Posted by Barbara Barrett on 30th December 2013
1. The dictionary definition of serpent is a large snake; REH’s description in his poetry is far more vivid and varied. In poems such as “The Serpent” shown below and “Eternity” he equates it with timelessness. Others like “All Hallows Eve”, “Laughter in the Gulfs,” and “Destination” serpents are related to horror; on the other hand, in “Deeps” it sleeps with dragons; in “Dreaming in Israel,” “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming (variant) and “A Song for All Women” it is another name for treachery; but in “A Far Country” and “A Lady’s Chamber” he speaks of golden serpents while in “The Grim Land” they shimmer and weave and rear their heads. in “Lilith,” as well as “The Singer in the Mist” and “Secrets” he speaks of it as a tempter. it becomes a protector of treasure in “Miser’s Gold.” In “The Sea” it lives in the ocean and battles the Kraken; in “The Shadow”(see poem below) it sheds its skin signifying change; in “Who Shall Sing of Babylon” it represents decay that is coiled up within the walls; and in his poems about Vikings he speaks of the Serpent’s Prow.
[origin: 13th century; Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin serpent-, serpens, from present participle of serpere to creep; akin to Greek herpein to creep, Sanskrit sarpati he creeps]
I am the symbol of Creation and Destruction.
I am the beginning and the end.
With my tail in my mouth
I am the Circle of Eternity.
Wisdom is in my eyes
And the dusk of wisdom lurks amid my coils.
My track circles the world
And I loop my coils about the Universe.
My head waves among the stars
And the nations fall prostrate before me.
Coiled, head upright, I am the spirit of the sea.
The world-shaking dinosaur was my henchman
And the flying dragons were my footmen.
The ancients knew me.
They reared shrines and altars
And I taught them dim, dusky wisdom.
I coiled in the ruins of Troy and Babylon
And on the forgotten streets of Nineveh.
The Norse called me Midgaard and built their galleys
Like a sea-serpent.
The Egyptians and the Indians called me Ysis
And the Phoenicians Baal.
I am the sea that girdles the world.
I am the first and I shall be the last.
I am the Serpent of the Ages.
[from “Serpent”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 519 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 36]