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“To The Snake” is a poem written by Denise Levertov. On one hand, it explores the beauty and danger that is associated with Nature. On the other, it could hold a symbolic meaning pertaining to the temptation associated with monetary wealth.
About the Poet:
Denise Levertov (1923-1997) was a notable British-American poet. She was awarded the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. Famous works of hers include “The Double Image”, “Making Peace”, and “Breathing the Water”.
Green Snake, when I hung you round my neck and stroked your cold, pulsing throat as you hissed to me, glinting arrowy gold scales, and I felt the weight of you on my shoulders, and the whispering silver of your dryness sounded close at my ears —
This stanza begins with the persona having a “Green Snake” “hung around” their neck. This image is very similar to that of an albatross hung around one’s neck, evoking the image of being burdened with something.
The series of images that follow bring out the dangerousness of the snake. The close proximity at which the persona has the snake suggests intimacy; yet, the concluding couple of lines hint at a sense of fear that the person was perhaps feeling.
Green Snake — I swore to my companions that certainly you were harmless! But truly I had no certainty, and no hope, only desiring to hold you, for that joy, which left a long wake of pleasure, as the leaves moved and you faded into the pattern of grass and shadows, and I returned smiling and haunted, to a dark morning.
In this stanza, the symbolism pertaining to the “Green Snake” is more clearly revealed. Overall, what can be gleaned from this stanza is that the persona is trying to convince their companions that the snake is harmless and that the persona has an almost obsessive love for the snake that provides them with “a long wake of pleasure”. The snake, however, fades away into the shadows and the persona is left cold and alone “to a dark morning”.
What can also be gleaned is that the “Green Snake” can also be interpreted to be a metaphor for some negative emotion– green, for instance, has always been associated with envy and jealousy. However, given the fact that the persona treasures this, green can be associated with the colour of money (dollars)– and by extension, the emotion can be attributed to that of temptation.
A rereading of the poem in this light will reveal the persona to be akin to an addict or a gambler, who views their weakness for money to be both, a burden and “a long wake of pleasure”, only to be left hollow by the same thereafter. With the comparison to the albatross previously evoked, the persona could even be said to be guilty of this weakness.
This is a beautiful, thought-provoking poem. With the use of nature, the poet masterfully brings out complex human emotions.