Snake Poem by D.H.Lawrence | Summary Main Idea and Explanation

Snake Poem by D.H.Lawrence

Snake Poem

About the Poet D.H. Lawrence

David Herbert Richards Lawrence known as D.H. Lawrence(1885-1930) was born in England. He was a renowned novelist,  distinguished poet,  excellent playwright, powerful essayist, strong literary critic, and explicit painter who published his work with the name of D.H.Lawrence.
 

Summary | Main Idea | Snake Poem

The poem describes the poet’s encounter with a snake. It was the day of July. The poet saw a snake near his water container. The snake came there from a hole in the wall. The poet was afraid of the snake. It rested its throat on the edge of the water container and sipped water.
 
The poet was afraid of the snake. He desired to kill the snake, but he considered it his guest. The snake drank and began to crawl into the hole of the wall. Suddenly, the poet lifted a log and threw it at the snake. The snake rushed into the hole and disappeared.
 
Late he repented over his foolish act. He desired for the snake to come back. In this poem, D.H. Lawerence has given a universal theme where the manners and ways of one creature of God to another creature of God are presented. He urged human beings that every living and non-living creature is created by God. 
 
Snake is a symbolic poem. The poet has described the two creatures belonging to different species which have come across each other. The poet is the symbol of the human race while a snake is the reptile species. 
 
The snake poem is replete with images. Firstly, the color and movement of the snake, yellow-brown slackness, and soft belly. Secondly, the snake’s way of drinking water. Sipped with a straight mouth. Thirdly, the snake’s two forked tongue’s movement. flickered his two forked tongue from his lips.
 
Fourthly, the color of earth, earth brow, earth golden, and so on. Even the whole poem is full of imagery. The poem presents various angles of human behavior. The poet explains to us the nature of the inner conflict. 
 
He is also afraid, If you are not afraid, you will kill him. He waits so the snake may finish drinking its water and then throws a log at it to scare it away. But later he regrets his coward act. D.H Lawrence accuses human education. 
 
He thinks education teaches him to hate and kill the snake. this poem criticizes the rationality of human beings. Poet views that our logic has deprived us of fine feelings. The use of the mind in every field of life has made us cowardly and callous.
 
The poet opposes the life of rationality because sometimes under the influence of these forces., man becomes cruel to creatures of God. He forgets the rule of co-existence. D.H.Lawrence reflects a moral lesson through this snake poem. 
 
He forces human beings to listen to the voice of intuition. only the voice of intuition can guide and construct us n a better way. This is the poet’s advice for the men not to try to kill others. God does not allow us to kill any creature because of our own will.
 

Reference to the Context and Explanation

Lines 1-6

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pajamas for the heat
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait must stand and wait,
For there he was at the trough before me

Reference 

These lines have been extracted from the poem Snake written by D.H.Lawrence.
 

Context

In this poem, the poet describes his experience of taking water from a water trough. He got a chance of meeting with a snake.  It was summer season. The snake has come out of the hole of the mud wall of his house to drink water from a water trough. 
 
The poet was in a loose dress because of the hot temperature. The poet was thirsty and also wants to quench his thirst. The poet has to wait for his turn and let the snake quench his thirst. The poet is deeply impressed by the physical beauty of the snake. 
 
He suddenly thinks to kill that snake because the snake is considered to be the enemy of human beings. He attacks the snake with a piece of wood but the snake disappears at the same moment.  Later, the poet feels sorry for his foolish act.
 

Explanation

In these lines, the poet describes that one afternoon, a snake came to his water container. The poet was wearing pajama. He also came to get some water. The water trough was lying in the shade of a big dark and strange smelling of a carob tree.
 
The atmosphere was filled with its strange smell. He had to stand and wait there. The snake had reached there before him and it had the right to drink first. The poet had to stand and wait for his turn.
 

Lines 7-12

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
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom
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, into his slack long body, silently 

 

Reference and Context

The same as for the lines 1-6
 

Explanation

In these lines, the poet narrates that the snake had come there from a crack in the earth wall. He appeared out of a hole in the earth wall in the darkness. He dragged his soft yellow-brown body to the edge of the stone trough and placed his throat upon the bottom of the stone container where water drops were dripping from the tap.
 
The snake was quietly and peacefully sipping water directly from that place. His soft gums passed the water onto his belly. The whole process of drinking water was slow and calm. The snake did not produce noise while he was drinking water from the container.
 

Lines 13 – 20

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of  the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.

 

Reference and Context

The same as for lines 1-6
 

Explanation

These lines present the poet’s chance of meeting with the natural beauty in the form of a snake. He tells that the snake was already present near the drinking trough. He had to stand to watch and wait for his turn. The poet states that the snake lifted its head from the water trough as cattle do.
 
It looked at the poet carelessly and doubtfully. He took out his two-forked tongue, rubbed it on his lips, and hissed for a moment. He lowered a little and drank a little more. The poet then noticed its color which was earth brown and golden. The color was due to hot burning earth. 
 
It was a very hot day of July when usually the Volcanic Mount Etna erupts fire. The temperature was so hot. It seemed that the drops of water would turn into smoke due to the hot weather. The snake was compelled to come out of his hole and take shelter at some cool place.
 

Lines 21-25

The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold is venomous.
And voices in me said if you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off

Reference and Context

The same as for the lines 1-6

Explanation

In these lines, the poet has composed his reaction towards the snake. He says that a rational and educational mind advises him to kill the snake. He thinks of killing the snake because the black snakes are harmless and innocent while Sicilian snakes of golden color like this snake are deadly and highly poisonous.
 
The snake which had come to the water trough was golden. It looked to be very dangerous. He thought that a normal man would kill him. If he did not kill the snake, he would be called a coward. The poet was facing a conflict by the voices of his intellect and wisdom to take a club and kill him.
 

Lines 26-32 

But must I confess how I liked him?
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth
Was it cowardice that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity that
I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honored?
I felt so honored.

 

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-6
 

Explanation

In these lines, the poet admits that he liked the snake. He confessed the honor and beauty of the snake. He felt great pleasure to receive such a beautiful guest in his house suddenly. He felt as if he was entertaining a guest. The snake had come to drink water at his water trough.

The snake was silently returning to the inner parts of the earth after drinking water. The snake felt very satisfied after taking water. The snake did not feel thankful to the poet at all. So, the poet questioned himself on the point of not killing the poisonous snake.
 
He thought whether he was a coward or he had no courage to kill the snake. He also questioned himself whether he was afraid of him. Whether he wanted to kill the snake who honored him by entertaining. So the poet was in the grip of his inner conflicts.
 

Lines 33-37

And yet those voices
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honored still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

 

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-6
 

Explanation

Through this stanza, D.H Lawrence has given expression of his mental condition. He thinks that the snake is his guest and it is unjust to kill a guest. But his inner voice says that if he has no courage to kill that snake then the poet will prove himself a coward.
 
The poet thinks that the snake has given him honor by visiting his house. So it is not right to kill him. But his inner voice, again and again, taunts him to kill that snake. He admits that the snake has given a great favor by coming to his house to drink water.
 

Lines 38-46

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, so one who has drunken
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black
Seeming to lick his lips
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice a dream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face

 

Reference and Context

Same as for lines1-6
 

Explanation

In these lines, the poet describes the movement and gestures of the snake. He says that the snake drank water to his heart’s desire. He raised his head and looked at the surroundings dreamily. 
 
He looked like a drunkard who was in a state of senselessness and drowsiness. The snake moved and waved his tongue for enjoyment. Then the tongue looked like forked darkness, as it was very black. He appeared to lick his lips with his tongue. 
 
The snake looked around and appeared to be a god in doing so, in all his power and glory. After that, he raised his head thrice as if he were in deep sleep. Then the snake curved his long body around and entered the opening of the earth wall.
 

Lines 47- 50

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole
And as he slowly drew up, snake easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of honor, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into
That horrid black hole.

Reference and Context

Same as for lines 1-6
 

Explanation

In these lines, the poet explains beautifully the departure of the snake. The snake put his headfirst into the fearful hole. Then he pulled his body forward and gave some relief to it. The snake slowly drew his remaining body. 
 
This gave the snake feeling of ease at his shoulder. At that time, the poet felt a sort of horror and danger against him. The poet did not like that such a beautiful creature should leave his house so suddenly. 
 
The poet watched the planned slow movement of the snake to his earth home through the black hole. The poet was horrified to see all this withdrawal. The poet was quite upset at the silent entrance of the snake into his dreadful hole.
 

Lines 51-55

Deliberately going into blackness and slowly drawing himself after
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked around, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

Reference and Context

The same as for lines 1-6
 

Explanation

These lines reflect the poet’s mind to paint a graphic picture of the entrance of the snake into the hole. He did not like the departure of the snake from his house. The poet was watching the snake with so much interest that he put down his pitcher and hit the snake going into its hole with a piece of wood. 
 
He threw it at the water trough. It hit the water trough with a loud noise. In these lines, D.H.Lawrence beautifully presents the objects of nature. the see lines also show the man’s nature of insecurity and fear from the horrifying creature of nature.
 

Lines 56-60

I think it did not hit him
But suddenly that part of him was left behind convulsed in undignified haste
Writhed like lightning and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I started with a fascination

Reference and Context

The same as for the lines 1-6
 

Explanation

Here the poet explains the sudden disappearance of the snake. The poet hit the snake with a piece of the clumsy club. He realized that it did not hit the snake. The snake immediately put the rest of his body inside the dark hole and disappeared. The poet stood looking at him in that hot silent noon with amazement.
 

Lines 61-63

And immediately I regretted it
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

Reference and Context

The same as for the lines 1-6
 

Explanation

The poet here repents on his ill-mannered behavior with his guest(snake). He was not satisfied with his act of throwing a piece of wood towards the snake. He felt that it was a very hateful and mean act of his attack on the beautiful snake. 
 
He began to hate himself. He also hated the voices which misguided him to kill the snake with a piece of log. He condemned his secular and worldly education.
 

Lines 64-68

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back
For he seemed to me again like a king
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld
Now due to be crowned again

Reference and Context

The same as for the lines 1-6
 

Explanation

Through these lines, the poet clearly shows the conflict between education and the natural tendency to love the snake. He felt sorry for his actions to try to kill the snake. In this way, he resembled his guilt with the sin of Ancient Mariner who killed the albatross.
 
Ancient Mariner was visited by great calamities after he killed the albatross. The poet felt that he too would be visited by calamities and hardships by striking the snake with a piece of wood. The poet considered that the snake was like the uncrowned lord of the underworld. The poet wanted to have him in his house again.

Lines 69-72

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords 
Of life
And I have something to expiate 
A pettiness
 

Reference and Context

The same as for the lines 1-6
 

Explanation

In the last two lines, the poet repents his ill-mannered behavior. He felt guilty for showing a mean attitude towards the snake by hitting it with a piece of wood. He felt that he had missed spending some time in the company of the lord of life. He felt that he must pay a penalty for it.
 

Important Questions

Question 1

Why does the poet think of his education as accursed?
 
How does education overcome instinct in Snake?
 
What does D.H.Lawrence curse his education?
 
Why does D.H.Lawrence feel repentant after his encounter with the snake?

Answer

 

To consider oneself superior due to his education is a common feeling but to harm other creatures without any reason is ethically not appropriate. In this beautiful poem of D.H.Lawrence, he presents his encounter with a snake who came to the water trough to quench its thirst. At first, the poet got excited and glad to see that creature.

 

The snake had come like a guest to drink at his water trough. The poet felt so honored at this visit whilst simultaneously, the voices of his accursed human education advised him to kill the snake as it was a golden snake and therefore poisonous.
 
Those voices said to him If you were not afraid you would kill him. The killing nature of the poet picked up a clumsy log and threw it at the snake when it was leaving after quenching its thirst from the water trough. It did not kill the snake.
 
But the rear part of its body got bruised a little. The poet felt ashamed of his mean act and began to hate himself. The poem reveals the human weakness of liking and evil and the corruption of human beings. It shows that humans are naturally attracted to the things they are afraid of the most.
 
On the other hand, the ending shows how human education teaches us that many things are bad, therefore they are engraved into our heads. However, the poisonous snake meant no harm but due to the voices, Lawrence threw a stick at it, regretting an instance later at his vulgar act.

 

Question 2

Discuss the main theme of the poem 
 
What is the reason that the poet lets the snake depart unhurt?
 
Can you point out the subtle changes in the poet’s relationship with the snake?
 
The poet feels repentant after his encounter with the snake. why?

Answer

D.H.Lawrence is a well-known English poet, novelist, and critic. He developed a personal philosophy that instincts are superior to the reasoning of the mind.  He is essentially a moralist who believes that modern man is becoming deprived of his natural feelings.
 
The poem Snake is famous among Lawrence’s well-known poems. In this poem, the poet has told a story of his accidental encounter with a snake. He loves and respects him as a guest. There is a conflict between his natural feelings and his national thinking.
 
The poem points out how our feelings of love and affection are crushed by our social education. Our reasoning often misleads us. Man sometimes kills other animals in his intoxication of power and manhood. But no law of the world allows him to deprive others of their right to live.
 
The poem Snake arouses feelings of affection and sympathy for all creatures in this world. Although the poet hits the snake under the influence of his education, he feels sorry for his mean act. So man’s natural instinct prevails at the end of the poem.

 

Question 3

Describe the conflict in the mind of D.H.Lawrence at the presence of the snake at the water trough
 
Why does the poet decide to kill the snake?
 
Why does the poet call the snake a king in the end?
 
Why does the poet want to have his snake again?

Answer

In this poem, the poet describes his unplanned meeting with a snake. It was the day of July. The poet saw a snake near his water pool. The snake came there from a hole in the wall. The poet was afraid of the snake. It rested its throat on the edge of the water container and sipped water.
 
He wanted to kill the snake, but he considered it his guest. The snake drank and began to crawl into the hole of the wall. Suddenly, the poet lifted a log and threw it at the snake. It did not hit the snake. The snake rushed into the hole and disappeared.
 
Later he repented over his foolish act. He desired for the snake to come back. In this poem, D.H.Lawrence has given a universal theme that is manners and ways of one creature of God to another creature of God.
 
He urged human beings that every living and the non-living creature is created by God. So, they should not kill any creature for enjoyment. even education and knowledge are useless if we try o kill any innocent creatures of God.

 

Question 4

Why is the poet glad to see the snake at his water trough?

Answer

There are a few logical reasons and factors which show that the poet is very excited to see the snake at his water trough. The first reason is that D.H.Lawrence is famous for his love of nature and all the things related to it. 
 
He loves to enjoy the company of natural sights and sounds. He has in-depth knowledge about the natural habit of different animals, birds, and other creatures. It is the major reason that makes him feel overjoyed when he first saw the snake on his trough. 
 
The event takes place when the poet came downstairs with a pitcher to take water from his stone trough on a scorching day in July. He was stunned to see a golden snake quenching his thirst there. The poet was a little scared but he honored the snake to take his turn first and then proceed for water.
 
He had read about the Sicilian golden snakes which were very poisonous so quite naturally the idea of killing him ran across his mind. But he prevented himself from doing so and his heart was filled with a strange joy and respect for the snake. At this time, the poet forgets that a snake is in front of him and it is a dangerous creature. 
 
He begins to feel that the snake is a guest of honor in his house and considers himself his host. He wishes that the snake would become his friend and he would share his feelings with him like a bosom friend. His attitude towards him is very gentle and accommodating. 
 
Then all of a sudden, a feeling of worldly education overpowers him and he throws a stone at the snake in order to kill him. The snake immediately responds and slithers into a nearby hole never to be found again. The poet feels a bit embarrassed over his senseless act but he was still happy that he had entertained an amazing creature at his disposal.

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