Parsing the Paradise Haiku


don’t dare to listen

a snake whispers in the trees

mocking paradise

Two readers of Love of Wisdom caught the ironic intention of this haiku.  The first is a good friend in Japan named John Dougill whose blog is a treasure trove of insight and information on Japanese culture, especially Shinto and its relationship to the western pagan traditions.  John wrote:

“Here in Japan snakes are worshiped as an ancient symbol of regeneration.  The mocking snake above is a biblical allusion, but is the snake acting as a symbol of truth or the deceptive evil creature as demonized in Christianity?  The word ‘dare’ in the first line prompts a pagan reading of the verse…”

And Jen Rosenberry, one of my very favorite haiku poets who writes on wrote:

“I was busy flip-flopping this haiku, too–don’t dare listen to whom? is the snake doing the mocking–or is a false version of “paradise” doing the mocking?  Very interesting.  Very, very interesting.”

I am so pleased that these two comments captured the spirit in which I wrote the poem.  I have long preferred the oriental view of the molting snake (or in Maine, the molting lobster) as a positive symbol of transformation and rebirth, and as John notes, it takes great courage–great daring– to heed the promptings toward growth and change in one’s own heart.

It seems to me that the snake in the garden of Eden was urging Adam and Eve to grow up. Their “sin” after all was eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This means that before eating this fruit, they did not know the difference between  good and evil or right and wrong–which is the essence of innocence and also the legal definition of insanity.  Without this moral sense, they were reduced to simply following a command,  like a dog being told not to mess on the carpet.  How odd to think that becoming a moral agent would create a rift between the divine and the human.  I would think it would be just the opposite.

In the movie “Oh God” George Burns (God) was asked by some serious theologians if Adam and Eve had really sinned.  “Heck, no,” he answered.  “They were only kids, and kids can’t sin.”  Thus, the Eden myth seems to me to infantilize Adam and Eve, and to cast the soul’s longing, as voiced by the snake, for mature autonomy and responsibility as sinful. I therefore agree here with John that we must dare to heed the call for transformation in our own hearts, and to cherish whatever symbol embraces that ideal.  For millions of people, it is the snake.

The Eden myth also seems to reduce the notion of paradise to a hedonistic utopia (which literally means “nowhere”).  The notion of paradise originally referred to a walled garden, and the word  is not used in the Hebrew version of the Garden of Eden.  But the Vulgate Latin version (4th Century C.E.) not only uses the word paradise, but calls it a paradise of pleasure.  Here is a literal translation of the two relevant verses from Genesis 2:

Therefore God made man from the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man was made a living soul.  And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning, into which He placed the man he had formed.

A paradise of pleasure.  By the 13th century, this version had become the official view of the Catholic Church, and had been applied both to the state of innocence before the Fall, and to the eternal  bliss awaiting the righteous in Heaven (the same translation sees Jesus promising one of the thieves on the cross that “today you will be with me in Paradise..”)

So I will go with one side of Jen’s options: I believe that a vapid notion of paradise deserves to be mocked, and that the snake was doing us a favor.  Just as Mary Oliver reminds us that we “don’t have to be perfect, ” I find the idea that a perfect human life should be free of challenge and pain and growth and loss to be unattractive and boring.  The Garden of Eden must have been rather uneventful, to say the least, and even as a child, I found the pictures of Heaven not at all compelling. Hell, on the other hand, was a vivid and exciting place, albeit one to avoid.   A care-free, growth-free existence seems an unworthy one to which to aspire. Stay innocent, follow the rules, and you will be rewarded by an eternity of bliss–or negatively, stay innocent, follow the rules, and you will not be damned to eternal punishment.  I believe that whatever Divinity there is , she wishes much more for us than that.  And so:

Dare to heed the call

A snake whispers in your heart

why are you not you?

5 thoughts on “Parsing the Paradise Haiku

  1. juliemontinieri

    In keeping with the tone of your essay, the reason I am not me is because the feminine was edited out of Christianity. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — where is the Goddess of all other traditions? I love your challenge: Dare to heed the call. For me it’s the voice of the goddess, calling across the ages, resurrecting within us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jhanagan2014 Post author

      My initial reaction to your comment, Julie, was how much you and my wife, Carolyn, would love each other. We must get together for a lunch sometime when we are in your neck of the woods.
      Carolyn and I often observe and remark upon the dismissal of women and the feminine in modern culture. The biblical account actually places enmity between the woman and the snake–who I see as a symbol of autonomy and growth. It does seems to me, however, that thousands, millions, of women and men are awakening to the power and the spiritual beauty of the feminine. Let us, at least, hope so, and contribute our kind energy to this process.


      1. juliemontinieri

        John, I would LOVE to meet you and Carolyn. Please let me know when you are in the Northeast — perhaps Vermont? — and I can meet you for a nice long lunch somewhere.

        I agree that the sacred feminine is awakening in a big way now, balancing the masculine energies that have dominated for so long. The serpent is also a symbol of healing — not exactly evil, smile.

        Julie Montinieri *Blue Heron Healing* Wethersfield, CT, 06109 860-563-5682


  2. Eileen

    Yes, I have also questioned this view of knowing the difference between good and evil and decided it was the point where animal instincts with no moral consequences grew into awareness of both freedom of choice and of consequences. It is what makes us human with the potential to grow in the image of God. However, we still seem to be in the process of learning to connect the two, choice and consequence.



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