In Mary Oliver’s poem “The Black Snake,” the narrator contemplates the cycle of life with the unpredictability of death. Mary Oliver’s work is “known for its natural themes and a continual affirmation of nature as a place of mystery and spirituality that holds the power to teach humans how to value one’s life and one’s place” (Riley). In the poem, The Black Snake, the narrator witnesses a black snake hit by a truck and killed on a road one morning. Feeling sympathy for the snake, the narrator stops, and removes the dead snake from the road. Noting the snake’s beauty, the narrator carries it from the road to some nearby bushes. Continuing to drive, the narrator reflects on how the abruptness of death ultimately revealed how the snake lived his life.
This poem is divided into six stanzas with four lines each. The poem opens with “When the black snake flashed on the morning road” (1-2). The narrator uses “when” to signify the beginning of the story and introduces the snake as the main character. Labeling the snake as “black” gives it a dark and sinister appeal. The word “flashed” is used to demonstrate how fast the snake moved, and how quickly this event occurred. “Morning” is applied to the time of day that this event occurred. The narrator sees the snake quickly flash across the road. This sets up the scene in our minds. The “truck could not swerve” (3) implies that this was an accidental death. The poet uses “truck” to suggest a big vehicle that is unable to make quick moves or sudden stops. The narrator sees the snake flash across the road, into the path of a big truck that is unable to stop or swerve. “Death, that is how it happens” (4). The word “death” is italicized, emphasizing its importance. The p...
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... snake lived, not stopping to ponder death or the meaning of his life. The poet is referring to living life to its fullest “before he came to the road” (24).
Life is fragile and although death is certain, we should not let our fear of death rule the way we live. Oliver uses the snake’s death as a metaphor for the delicateness of life. We can be living one minute, but gone in an instant. We should all be propelled through life at full throttle, never slowing to contemplate death. We hope to be remembered by how we lived, what we did to celebrate that life, and not just how we died.
Riley, Jeannette E. "Mary Oliver." Twentieth-Century American Nature Poets. Ed. J. Scott Bryson and Roger Thompson. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 342. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.
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