Analyze "The Black Snake" by Mary Oliver.

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Black Snake” by Mary Oliver serves as a reminder of the fragility of life and the certainty of death.  Death is a common topic for the poet who examines  its occurrence, its meaning, and its mystery.   The poem places a reptile that most people find unsympathetic in the position of representing the natural order in nature.


The point of view of the poem is first person. The narrator, who is probably the poet, describes the scene and draws the reader into the mysterious world of the snake and its death.


The poem is written in free verse.  There are six quatrains with no rhyme scheme. The poet uses enjambment to continue the thoughts from one line to the next. 


The poem reflects the sadness of the poet as she observes the death of the snake. Also, there is a remorseful atmosphere for an unnecessary death caused by man. Later, the mood becomes brighter as the poet thinks of how she has eluded death.


Human beings versus nature

The poet explores the connections between creatures of the natural world and mankind. The truck unable to swerve accidentally kills the snake.  The driver does not stop and seems unconcerned about the loss of this part of nature.

The most important theme lies in the examination of death as a part of the cycle of life.  When the poet looks at the snake and feels his still warm body, she thinks of its beauty and the swiftness of its death.

I leave him under the leaves

and drive on, thinking

about death: its suddenness,

its terrible weight,

its certain coming.


  • Now he [the dead snake] lies looped and useless as an old bicycle tire.  
  • He is as cool and gleaming as a braided whip
  • He is as beautiful and quiet as a dead brother


 Death a dreaded weight

The suddenness of the snake’s death represents the fragility of life and the certainty of death


The snake moving through the leaves and greenery in the spring symbolizes the renewal of life. Just as the snake glides onto the road, mankind also glides into rhythms of life without reflection on inherent dangers. "Life," not death, "is the light at the center of every cell."


A truck runs over a snake.  The poet is in her car behind the truck. She stops and carries the dead snake to the side of the road and places him under some leaves.

Traveling on she thinks about death and its quickness in taking its victims.Thinking about death logically, she happily believes that with her good fortune it will not capture her. However, death is at the center of everything that lives.  It ended the life of the snake which had been slithering through springtime  and life happily until it crossed the road.


Man invades the habitat of all the animals, insects, reptiles and creatures of the natural world. He builds roads and drives man-made vehicles. The meetings of man and creature often result in death. The natural order of the world is that the fittest survive.