Theodore Roethke

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The poet's admiration for the unique form of the snake in Theodore Roethke's poem 'Snake'


In Theodore Roethke's poem "Snake," the poet admires the snake's unique form by highlighting its graceful and fluid movements, its sleek and shiny skin, and its mysterious and almost hypnotic presence. The poet's detailed and vivid descriptions emphasize the snake's beauty and elegance, reflecting a deep appreciation for its distinct and captivating form.

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What makes the snake's form special in Theodore Roethke's poem 'Snake'?

The poem, "Snake," by Roethke reveals some fascinating and special aspects of his poetry.  The first would be the naturalism that the snake holds.  In the first stanza, the poet's use of natural descriptions make the snake come alive.   The "molted shade" gives us a different view of how the snake is viewed.  Whereas the traditional conception of snake is one of sinister and devious motives, this depiction presents the snake in a different light.  The manner in which the snake stays in the "still air," and how the snake does not really bother or intrude on anyone.  It seems as if the snake is at peace with the world, as it has achieved a type of balance with the natural world and its sense of self.  Once again, this contrasts with the typical Western depiction of snakes.  As far back as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, snakes have been portrayed as elements that seek to destabilize their natural settings.  Yet, here we see a vision of a snake at peace with elements around it.  It can remain "in the still air" and then, in an instance, result in being "gone."  Roethke admires its purity and its sense of self in this environment.  There seems to be a longing in the speaker's voice for the simplicity offered by the snake and its interaction with the world.  The idea of "sensuousness" is also special for the speaker.  When the poet describes the snake as being of a "sensuous form," I think the speaker is trying to indicate how in sync the snake is within its environment. It seems like the snake is well centered and within a niche where there is absolute comfort between the snake and its world.  This is the hope of the speaker, of Rothke, and this might be what he finds so special about the snake.  The theme of naturalism is prevalent in Roethke's poetry and he seems to be creating a setting where the snake and naturalism converge into one.

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Why is the poet impressed with the snake in Theodore Roethke's poem "Snake"?

The idea that someone can meld with nature is something that comes up often in Roethke's poetry. What the persona (the speaker in the poem) seems most attracted to is the snake's "pure, sensuous form." The snake does not do any thinking--it just exists in its world. It glides out of the shade and hangs limply on a stone.

The young snake does not think; it exists. It is a "pure, sensuous form." Its entire way of being in the world is physical. It "glides" (an effortless movement) and it "hangs" on the stone it arrives at.

Humans live in mind and body. We are "civilized", and part of what makes us that is that we can control our bodies. We can think about our physical impulses and we can decide what to do, where to go, and even, perhaps, who to love. Most of us spend too much time thinking and not enough time being.

If we become one with an object in nature, we lose our intellect but gain a deeper pulse. This is the attraction for the poet. He watches the snake and feels an immediate physical response. He says his "slow blood warms." "Slow blood" is not aroused. It is calm and controlled. Warm blood is infused with passion. It can flow more quickly.

The snake represents sensuality in its pure form. The narrator wants to be one with the snake because he wants to connect with his own pure sensual nature. Unlike the snake, this does not come naturally for the poet. He has to hope that in time what is second nature for the snake will come to him.

What Roethke is doing here is reversing our expectations and playing with our ideas about what is honourable and good. We have built our society upon the belief that our ability to think is what makes us better than the rest of the beings on earth. Roethke is suggesting that it is the opposite that should be striven for--what is valuable is our ability to feel.

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Why is the poet impressed with the snake in Theodore Roethke's poem "Snake"?

When analyzing why Roethke is impressed with the snake, I come back to his one line in the third stanza:  "The pure and sensuous form."  A theme in Roethke's poetry is the element of the natural world, how things are and, perhaps, how things were intended to be.  I think Roethke admires the form of the snake and how attune and synchronized the snake is with its environment.  The descriptions in the first stanza would indicate as much.  The snake does not slither, it "glides" and it doesn't come out of sinister darkness, but rather of "molted shade." It does not seek to control or dominate its environment, as it "hangs, limp on a stone:/ A think mouth, and a tongue/ Stayed, in the still air." The traditional depiction of snakes is of malevolence and deception.  Yet, this rendering of the snake shows it as one that seems to be at peace with its world.  It is a part of the world, an extension of it.  Perhaps, this is why Roethke sees it as a "pure, sensuous form."  This ability to be immersed in one's surroundings might be a reason why he is impressed with the snake.  This would be confirmed with the last line that indicates he might be at the point where the snake is.  Obviously, what the snake represents is something for which Roethke holds some level of admiration.  He seems to be using the snake as a model for what he will be in "some time."  If this is the case, and given the fact that his rendering of the snake has been one of a positive light, then his level of of admiration for the snake is of something of a benchmark that is to measure from where Roethke is to where he longs to be.

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