A Fable by Richard Wilbur

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

image

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.

by Richard Wilbur

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