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Scuttlebutt

Write a Snake Poem

Poetry touches on ethics and public policy while dealing in fables and falsehoods. Plato wrote, “there is an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry” (Republic, 607b5-6). We see poetry at play in some of humanity’s oldest recorded political and philosophical discourses. Poets helped to convict Socrates of corrupting the youth. Poetry is an eccentric cousin to rhetoric, and it’s a powerful tool in politics.

Donald Trump often recites Al Wilson’s “The Snake” at his rallies, a cautionary tale against trusting empathy over reason. Another poem about snakes that expresses similar apprehension, in a different form and taking a different tack is D.H. Lawrence’s “Snake.” I’ve included the text of both poems below as a source of inspiration for this prompt.

At Warrior Writers we attempt to transcend political divisions and focus instead on the craft of writing. But the problems of ethics, when and how it is justified to arrest, confine and kill human beings, inevitably come up in our writing. We won’t always agree, and that’s ok. Our interests are in refining our art.

Here, let’s write a snake poem, and try to touch on some deeper ethical or civic issue while describing something we fear or revere.

Free write for a few minutes exploring a snake as a metaphor for something you fear or desire. Or choose some object, story or event that stands out in your mind, and use it to explore some deeper ethical issue or moral.

 

The Snake

By Al Wilson

 

On her way to work one morning

Down the path along side the lake

A tender hearted woman saw a poor half frozen snake

His pretty colored skin had been all frosted with the dew

"Oh well," she cried, "I'll take you in and I'll take care of you"

"Take me in oh tender woman

Take me in, for heaven's sake

Take me in oh tender woman, " sighed the snake

 

She wrapped him up all cozy in a curvature of silk

And then laid him by the fireside with some honey and some milk

Now she hurried home from work that night as soon as she arrived

She found that pretty snake she'd taking in had been revived

"Take me in, oh tender woman

Take me in, for heaven's sake

Take me in oh tender woman, " sighed the snake

 

Now she clutched him to her bosom, "You're so beautiful," she cried

"But if I hadn't brought you in by now you might have died"

Now she stroked his pretty skin and then she kissed and held him tight

But instead of saying thanks, that snake gave her a vicious bite

"Take me in, oh tender woman

Take me in, for heaven's sake

Take me in oh tender woman, " sighed the snake

 

"I saved you," cried that woman

"And you've bit me even, why?

You know your bite is poisonous and now I'm going to die"

"Oh shut up, silly woman," said the reptile with a grin

"You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in

"Take me in, oh tender woman

Take me in, for heaven's sake

Take me in oh tender woman, " sighed the snake






 

Snake

By D.H. Lawrence

 

A snake came to my water-trough

On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,

To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree

I came down the steps with my pitcher

And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before

me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom

And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of

the stone trough

And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,

i o And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,

He sipped with his straight mouth,

Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

Silently.

Someone was before me at my water-trough,

And I, like a second comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,

And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,

And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,

And stooped and drank a little more,

Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth

On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.

The voice of my education said to me

He must be killed,

For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man

You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,

How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough

And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,

Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?

I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:

If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more

That he should seek my hospitality

From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough

And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,

And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,

Seeming to lick his lips,

And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,

And slowly turned his head,

And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,

Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round

And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,

And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,

A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,

Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,

Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,

I picked up a clumsy log

And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,

But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.

Writhed like lightning, and was gone

Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,

At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.

I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!

I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross

And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,

Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,

Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords

Of life.

And I have something to expiate:

A pettiness.

 

Taormina, 1923