Summary of Poem ‘The Snake’
In “The snake”, Lawrence does not develop the poetic image much beyond the traditional commonplace meaning, but in the context of his life. The poem is interesting because of its relaxed tone. It has lovely fluidity of movement. It is written in free verse, combining some of the elements of traditional rhyme, and prose rhythm. On an extremely hot day, a snake comes to the poets’ water trough to drink water.
The poet comes to the water trough with a pitcher. Both of them need water. The poet recognizes it as someone like him, who needs to drink the water. He has to wait since the snake has the first claim because he had arrived before him.
The golden yellow snake moves his soft belly over the edge of the stone trough and rests his throat on it. He begins to sip with his mouth, slowly, noiselessly, and with much confidence.
The poet describes the place from where the snake comes. Its home lies in the dark golden brown earth, the place of volcanoes. The snake brings something of that place with him. while drinking the water, the snake suddenly lifts up his head just as some cattle and animals do. It looks at the poet rather uncertainly and continues to drink leisurely.
Being satisfied with its heart’s content, the snake turns around slowly and goes to words the terrible hole from which it came. The poet is horrified to see the snake return deliberately into that black hole. He does not understand why he wants to go back.
His natural instinct tells him that the black snakes ate harmlessly, and the golden snakes were Poisonous. His education tells him that he should take a stick and kill it but he is fascinated by it. He welcomes it as a guest. He wants it to return to the place from where it has come. The poet does not understand why the snake is disappearing from the sight of the so-called civilized man.
Thus the poet is divided in his attitude towards the snake. It shows his ambivalence. He does not know whether he will let it go because of his cowardice. He does not know if his desire to talk to the snake is unnatural. He does not know if he feels honoured because he is humbled by its presence. Fully satisfied, the snake turns around slowly to return to its horrid black hole. At this point, the poet describes the snake as a God who comes from the deep earth to remind man of his own dark buried instinctive life.
Uncertain though he is, pick up a stick, and throws it at the snake. Instantly the part of the snake which is left behind recoils in undignified haste like lightning.
The next moment the poet repents his action in disturbing it. He regrets that his education has made him insensitive to the Godly presence of the snake. The poet wants the snake to come back. He despises himself and is reminded of the albatross in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem. “The Ancient Mariner”.
A sailor had killed a bird which brought him bad luck. The poet feels that he also would suffer bad luck like the Ancient Mariner for having attempted to kill an innocent snake.
Thus in ‘snake’ the winding beauty and fearsomeness of reptiles are described along with the poet’s ambivalent feelings of admiration, anxiety and shame.
About The Author
David Herbert Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter who published as D. H. Lawrence. His collected works represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation. In them, Lawrence confronts issues relating to emotional health and vitality, spontaneity, and instinct.
Lawrence’s opinions earned him many enemies and he endured official persecution, censorship, and misrepresentation of his creative work throughout the second half of his life, much of which he spent in a voluntary exile which he called his “savage pilgrimage.”At the time of his death, his public reputation was that of a pornographer who had wasted his considerable talents.
Question & Answers
Why did the poet decide that he had to stand and wait? How did he treat the snake?
A. As the snake come to the water trough much ahead of him, the poet thought that it should drink first. He adopted the principle. “First come, first served”. So he showed hospitality towards it and decided to stand and wait till his turn comes. Moreover, the poet liked the snake and treated it as a guest.
Where did the snake come from? ‘And trailed – trough’. Does it suggest the slow soft movement of the snake?
A. The snake came from a deep crack in the earth wall. The snake trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft belied down. Over the edge of the water though”. These words suggest the slow soft movement of the snake.
His body has been described as ‘slackness’. In what sense was it slack? Slow and lazy confident and relaxed?
A. The body of the snake has been described in the sense that it was slow, confident and relaxed.
what did the snake do at the trough? The way the snake drank is described as softly and silently. What do the words suggest? Lack of noise/confidence/ lack of hurry / dignity?
A. The snake sipped water at the trough softly and silently. The words ‘softly and silently suggest that the snake was not in a hurry.
‘Someone was there before me’ what does someone suggest? Just anyone who happened to be ahead of the poet? Someone important whose rights has to be respected?
A. ‘Someone’ suggests the regard the poet has towards the snake. He thought that there was someone much ahead of him whose rights he had to respect.
‘He lifted his head from his drinking as cattle do .. ‘why do you think the snake is compared to cattle?
A) while drinking, the snake lifted his head. Here the snake is compared to cattle because they do not drink water at a stretch and will be lifting their heads several times.
‘Being earth brown …..’. Three things have been mentioned in this and the next line to reinforce the idea of heat what are they?
A. To reinforce the idea of heat, the poet has mentioned three things – the burning bowels of the earth the day of Sicilian July and mount Etna an active volcano in Sicily, smoking.
What does Lawrence mean when he speaks of the voice of my education? What did it say to him?
A. “The voice of education” here means the knowledge that Lawrence had acquired about the Sicilian snakes through books. According to it, the golden snakes in his county were harmful but not the black ones. As the snake that had come to the water trough was a golden one, total him that he should kill the snake if he were a man.
What does the poet do to the snake? How does he feel after it?
A. The poet first treats the snake as his guest and allows it to drink water first, But finding the snake going back into its hole he takes a clumsy log and throws it at the snake. It misses the target but the poet regrets his haste and means act.
Where did the snake crawl into? What are the words used to describe the hole? How did the poet feel when the snake went back into the hole? Why?
A. The snake crawled into the hole in the wall. The words, “dreadful, horrid black, dark door of the secret earth” are used to describe the hole. When the snake went into the hole, a sort of horror and a sort of protest against his with-drawing into the hole overcome the poet. He anticipated some danger for the snake.
What feeling overcame the author as the snake was withdrawing into the hole? What did he do and with what result? What did he think?
A. As the snake was slowly withdrawing into the hole a sort of horror and protest overcome the poet. He picked up a log and threw it at the snake but did not hit him. The snake shook violently and pulled the remaining part of its body into the black hole.
The poet then felt sorry for his mean and hasty actions. He cursed himself and the voices of his education.
What are the words used to describe the haste with which the snake disappeared into the hole? Contrast these words with those used to describe his calm dignified movement earlier? A. The words convulsed in undignified haste, and “writhed like lightning” are used to describe the haste with which the snake disappeared into the hole. These words are in contrast with the snake’s calm dignified movement earlier. It shows a clear difference between the two movements of the snake.
The poet thinks of the snake in two images. What are they? Why do you think the snake is described in these terms?
A. The poet thinks of the snake in two images a king due to be crowned and one of the lords of life. The king who is soon to be crowned will punish the wrongdoers. The snake is kingly but the writer is mean. He anticipates some punishment. So he competes for the snake to “a king due to be crowned” and “one of the lords of life”.
“And truly I was most afraid, But even so honoured still more”. Why did the poet feel honoured in spite of being afraid?
A. The poet felt honoured in spite of being afraid because the snake came there on a hot day to drink water but not to cause harm to the poet. Even though it was a poisonous snake, it simply drank water and went in to the deep crack in the wall.