Water Snake

     I thank John Cochrane for sending me this delightful poem by Mary Oliver.  I love the feeling of sweet safety the poet imagines the snake experiencing upon escape from an encounter with a human!  –April Moore    

 WATER SNAKE
        by Mary Oliver

I saw him
in a dry place
on a hot day,
a traveler
making his way
from one pond to another,
and he lifted up
his chary face
and looked at me
with his gravel eyes,
and the feather of his tongue
shot in and out
of his otherwise clamped mouth
and I stopped on the path
to give him room,
and he went past me
with his head high,
loathing me, I think,
for my long legs,
my poor body, like a post,
my many fingers,
for he didn’t linger
but, touching the other side of the path,
he headed, in long lunges and quick heaves,
straight to the nearest basin
of sweet black water and weeds,
and solitude

8 Responses to “Water Snake”

  1. Judy Muller Says:

    This is a wonderful poem, which I had not seen before. I like it because it is from the viewpoint of the snake, and the human is the Other. And I love any poem by Mary Oliver.

  2. Joan Brundage Says:

    What a beautiful poem and I love the photo! Thanks for sharing this April. I’ve never seen a water snake.

  3. Elizabeth H. Cottrell Says:

    Wonderful! I’ve only recently discovered Mary Oliver’s work, and she is so talented.

  4. Diane Artz Furlong Says:

    Just got my first book of Mary Oliver poetry today! I don’t know if Water Snake is in it but I know it will be filled with delights.

  5. Tanya Says:

    Lovely! The often-loathed and maligned snake has his opinions, too!

  6. George Elvin Says:

    My kids, 10-year-old Jack and 8-year-old Annie, just encountered an Eastern Rat Snake while hiking in a nearby state park. But he didn’t “head straight to the nearest basin”, he reared up like he was going to strike. The kids figured they were out of range (a wild guess on their part, I’m sure), and after a few minutes the snake relaxed and ambled of through the underbrush.

    Living in town, they don’t get many wildlife encounters, and I was glad they knew how to handle it both safely and respectfully. And I’m glad they got to appreciate the beauty of this big five-foot snake.

  7. Michael Says:

    This is really an awesome poem. I have been reading a lot of posts about water snakes and I have not seen anything like this in my past. Those who like to learn about water snakes should visit watersnake.net.

  8. Heather Says:

    But there are another 4 lines! Here is the end of the poem (last 9 lines), from Oliver’s New Poems, 1991-1992:

    …but, touching the other side of the path,
    he headed, in long lunges and quick heaves,
    straight to the nearest basin
    of sweet black water and weeds,
    and solitude—
    like an old sword
    that suddenly picked itself up and went off,
    swinging, swinging,
    through the green leaves.

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