Wendell Berry – “The Snake”
At the end of October
I found on the floor of the woods
a small snake whose back
was patterned with the dark
of the dead leaves he lay on.
His body was thickened with a mouse
or small bird. He was cold,
so stuporous with his full belly
and the fall air that he hardly
troubled to flick his tongue.
I held him a long time, thinking
of the perfection of the dark
marking on his back, the death
that swelled him, his living cold.
Now the cold of him stays
in my hand, and I think of him
lying below the frost,
big with a death to nourish him
during a long sleep.
From Openings, 1968.
Unlike Mary Oliver, Berry does not shy away from the bloodier, more destructive aspects of nature, though he has the same awe and admiration of the natural world. Like here, his descriptions are usually concise and evocative. This is a very specific moment and observation. On the one hand, I don’t feel that this poem is shallow. On the other hand, I can’t gleam anything much beyond the surface meaning. Maybe there’s a message about death or the cyclic nature of existence, but I can’t grasp anything beyond the image of the speaker holding the engorged serpent.
One thing that is interestingly pointed out here is the vulnerability that comes with being a predator – the snake’s food has made it vulnerable to a hawk, that might want to eat it, or a man, who might want to be cruel to it just for the fun of it. Luckily, the speaker here simply wants to observe it.