when serpents bargain for the right to squirm… (22)

when serpents bargain for the right to squirm
and the sun strikes to gain a living wage-
when thorns regard their roses with alarm
and rainbows are insured against old age

when every thrush may sing no new moon in
if all screech-owls have not okayed his voice
-and any wave signs on the dotted line
or else an ocean is compelled to close

when the oak begs permission of the birch
to make an acorn-valleys accuse their
mountains of having altitude-and march
denounces april as a saboteur

then we’ll believe in that incredible
unanimal mankind(and not until)

Analysis, meaning and summary of e.e. cummings's poem when serpents bargain for the right to squirm… (22)


  1. Samuel Meyer says:

    as a very new fan of e. e. cummings, i have very little i can claim in the way of expertise in this realm. but i would point out one observation which struck me while reading this. i believe that there is a great deal of the poem that concerns the will and motivation behind action. cummings introduces a number of characters from nature. in each of these scenes, the character is about to engage in an action which is otherwise be natural, but which, is hampered through the imposition of some human absurdity. there is a sense here in which nature is superior to man in that it acts out of the compulsion of its design rather than the stipulations of its legal and ideological code. it acts and exists irrespective of all other orders and institutions.

  2. jahfar sadiq says:

    actually as far as i am concerned cummings appreciates the animal than human beings .he conveys the message that unless those things which he mentioned about in the poem occur human beings are note liable to be called animal .

  3. Dionysus (S. G.) says:

    Two possibilities occurred to me after considering the lines and reading some of the comments. Either he wants to show the unnatural nature of human beings by ironically applying human deeds to the most natural elements, or he is trying to depict something beyond this; Cummings believes that human beings are currently animals (considering the negative aspects of animals, of which people often speak). If you have in mind his attempts to be anything but normal, Cummings seems to believe in the fact that the devaluation of nature and animals by human beings is not true. WE are the actual animals people are used to depreciate; WE are those to whom all the humiliating adjectives must be ascribed. So what cummings says is that if only everything changes upside down, we can be truly described as unanimal beings; that is, if nature acts as human beings and mankind acts as nature, the so-called nice descriptions of human beings, which are preached by people now and then, can be attributed to us.

  4. Claudia T. says:

    Yes, like one of the reviewers stated, I too believe that this poem points to the ‘absurdities of man’, how out of touch with our true nature we have become. We have created a world of concepts and separeteness, a world of illusions. Our dream world is ruled by judgement, self-interest, fear, paranoia, power struggles… Until man can be more like the way everything else is and works around us (in its natural, unadultarated form), we will continue to live in this illusory state. We will be free, spontaneous, connected to all, and in harmony with our world when we wake up from this dream and see our beautiful true nature.

  5. Roya Pourbehi says:

    it may want to show the power that man has gained beside all the changes of nature that happens n attract our attentions but human behaviour n his developments would be greater than nature changes.human is developing n making day after day n the changes r different from the other one while in nature the changes have become ordinary.

  6. Stephanie in high school says:

    I think it’s interesting that Cummings says that man will never be “unanimal” until nature starts acting like man does. It’s odd how man can’t become like nature, and I have to agree with the statement. I just think it’s an interesting point to include here.

  7. Warren Silverman says:

    I first read this poem in 1974 while at college. The line: -valleys accuse their mountains of having altitude- has rung through my head ever since. I don’t know why, but it is haunting. It is, in fact, an amazing image.

  8. parastoo_farrahi says:

    i think that in this poem speaker says something about human and society it refers to the problems and bad things people do in society . i think that serpent is symbol of bad people in society who do bad things,don’t care to the other people who just care about themselvesand who don’t know love,trust,honesty,kindness,likeness,who don’t care to the other people and don’t raise a hand to help them.and thorns,is the other symbole of these things and ocean is symbole of people who are open minded who undrestand the ugliness of society but force to be quiet by higher position people in society thse group of people have emothion,love,feelings but day can’t do any thing for society coz they are not allowed this poem shows animal like mankind who just think about themselves don’t care about recovery of the society, love….and the usage of word valley is symbole of these open minded people who protest to people in highest position in society(mountain is symbole of authorities)becouse of these problems but authorities don’t care coz maybe it’s harmfull for them and they just prefer to cheat people and don’t care them.I think by using of unanimal mankind poet try to moke these bad people in the society who just think about animal like willing and to get what they want they even distroy the other people and they don’t care about love,;ike,trust,honesty….and they just like animals think about thie needs like food…they are different from the people who care to these valuable things andwho are real human being.

  9. etienne terblanche says:

    The poem can also be read as an expanding set of allusions to William Blake who writes (I can’t recall exactly where in his poetic universe) that the lion does not ask permission of the horse to catch its prey, and so on. From this angle, the poem is also about so-called man’s denial of unpredictability, wilderness and the awe-inspiring power of natural being. Cummings mocks the “ethic” or “law” that would want us to believe that we are not radically and actively akin to the animals. That he manages to do so in a highly satisfying crisp, fresh and lyrical manner sheds an intriguing light both on lyricism and on being human.

  10. Aleksandr says:

    Has anyone noticed the Shakespearean sonnet form of the poem–roughly three quatrains and a couplet? I would think that his using this form that has otherwise been used for meditating upon love and friendship, etc. says something about his distrust for “unanimal mankind” and how nature–e.g. animals– is ironically more “unanimal” than humankind.

  11. Will G. says:

    I have to disagree. Cummings is being literal when he says “unanimal mankind.” The poem does play on man and nature, but it distinctly points out the absurdities of man. No oak begs permission, no rainbows are insured, and no wave signs anything. Cummings is pointing out the distinct “unnatural nature” of society. Although I don’t think Cummings would consider himself “unanimal”, he didn’t consider himself normal by any means. He was just human.

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