.”

The Railway Clerk tells us about several things which make him happy. On these special occasions of weekend he gets an opportunity to enjoy some moments with his friends. He goes to watch movie with his friends once in a week and he shares his thoughts with them on several burning problems of the country. He chats with his friends and enjoy their company. That is the only consolation reward for him which relieves his burden at least for some time.

Nissim Ezekiel has adroitly and deliberately employed Indian expressions and wrong usage of present continuous tense in place of simple present which gives an idea of the thought process of the Railway Clerk. I addition to this, there are also some common grammatical mistakes made by an Indian; for example, ‘discussing country’s problems’ in place of the problems of country’, ‘due to’ in place of ‘owing to’, and ‘my wife’s mother’ in place of my mother in law. These are wrong expressions in Standard English.

The Railway Clerk further tells us that some of his friends wish to go abroad for their prospects in life. But he cannot go abroad due to adverse circumstances. His mother-in-law is bed-ridden. So he is the only person in his family who earns bread and butter; and he has to look after his family.

Rhyme Scheme and Metre:

It is important to note that many of the poems published in the collection “Hymns in Darkness” are unrhymed and are composed in colloquial vein. Nissim Ezekiel’s style transformed in the collection of poetry called “Hymn to Darkness” due to his adherence to free verse. The rhythm of the poem varies and it flows with great ease. “The Railways Clerk” by Ezekiel has no specific rhyme scheme because it is written in free verse. The style of the poet becomes informal.

Treatment of the Ordinary:

One of the important features of Nissim Ezekiel’s poetry is that it deals with the ordinary things in life. But it is the skillful handling of the ordinary subject-matter by the poet which makes the poem interesting and appealing to the readers. Ordinary incidents, ordinary moments, situations and ordinary people are the core of Ezekiel’s poetry. It is the greatness of the poet that he makes the extra-ordinary, exception and grandiose appear trivial and insignificant; they lose their aura due to fine mingling of irony and satire. In brief, Nissim Ezekiel’s poem “The Railway Clerk” is another piece of craftsmanship which reflects life of an ordinary person in a metropolitan city.


The poem clearly presents hopes, aspirations, and disillusion of the Railway Clerk who finds no solace of mind in the hustle and bustle of life; and always finds himself under great burden of responsibilities. Ezekiel as a poet of urban life knows the urban milieu and its problems. His poem “The Railway Clerk” deals with various scenes and aspects of city life. It presents urban sensibility which is more complex and paradoxical. Linda Hess has aptly remarked, “Ezekiel is a poet of the city, Bombay; and he is fully aware of its ugliness, dirt, squalor, and wickedness.”

 Read it also: Very Indian Poem In Indian English

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