A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pajamas for the heat,
To drink there.
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent,
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet,
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth.
I felt so honored.
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice a dream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have something to expiate:
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me; my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance; I weep like a child for the past.