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Analyze "The Black Snake" by Mary Oliver.

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In "The Black Snake," the speaker has just hit a snake with her car. The poem that follows is a reflection on mortality and a range of reactions to death.

The first stanza describes the speaker's hitting the snake as it "flashed" in front of her car. She doesn't have time to avoid it, and the incident becomes symbolic of "how [death] happens." This first quick stanza introduces the idea of how abruptly death can occur and suggests that the line between life and death is very thin. Next, the speaker reflects on what the dead snake looks like. He has become "useless" in his death, like "an old bicycle tire." The simile implies that the snake has quickly transformed from a living being to an inanimate object. Perhaps as an act of atonement and respect, the speaker brings the snake to the bushes.

Once the speaker touches the snake, she includes more emotional imagery and figurative language, referring to the snake as "a dead brother" in its beauty and silence. Rather than a discarded tire, the...

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