Richard Wilbur

(March 1, 1921)

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A Fable


Securely sunning in a forest glade,
A mild, well-meaning snake
Approved the adaptations he had made
For safety’s sake.

He liked the skin he had—
Its mottled camouflage, its look of mail,
And was content that he had thought to add
A rattling tail.


The tail was not for drumming up a fight;
No, nothing of the sort.
And he would only use his poisoned bite
As last resort.


A peasant now drew near,
Collecting wood; the snake, observing this,
Expressed concern by uttering a clear
But civil hiss.


The simple churl, his nerves at once unstrung,
Mistook the other’s tone
And dashed his brains out with a deftly-flung
Pre-emptive stone.

Moral

Security, alas, can give
A threatening impression;
Too much defense-initiative
Can prompt aggression.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Daniel Y. (4/9/2014 7:46:00 PM)

    Wonderful style! This poem was enjoyable and impressive. Unique word choice and format always give me happiness. The miscommunication is a wonderful theme, and it was treated delicately.
    I enjoyed your poem, please read one of mine. (Report) Reply

  • Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (4/9/2014 4:34:00 AM)

    A very moral story lies in the little poem from the great poet which is so much meaning to we human beings who are proud of our intelligence. The snake is a symbol of having enough stock of venom and striking capacity to kill the aggressor of its safety and seclusion. The poor villager the peasant coming for collecting the wood may be for fuel comes in the vicinity of the snake and it suspects and makes sound natural to its aggressive behaviour in such circumstances but not necessarily required to such a poor man who is not supposed to be an aggressor against the snake. Having heard the sound of hiss of snake and with a human urge for protection naturally he takes the stone and the remaining story we can make our selves to have understood. Here the snake itself is to be criticized for its aggressive character since he has started to make the sound of violence just like a country supposedly makes and argues for war mongering tactics against another before exactly knowing enemy's might power and ultimately destroys itself on its character. Also people in villages sometimes quarrel with another family in such pretexts which is sometimes suicidal in its existence without knowing the capacity and strength of another. This is a moral story and the story told through story of snake is wonderfully illustrated by the poet and therefore very nice to read. (Report) Reply

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