Snake by D.H. Lawrence
- Pages: 5
- Word count: 1170
- Category: Poetry
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In the poem “Snake,” D.H. Lawrence will discuss someone who has wronged him or done something deceitful to him. As one can see in the following paragraph, Lawrence’s poem “Snake,” is about the narrator’s encounter with a venomous snake at a water trough. The narrator appears to be a man who owns the water trough, and comes to it quite often. Once he arrives at the trough, the narrator sees that he must wait because a snake has come there for water as well. The snake turns to look at the narrator slowly, flickers his tongue at him, and turns back to finish drinking. The narrator’s mind is telling him that he should kill the snake, because he has been told that the colors this species have mean that it is poisonous.
Although his mind is telling him this, the narrator does not want to kill it because he is pleased that it has come to him for water. Because of the snake’s dangerous reputation, the narrator feels very afraid, yet he enjoys being in the snake’s presence and even longs to talk to the creature. The snake then slowly starts back into the dark hole in the wall where it came from. As the snake turns around, the narrator picks up a log and throws it at the snake, attempting to kill it, however, he only cuts part of it off. The narrator then has feelings of regret and remorse for doing something so cruel. He wants the snake to come back but knows it will not and this upsets him greatly.
Throughout the poem “Snake,” Lawrence uses mostly clear language to express his ideas, except for a few lines, as one can see in this paragraph. The narrator and the snake are both at a “water-trough” (l.1), which is a vessel where water is stored, in which livestock or people, can drink from. When describing the snake glancing at him, the narrator says, “And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment” (l.19). When the narrator says mused, he means that the snake looked as to be contemplating something.
A couple lines later, the narrator describes the snake as “earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth,” when he says the burning bowels of the earth, the reader can infer that he is meaning the snake has come from hell. Further along in the poem, the narrator says, “the voice of my education said to me” (l.23). He has learned to be frightened of snakes, so his mind is telling him to kill it.
The narrator throws a log at the snake, attempting to kill it, but doesn’t; he only chops part of it off and describes it wiggling about quickly: “But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste” (l.58). When describing the wall that the snake slipped back into, the narrator uses the word “fissure” (l.60), which is a narrow opening in a wall. Finally in the last couple lines, the narrator describes his remorse for killing the snake, “And I have something to expiate:/ A pettiness (ll.72-73). In these lines the narrator uses the word expiate meaning to apologize for, and the word pettiness to mean something insignificant.
After analyzing the poem, one can see that the narrator uses figures of speech such as, imagery, alliteration, and simile; he also uses allusions. He uses beautiful imagery when describing the way in which the snake is drinking from the water-trough. “Softly drank through his straight gums,/ into his slack long body, Silently” (ll.13-14). The narrator also uses alliteration, for example, in the following lines: And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,/ He sipped with his straight mouth,/ Softly drank through his straight gums, (ll.11-14).
The narrator also gives the reader examples of simile throughout the poem; for example, when he describes the way the snake is drinking and compares it to a cow. “He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do, (l.17). Further along in the poem he uses simile again, comparing the snake to a god, “And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,” (l.44). Within Lawrence’s poem there are two different types of allusions, religious and literary. The narrator makes a literary allusion by bringing up the albatross; “And I thought of the albatross,/ And I wished he would come back, my snake.” (ll.65-66)
The narrator is referring to the albatross from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Coleridge. In this piece of literature, an albatross leads the crew of a ship to safety, however, the mariner still shoots and kills it and later regrets his decision. The narrator makes a religious allusion at the end of his poem, “For he seemed to me again like a king, Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,/ Now due to be crowned again.” (ll.67-69). The narrator is referring to the first book of the bible when Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden, and the devil takes the form of a snake to cause them to sin. God then condemns the snake to crawling on his belly for the rest of eternity.
The structure of Lawrence’s poem “Snake” contains stanzas varying in length, with no rhyme scheme. Altogether the poem has seven stanzas with 73 lines, varying from two words to 18 words. Lawrence’s poem is a narrative with no rhyme scheme; it is free verse, “And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me. He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom, And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of/ the stone trough” (ll.8-9).
As one can see from the previous line, the narrator is telling his story of an encounter with the snake without using any internal or end rhymes. Within the poem, the narrator is having a dramatic conversation in his head about killing the snake; by doing this, the narrator shows us his conflicting internal thought process. “And yet those voices:/ If you were not afraid, you would kill him! (ll.35-36). The narrator is somewhat rooting himself on to kill the snake because of what he has learned from his “human education” (l.64).
After reading the poem one can understand the title more clearly, and also see the theme Lawrence was trying to portray. The theme of “Snake” is thinking before doing something you may regret. “And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords/ of life./ And I have something to expiate:/ A pettiness” (ll.70-73) The title of “Snake” is pretty clear in describing what the poem is about, the narrator’s encounter with a snake, and the effects it has on him, joy, despair, and anger. “A snake came to my water-trough/ On a hot, hot day, and I in pajamas for the heat,/ To drink there.” (ll.1-3)