Posted in Poetry

The Snake’s Keening (A Response Poem)

I am guest-hosting Meeting the Bar at dVerse Poet’s Pub.  I challenge my fellow poets to write response poetry.  (See Marlowe and Ralegh’s poems for examples.)  I have written a response in the voice of the snake to Denise Levertov’s poem, To the Snake.  Her poem follows below.

The Snake’s Keening

Bright Girl, when you plucked me from
the grass and round your neck I hung
felt your seering warmth
and whispered in your ear the secrets
of a serpent’s curse
the weight of sin and shame I bare
wounded in your ears —

Bright Girl — I swore to my scaled children that certainly
you were sinless! But truly
I had no hope of ever passing your heel, only desire
and be held by you, for that thrill,
which bereft
of guilt, as the grass closed
behind me, and you with that dark
assurance in your eyes,
I shall never share.

© Jilly’s  All Rights Reserved

To the Snake
by Denise Levertov

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 —

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.

To the Snake, by Denise Levertov
Poetry Foundation, October 1958



A wild soul writing poetry.

44 thoughts on “The Snake’s Keening (A Response Poem)

  1. Wow–Jilly. This is wonderful. I like the way you wove in the biblical serpent, even though I am not a believer, and I like the way your lines wraparound and to the next.
    This is a cool idea for a dVerse challenge! I didn’t see that post yet–I’m behind on everything. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a wonderful example Jilly and you chose a powerful poem by Denise ~ The metaphor and biblical implications reverberate ~ Thank you for hosting our challenge in dVerse ~

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jill, it’s amazing that you chose this poem! Several years ago, I entered one of my students for a poetry reciting competition and she got through with this poem! I love your response. I especially enjoyed the address ‘Bright Girl’ and the lines:
    ‘…whispered in your ear the secrets
    of a serpent’s curse
    the weight of sin and shame I bare
    wounded in your ears’
    ‘…as the grass closed
    behind me, and you with that dark
    assurance in your eyes’,
    It’s so snaky!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hope, suspicion, desire, sin- get a room, girl and snake! No, but seriously, this was excellent. I loved how she feels burning hot to his cold-blooded self and “the dark assurance in your eyes.” You really got under his ssskin.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Levertov late 1950’s response to the Genesis tale winds into the feminist world — affinities shared between myth and woman — What is different here is a more naked embrace of nature, not for a human myth but for animal-human encounter. The snake welcomes that touch although it will never comprehend it as the human does. As the reptile tries to understand warm blood and calls it “seering.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Levertov has been on the edges for me for years, but I am spending more time there and discovering amazing work. Do you go through that, Frank? You dive into a poet and say, “Why haven’t I been here before?”
      The other one for me right now is Li-Young Lee.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment, Vaccinius!
      (I noticed that your link in dVerse did not work correctly. The Challenge is open for about 4 more hours, so if you would like to try it again, I will have a team member pull out the current one.)


      1. Thank you. I checked, and a + sign was missing in the address, obviously taken out by a devil right before I posted the link. So the devil in this case is placed in Norway, having control with my computer.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I believe that devil is gathered by a focus. Well. Obviously, the devil wants me to believe I cannot have a + sign in the link address. That is, though, nonsense. The link on MisterLinky worked when I checked it. Anyhow, I have used an url shortening web site to make a new link, without the + sign. That is my fourth attempt. And the link worked when I checked it now. (Sorry!)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m so glad it worked! I’m reading from my phone right now, which has its own demons, but I see what an. incredible poem you have written! Amazing!!! Worth the battle to get it posted.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. i will surely explore Levertov now, thank you for introducing her. your response is a very sincere look from how the serpent felt being used as a minion of evil. I feel it was very remorseful and just wanted to be held and not judged. I admire your choice of poem Jilly, very provocative response.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So Long So Long
    ago so afraid
    oF A
    LiVinG WiTHiN
    So now
    so now
    Friends with now the
    Snake never ends the Love
    AS Reptile Brain First for Will and
    Strength for Live.. Limbic BRain aS
    LioN HeArteD CouRaGE oF LoVE
    As Grace iN MaMaLiAN Ways..
    BaLanCinG ForcE Then
    For Poetry..:)

    Liked by 1 person

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