In the poem “To the Snake” the author Denise Levertov use several writing techniques to portray money and gambling. She uses syntax, sound imagery, color imagery, figurative language, and symbolism to represent money and gambling. Symbolism is used cleverly throughout the poem to depict a number of things that would take numerous readings to see.
Throughout the poem the sentences are structured so that every other sentence is indented, with exception to the first two and the last four. In those sentences not indented the author chose to make every other sentence shorter so that the ends were uneven. This syntax structure gives the reader the feeling of something hard to catch or control. The author did this because money, as it is depicted in the poem, is something this person can’t handle. In other words this person can’t get control of money, instead the want of money is controlling them. This introduces the idea of gambling into the poem. In the poem it says, “…I swore to my companions that certainly you were harmless!”, which is the typical statement of people addicted to gambling. Once again there is the control factor. This person can not control their desire for money and, the means of getting the money, gambling. Another important syntax technique can be seen in line 12. The poem says “…for that joy, which left a long wake of pleasure…” The words “which left” are put on a line alone to draw attention to them. When read without stopping, the words make it seem as if, “…a wake of pleasure…”, was left. However, if the line is read again slowly, the line seems to say, “…that joy…”, left. The author did this to show that even though the joy left, the memory of pleasure was still there, which is why this person continues to gamble. `
Sound imagery is another writing technique put to use by Levertov in the poem. When reading the poem out loud, the reader notices the “S” sound. The misleading “S” or hissing sound could be interpreted, by some readers, to be the sound of a snake. It is instead the sound of money. When gambling, it is often necessary when betting on something to count money quickly. Paper money when rubbing together makes a hissing sound very much like the sound you get when reading the poem. The hissing could also be attributed to the sound of machines or people in a casino. The sound is not very distinct but it does resemble hissing.
One of the most convincing aspects of the poem that leads the reader to believe the poem is about gambling and money is the use of symbolism. The speaker is addressing this snake throughout the poem but each time says, “Green Snake…” instead of just snake. This shows that it was not the snake that was important, but its color. The color green of course is the color of paper currency, which leads back to the idea that the poem is about money. Next, is the color gold, which is often the color of jewelry, whether the metal is real gold or not. The gold referred to in the poem is most likely a necklace bought with gambling money. The line, “…when I hung you round my neck and stroked your cold, pulsing throat…glinting arrowy gold scales…”, gives the idea that the gold is indeed a gold necklace because the speaker put it around their neck. Last, the color silver appears in the poem. In reference to money, silver is the color of coins, excluding the penny. This is one of the cleverest uses of symbolism in the poem. In the passage it reads, “…and I felt the weight of you on my shoulders, and the whispering silver of your dryness…” This part of the poem deals with the speaker having no money. Usually when speaking of money the word dry is synonymous with lack. Most of the time when you are low on paper currency you have coins which goes back to the color silver. Staying with the same topic the, “…weight of you on my shoulders…”, is talking about the stress the speaker has from not having money. The last bit of symbolism comes in the last part of the poem where it says, “…as the leaves moved and you faded into the pattern of grass and shadows, and I returned smiling and haunted, to a dark morning.” The leaves moving are symbolic of time passing. As the seasons change the leaves always go through some kind of change which is why the leader is led to believe that the leaves represent some portion of time, which could be great or small. The word fading says to the reader that the money the speaker has gained in gambling is now all gone. The idea that it faded into the pattern of grass and shadows makes the reader think that the speaker is going to gamble again and start the cycle over. First lets look at the grass. Grass when cut grows back every time, under normal conditions. This applied to the gambler means that each time the money gets short the speaker is going to gamble again to get more money or make their cash supply grow just like grass. The same principle applies with shadows. The sun comes up and the shadows began to form. As the sun goes down the shadows leave. This constant growing and decreasing cycle can once again be applied to the speaker either losing or all their money and then regaining it by gambling. The part, which discusses how the speaker returns smiling and haunted, refers to the speaker facing his/her friends. The speaker smiles to assure them there is no harm done, while they are really haunted because they cant kick the habit and it is consuming them. The dark morning is of course when the speaker starts the whole cycle all over again.
The author used a variety of elements like syntax, symbolism, and imagery to tell a story of a person addicted to gambling. Levertov cleverly used things in nature like a snake and grass and leaves to represent different parts of the gamblers problem. Even things so overlooked in nature as shadows were used as tools by Levertov to get a point across about the speaker. Denise Levertov in writing the poem wrote a detailed description of one thing and many things at the same time making the topic of the poem whatever you interpret and prove it to be.