How does D.H. Lawrence use structure and language in his poem "Snake"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This fascinating poem “Snake” by D. H. Lawrence realistically explores an actual scene that the poet encounters one morning in Sicily when he was going out to get water. A snake was getting his own drink from the water trough.

The poet narrator portrays the scene using sensory language to draw the reader into the line waiting on the snake to finish his drink. Although written in free verse with no real division or stanzas, the poem can be divided into sections according to what happens in the scenario. Each part serves to create a realistic and frightening way to begin the day.

Section I

To involve the reader’s senses, the poet describes the area around the trough which is under an odd smelling carob-tree. There the snake lays his body into the water trough to sate his thirst.

The initial surprise at finding the snake in his water trough sets the tone for the rest of the poem.

Section II

These lines give the reader a visualization of the snake, which despite his potential danger, seems harmlessly in need of water on this hot day. The snake looks at the narrator and detects no harms from him by flicking his forked tongue.

The snake’s action was as innocent as that of cattle drinking and appears to be as inoffensive. The snake seemed to have a sophistication of his own. The poet thinks to himself that man’s world is not superior to this because this is a part of the natural order of things.

Section III

As the poet waits, he describes in detail the snake and his drinking ability. The snake is venomous because the poet learned that the black snakes were harmless and the golden ones were poisonous. Yet, the snake appears to be innocuous and is just quenching his thirst. In his description of the snake, his language is stark and simplistic.

It drank water with so much dignity:

He sipped with his straight mouth,

Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,


Someone was before me at my water-trough...

Section IV

To illustrate the size of the snake, the narrator uses “soft-bellied,” “slackness,” “trailed” his long body over the edge of the trough.

The voices [conscience and masculinity] tell the man to kill the snake. Take a stick and kill him.

Yet, the man likes the snake; it feels almost like a guest.

The narrator surprises himself when he realizes that he is glad that the snake came out and peacefully drank his water.

Section V

The voices begin to badger the man calling him a coward.

He does admit that he is afraid of the snake. It deserves to be given a healthy respect. From which, the man feels honored that the snake has entered his world.

Section VI

As the poet watches, the snake reminds him of an unseeing god, who licks his lips and turns his head slowly into that fearful hole where he makes his home.

When the snake had enough, it begins to draw his body into the black hole where he lives; suddenly, something cruel comes over the man. He picks up a piece of wood and throws it at the snake.

Section VII

Hoping that he did not hit him, he watches as the snake unceremoniously twists his body into the crack in the wall. The narrator feels guilty and vulgar.

The snake reminds him of a king, uncrowned, but waiting to be returned to power