don’t dare to listen
a snake whispers in the trees
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 http://www.greenshinto.com 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 blogitorloseit.com. 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?