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"The Snake Catcher and the Frozen Snake" by Coleman Barks

Published in The Essential Rumi. Harper Collins, 1995, websource.

Listen to this, and hear the mystery inside:
A snakecatcher went into the mountains to find a snake.

He wanted a friendly pet, and one that would amaze
audiences, but he was looking for a reptile, something
that has no knowledge of friendship.
It was winter.
In the deep snow he saw a frighteningly huge dead snake.
He was afraid to touch it, but he did.
In fact he dragged the thing into Baghdad,
hoping people would pay to see it.
This is how
we've become! A human being is a huge mountain range!
Snakes are fascinated by us ! Yet we sell ourselves
to look at a dead snake.
We are like beautiful satin
used to patch burlap. "Come and see the dragon I killed,
and hear the adventures!" That's what he announced,
and a large crowd came,
but the dragon was not dead
just dormant! He set up his show at a crossroads.
The ring of gawking people got thicker, everybody
on tiptoe, men and women, noble and peasant, all
packed together unconscious of their differences.
It was like the Resurrection!

He began to unwind the thick ropes and remove
the cloth coverings he'd wrapped it so well in.

Some little movement.
The hot Iraqi sun had woken
the terrible life. The people nearest started screaming.
Panic! The dragon tore easily and hungrily
loose, killing many instantly.
The snake catcher stood there,
frozen. "What have I brought out of the mountains?" The snake
braced against a post and crushed the man and consumed him.

The snake is your animal soul. When you bring it
into the hot air of your wanting-energy, warmed
by that and by the prospect of power and wealth,
it does massive damage.
Leave it in the snow mountains.
Don't expect to oppose it with quietness
and sweetness and wishing.
The nafs don't respond to those,
and they can't be killed. It takes a Moses to deal
with such a beast, to lead it back, and make it lie down
in the snow. But there was no Moses then,
Hundreds of thousands died.

University of Oklahoma logo

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Myth.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. 2002.
Page last updated: February 9, 2003 9:21 PM

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