(for the text of this poem, click here for its page at PoetsGraves.com)
An opening of purest naturalism, in the strict, observational convention of nature poetry: I, Human, encounter one of Circe’s creatures, and like any trained scientist - only I a scientist of the soul - I watch, and describe.
But I, Human, am indignant, for I, Human, am God’s custodian, appointed even before Eden, whence mere snakes were banished. Encounter has already become confrontation.
The snake though is oblivious. Haughty, arrogant in its knowledge of its own superiority, blithely indifferent to the edicts and ordinances of Eden, the snake pursues not confrontation, not even encounter, but only the quenching of its thirst. The snake, incurious, drinks.
And I, Human, hands-on-hips in outraged indignation, I am affronted. Like Etna in my fury, smoking. More so indeed, for in its brazenness, in its audacity, it has had the gall (yes, gall) to look up at me between drink and drink - and sneer.
Ah, but it is a beautiful, a magnificent creature, this snake. (He who admires his enemy is lost.)
The encounter-confrontation takes place beyond consciousness, animal pulse to animal pulse: pure will. But now the human consciousness asserts itself, Reason and Knowledge called to the dock to justify Man’s bestial-humanity, his ignorance-named-intelligence, his inferiority-named-superiority, his destruction-named-progress: wanton, malign dominion of the Edenic covenant. The Siren voices whisper, nag, upbraid - how many could resist being dashed upon the rocks? Yet Lawrence resists. Better attuned to the animal pulse than the Siren voices, Lawrence yields to admiration - guilty admiration, doubt-riddled admiration - and is lost.
Now it is no longer confrontation between Man and Beast, but between the Reptile and the Adam within the Human Soul. The actual reptile presents no threat or danger: only the inner struggle is dangerous to the inner man, and so transfers itself to the external force, imbuing the innocent snake with latent menace.
(The antithesis of human intelligence is not ignorance, but violence.)
I, Human, admit to fear: fear of the latent beast inside me whom I see reflected in the blameless beast before me; fear of my own inferiority, which I dare not admit; fear that my impregnable tower will prove breachable, the tower I have built with quicksand of morality, education, culture. And I, Human, am rendered infinitely vulnerable by fear. My fear is made manifest in the very existence of the snake - what choice, then, do I have, but to worship, or destroy?
Because I, Lawrence, have yielded to admiration, because I would choose the animal pulse before the Siren voices, because I would choose the Adam in me before the Reptile in me - I, Lawrence, worship.
But the Siren voices never cease their whispering.
And my snake (my snake), like a dissatisfied god, unworshipped, has turned its back.
I throw a log - not to appease the Siren voices, but only because my god would abandon me, descending back into its underworld beyond reach of my worship.
And the god is demeaned, belittled, insulted.
And the animal pulse in me is robbed of contact.
Farewell, mighty snake!
I, Human, am nothing in comparison with Thee - less than nothing: an over-educated fool.
Farewell, mighty snake, god who has forsaken me, and been forsaken by me.
Now must I in worship seek forgiveness.
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