A Poem of Nissim Ezekiel Enterprise

‘Enterprise’ is an allegory of human condition on this planet and of the frequent efforts, failure and frustrations to which man is subject by the very nature of earthly life. The poet describes a spiritual pilgrimage where each pilgrim faces difficulties and disillusionment along the way. Thus, in the ‘Enterprise’ a group of people undertake a journey moved by noble aspirations, but it all ends in failures and frustrations as is usually the case with human attempts at some noble achievement.

The pilgrimage becomes a weary trek, by the time the goal is reached. The goal is alluring but the process of reaching it empties the victory of its glamour and glory. A number of people, including the poet decide to go on a pilgrimage. They are city dwellers and the journey they undertake is to some romantic, primitive hinterland.

They start with hope, courage and determination, with their minds full of noble ideas and ideals. They are out to make some heroic effort, which will lead to some noble achievements.

Their minds are exalted and they are not afraid of any dangers and difficulties. This stage of the journey symbolizes the stage of innocence that man enjoys in his boyhood and early youth, when he is entirely unconscious of the frustrations and failures which life brings at every stage.

But this innocence is lost and in the next stage of the journey the pilgrims face dangers and difficulties. They continue on their onward journey of exploration.

The objects and forces of nature are out to frustrate human endeavor like the oppressive heat of the sun. The group of travelers is able to put up very well with the dangers and difficulties for sometime and continue to journey in hope.

They note down the goods being bought and sold by the peasants and observe the ways of serpents and goats. They pass through three cities where a sage had taught, but does not care to find out what he had taught. But soon there are distractions and diversions. The difficulties and dangers posed by man’s physical environment are not as damaging as those that result from his own insufficiency.

Soon there are differences of opinion among the travelers and they began to quarrel over petty matters. They had to cross a piece of wasteland a ‘desert patch’, and they could not agree as to the best way of doing so. One of vtheir friends-rather proud of him stylish prose-was so angry that he left their company. The shadow of discord fell on their enterprise, and it has continued to grow.

Bickering over petty matters, needless quarrels over trifles, hatred of, and hostility to, those who hold different opinions, is ingrained in human nature, and thus man carries the seeds of his failure and frustration within his own self. So do these pilgrims who, despite their quarrel, continue their onward journey. But none the less, they are divided into groups, each group attacking the other. Engrossed in their quarrel, they lose their ways and forget noble aspirations which had motivated their enterprise.

Their goal and their purpose were forgotten and their idealism is all gone. Some of them decide to leave the group. Frustration and difficulties overwhelm the human spirit and many do not have the courage to face the realities of life. They seek relief in escape and withdrawal. Many of us are such introverts. Some try to pray and seek Divine assistance and blessings, forgetting that God help those who help themselves. Their leader feels that he smelt the sea and he feels that they have reached a dead end, and must go back. Their pilgrimage must end.

Still they persist, though their journey has lost all its’ significance. They are dirty and shabby for they have been deprived of such common needs as soap, are broken in spirit and bent down physically. Such is the ultimate end of all human enterprises; this is the essential truth of human life. Absorbed in their pretty quarrels and tried and exhausted, frustrated and at bay, the travelers do not even hear the thunder and even if they do so, they ignore their significance. The thunder is symbolic of spiritual regeneration and fertility but they do not care for it. The extreme hopelessness of man at the end of life’s journey is thus stressed.

The pilgrims even come to doubt the very worth and significance of the journey. It seems to them to have been meaningless and futile. All their noble aspirations are forgotten, there is sorrow and suffering on every face, and they are conscious of the fact that their actions have neither been great nor even. Efforts to escape from the realities of human existence are futile. We must accept the limitations of our lot and do our best within those limitations.

Heroism means the acceptance of our lot in life and the doing of our best in the service of God and humanity. Therefore the poem concludes on a note of exultation and optimism when the pilgrims realize that it is not by undertaking long hazardous journeys but by doing the right deeds that everyone can receive God’s grace.