How is Nature portrayed in the poem "Hunting Snake" by Judith Wright?

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drsuman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Judith Wright, by now, is known as the icon of Australian poetry that is replete with a consciousness for ecological preservation. Such poetry has to concentrate on the variegated forms of natural beauty in the Australian space. Wright has written famous poems about birds, like the oft-quoted "Magpies" or described the Australian countryside and bushlands and seas and mountains in her famous poems like " South of My Days", " Train Journey", " Flame Tree in a Quarry", "Request to a Year", " Platypus' etc , of which "The Hunting Snake" is one. As a poet with an eco critical awareness, Wright celebrates the special livingness and " whatness" or the exquisite incomparable inner living essence of nature, be it a tree, or a bird or a season or bushland. Here also the snake's living essence is captured with elan and grace by the poet. The poem opens with a contrast between the human and the natural animal's world. Whereas inspite of being " sun-warmed', the persona feels the frozen cold of a still autumnal afternoon, the snake is full of verve and vitality. It passes "reeling by". The word"reeling" is significant, since it suggests a rapid, effortless or violent lurching of the snake which here suggets predatory power. The process of the hunt is exquisitely described. The predator is absolutely focussed on the kill--"head down", "he quested through the parting grass". The word quest suggests that hunting is the snake's single-minded mission, just as a spiritual seeker quests for truth. The snake is awesome but beautiful; glittering "diamond scales" dazzle on his skin as it reflects the sunlight. It fascinates the seer or the persona; "and we lost breath to see him pass". Breathlessly the beauty and vitality-haunted persona can have a feel of the snake's "fierce intent" and without knowing the identity of his kill, the poet and her fellow watchers looked intent on the snake: "we stood/ Our eyes went with him as he went". The snake is biologically cold, but at the same time"dark and splendid". the word " dark" has an unmistakable connotation of mysteriousness and its splendour or dazzle is unputdownable. With the snake passing out of their sight, they " took a deeper breath of day" and went on in their journey. The expression " deeper breath of day" suggests that first, they were holding their breath at the sight of the awful beauty of the snake and second, that the snake had given them a sense of darkness or a feel of the world of death, which now the onlookers relieve them of by breathing the "day", suggesting hope and life. It is indeed a poem of celebration of the vital terrible power and beauty of the snake, an integral part of nature, which has an imposing presence on the poet's psyche.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Judith Wright creates a tone of awe in regard to nature's power as revealed through the poet's strong use of imagery and diction in "The Hunting Snake." 

The poem focuses on a brief moment, when the snake crosses the speaker's path.  The poet uses imagery with the phrase "great black snake went reeling by;" the reader latches onto the strong contrasting details of "great black snake" which stand in opposition to the previous imagery of "Autumn's gentlest sky."  The diction of her verb choice in "went reeling" suggests a forceful movement and sense of urgency.  The poet portrays the hunting snake as a vibrant living creature, using imagery which the poet consistently reinforces in the later stanzas through detail and imagery like "diamond scale" and "cold dark and splendid."

Wright's poem portrays the snake in a positive light, emphasizing its beauty and powerful, lithe form.  Through Wright's appreciative portrayal of the snake, the reader can conclude that the speaker embraces nature and the natural world, viewing the many different forms of life as beautiful and worthy of respect.