Nissim Ezekiel’s Poem Philosophy

Nissim Ezekiel’s Poem Philosophy— Summary and Critical Analysis

Introduction to the Poem: Philosophy

Nissim Ezekiel’s Poem Philosophy : “Philosophy” was published in the fourth volume of Nissim’s poetic collection. The name of the volume in which Philosophy was published is Exact Name. It was published in 1960. Nissim Ezekiel has been interested in philosophy for a very long time. When he was in England, poverty, poetry and philosophy was his chief companion. In this poem, he establishes the superiority of poetry over philosophy.

 Nissim Ezekiel’s Poem Philosophy— Summary and Critical Analysis

Stanza 1:

There is a place to which I often go,
Not by planning to, but by a flow
Away from all existence, to a cold 

Lucidity, whose will is uncontrolled.
Here the mills of God are never slow. 

Explanatory Word – Meanings:

Place = spot. Here it means Philosophy. Often go=frequently study. Flow= by natural inclination. Lucidity = transparency.


In the first stanza of the poem, the poet says that he frequently turns towards the study of philosophy but he does not turn to it according to a planning, he has some inclination towards it, so he studies it. Whenever he studies philosophy, he finds himself away from the world of living beings for it talks less about living things and more about abstract ideas. Here idea follows after idea and argument follows after argument. It is such a mill of God as it is never slow. For one may keep talking on a philosophic subject to any length of time. It is a cold world, dominated by ideas.

Stanza 2:

The landscape in its geologic prime
Dissolves to show its quintessential slime
A million stars are blotted out. I think
Of each historic passion as a blink 

That happened to the sad eye of Time. 

Explanatory Word – Meanings:

Landscape= scene. Geologic = of Geology. Prime = primary. Slime = soft. Quintessential = highly refined extract. Blotted out = perished.


In the second stanza of the poem the poet analyses how swiftly time passes away. He explains the mystery of human life from a philosophic and scientific point of view. The poet imagines the condition of the pre – historic time when man was not born on this earth and the earth was in its primary stage. Time kept on passing. A number of stars and planets came into being and perished. Slowly and gradually men underwent changes and made progress. Man is excited by various feelings and sentiments. But these feelings that excite man are momentary in comparison of infinite time. If they are seen in the whole context, they seem to be insignificant. Time is so infinite and wide that every stage of human history is nothing in its comparison. Since the time of creation, geology, astronomy, history and other subjects are nothing in the flow of time. The insignificance of human feeling is expressed impressively by saying that in comparison of infinite time, they exist nowhere. This stage may be violent and exaggerated, but its functional value cannot be overlooked.

Stanza 3:

But residues of meaning still remain,
As darkest myths meander through the pain
Towards a final formula of light.
I, too, reject that clarity of sight:
What cannot be explained, do not explain. 

Explanatory Word – Meanings:

Residues = remaining. Meander = perplexity.


Science and philosophy may explain a lot and yet there remains a great deal to be explained. They fail to explain it. They may explain various aspects of human life and human tendencies. Some dark myths and hidden truths are beyond the reach of science and philosophy. They remain obscure and unexplained. Reason or argument is not sufficient to explain them. For it, there is a great need of wisdom and this wisdom is provided to us by poetry. Argument and reason cannot explain many things. Philosophers close the discussion on various things saying that many truth are beyond human reach and there is no need to waste time on these issues.

Stanza 4:

The mundane language of the senses sings
Its own interpretations. Common things
Become, by virtue of their commonness,
An argument against the nakedness
That dies of cold to find the truth it brings. 

Explanatory Word – Meanings:

Mundane = earthly. Interpretation = explanation.


The position of poetry is different. The superiority of poetry over philosophy is expressed impressively in the last stanza. The language of poetry is the language of human feeling. Like the language of philosophy it may be cold and hot. It instigates senses and feeling and it explains those truths that are beyond the reach of science and philosophy and which are regarded as dark myths by them (science and philosophy).

Poetry studies ordinary things as human relationship. Here it is superior to philosophy. Abstractions are cold like a naked man. They are dead and cold. Hence, they are useless. Poetry contains the warmth of human relationship. Hence, it is a source of life and knowledge.

Critical Analysis of the Poem: Nissim Ezekiel’s Poem Philosophy


Philosophy is a meditative poem. In the first part or the stanza of the poem, the poet expresses his love of philosophy saying that he has natural inclination toward philosophy. He has always been interested in philosophy and during his stay in London Philosophy, Poetry and Poverty were his three companions that shared his basement room. He, therefore, goes to philosophy not by any planning but unconsciously and as naturally as water flows downwards. He accepts that the world of philosophy is dominated by ideas. Here idea follows idea and argument gives birth to more ideas.

Hence when he studies philosophy he feels that he has been carried away from the world of human existence. It is a cold world and a philosopher has unlimited freedom to express his ideas. As the sphere of philosophy is dominated by abstract idea, the poet compares it to the mills of God where work always goes on . This is the realistic picture of philosophers and the subject matter of philosophy. It has really little to do with the practical aspect of human life.

The Poet’s Making A Survey of Time:

In the second stanza of the poem, the poet makes a little survey of time and establishes the fact that in comparison of infinite time, every other thing including various subject and human passion are insignificant. The second stanza seems to a little cut off from the main subject of philosophy. The poet does not make it clear in what way he wants to link the infiniteness of time with the main subject of philosophy. Here the idea of human passion and infiniteness of time seem to be irrelevant.

Limitations of Philosophers and Scientists:

In the third stanza the poet points out the limitations of philosophers and scientists saying that they can explain many things and yet there are many other things that are beyond their reach. When philosophers have no answer to any solution, they close discussion saying that there are certain truths beyond the human reach and there is no use to waste time on them.

Superiority of Poetry over Philosophy:

In the concluding stanza, the poet establishes the superiority of poetry over philosophy saying that it deals with ordinary things of human life. What philosophy and science fail to explain, poetry explains it . It studies human relationship. Its language is the language of human passion. It has the warmth of human passion.

Style of the Poem:

The poem is written in a systematic and argumentative way. It deals with difficult and involved ideas. The language of the poem is not difficult; it is because of complex and involved ideas that the poem is regarded as one of the difficult poems by Ezekiel.  However, the poet is successful in his endevaour of establishing the superiority of poetry over philosophy and science. It also shows that Ezekiel does not write merely on trifles and insignificant subject, he can also write on serious topics too.

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