Poem to the Snake by Denise Levertov Essay

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Poem Analysis: "To the Snake"

Denise Levertov's poem, "To the Snake," uses the presence of a snake to express the speaker's simultaneous fear of and attraction to sexuality and intimacy. The snake itself is an overt symbol of the male member and, as such, illustrates the dangers which are presented by desire. The speaker hangs the green snake "round my neck" (Levertov 1) and strokes its "cold, pulsing throat" (2), actions which are suggestive of sexual activities. However, the snake's response to the speaker's ministrations are rife with peril. Indeed, the snake is heavy on the speaker's shoulders and responds with hisses which suggest that it is likely to bite or attack the speaker. The use of a snake in this context also evokes the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in which the snake in the Garden of Eden was used to tempt Eve to disobey God. Levertov builds on this imagery by writing that the "whispering silver of [the snake's] dryness sounded close at my ears" (6-7).
These lines suggest that the snake is, in a sense, speaking to the speaker, thereby influencing her decisions and impeding her ability to think clearly for herself.

The sensuality of "To the Snake" does not seem unusual for a female poet. Indeed, the poem shows a very modern approach to sexuality in which women can take an active role in asserting their own desires. If one assumes that the speaker of the poem is female (which the poem doesn't state overtly), than she can be seen as an aggressor of sorts: it is she who hangs the snake around her neck and strokes it. As well, although she is unsure of how much danger she is placing herself in, despite her assurances to her companions, the speaker has engaged with the snake out of a need for physical closeness. Levertov writes that the speaker was "only desiring/to hold you, for that joy/which left a long wake of pleasure" (10-13) even after….....

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