Summarize the poem "Snake" by D. H. Lawrence.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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 “Snake” by D. H. Lawrence was written while the author was living in Sicily in 1923.  The poem uses first person narration with the poet as the speaker.  The setting and poem itself epitomizes the natural world and the hierarchy of life found in nature.

The tone and mood of the poem seem almost sympathetic toward the subject of the poem.  The time and setting add to the casual atmosphere: July’s morning heat.  This establishes the reason for the snake finding his way into the world of the man. The order of life created by the man’s authority over his land and trough is pushed aside by the intrusion of the snake and the natural world.

Summary

The narrator of the poem goes into his back yard and discovers a poisonous golden-brown snake drinking from the water trough.  The serpent reminds him of a blind, regal deity as he nonchalantly raises his head and flicks its tongue.

The man feels as though he is standing in line waiting his turn. Calmly the snake, though aware of the man’s presence, continues to drink until he is full.  He begins to move his long body down into the hole in the wall where he lives. 

The man finds himself with ambiguous feelings. In some respect, the man experiences the impression that he is the host to an honored guest.  He is both fearful of the snake, and yet, he is honored to have the snake in his yard.

In his mind, he hears a voice that continually tells him that he would kill the snake if he were not afraid of it. Perversity takes over.  As the snake moves into his hole, the man picks up a heavy stick and throws it at the snake.  He does not think that he has hit him, but he is not for sure.

After he threw the log, the narrator's reaction was one of distaste and cowardice.  He did not like the voices in his head. He associated the the snake with the albatross from the poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Coleridge.  The albatross, killed by a seama, was supposed to be bad luck; however, it turned out to be an amulet of good fortune. This was how he felt about the snake.

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?

To the man, the snake was like a king without a country, and he hoped that he would come back again. Feeling that he had missed his chance, the narrator hoped that he would be able to correct his petty action. The reader becomes a part of the mans' self-examination of the relationship that the man has with the snake.

The poet draws the reader into the scene of his encounter with a deadly snake.  The reader can feel the fear and admiration that the man has for this snake, a dangerous part of nature that feels so secure as he casually drinks the man’s water.  When he tries to hurt the reptile, it is hard not to judge the man, but the snake was venomous.  On the other hand, the snake is still one of God’s creatures that just needed a drink of water.

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