Monday, May 07, 2012

`Yet Where He Was Is Gone'

“The little snake now grieves
With whispering pause, and slow,
Uncertain where to go
Among the glassy leaves,
Pale angel that deceives.”

Beside our west-facing front door is an arch-shaped window. On the sill my wife has placed a stoppered, darker-than-Delft blue bottle. For a few minutes in the early evening, before the oaks and the house across the street block the sunlight, a puddle of blue trembles on the stairs leading to the second floor.

“With tongue too finely drawn,
Too pure, too tentative,
He needs but move to live,
Yet where he was is gone;
He loves the quiet lawn.”

Sunday morning I walked down those stairs, and through the window saw a dull-orange something drop from the sky. It was a robin and it was on the ground, among the leaves, tormenting a worm. This seemed odd because our weather lately has been warm and dry, inhospitable conditions for earthworms on the ground. Also, the robin picked repeatedly at his prey with his beak but the worm remained intact. Normally a worm is softer than overcooked spaghetti.

“Kin to the petal, cool,
Translucent, veined, firm,
The fundamental worm,
The undefined fool,
Dips to the icy pool.”

It was a Texas brown snake, a young one judging by his length and thinner-than-a-pencil girth. In a pleasing reversal of human expectations, the bird hammered away, occasionally pausing to lift his prey and shake it, but the snake went on writhing and squirming. He wouldn’t die and the bird wouldn’t give him up. After three minutes or so, the tip of the snake’s tail fell off. The bird cocked his head, looking at me or the snake, and flew off with breakfast dangling from his beak: “He needs to move to live, / Yet where he was is gone.”

[The stanzas above are Yvor Winters’ “A Spring Serpent.”]

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