Judith Wright

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What is the theme "Hunting Snake" by Judith Wright?

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The major theme that is addressed in this powerful poem is the conflict between man and nature, and the way that even today, in our technological age, nature is, in some cases, still dangerous enough to represent a real threat to mankind. This is shown through the snake that the walkers, the "we" in the poem, come across. The snake is described in such a way as to highlight both its beauty but also its killer instinct and the massive threat that it represents to humans:

The great black snake went reeling by.

Head-down, tongue-flickering on the trail

he quested through the parting grass;

sun glazed his curves of diamond scale

and we lost breath to watch him pass.

Note the reference to the way the "sun glazed his curves of diamond scale." So impressive is the snake in fact that the narrator reports the group of walkers "lost breath" to see him, both through wonder but also through fear because of the danger he represents. The snake is later described as "Cold, dark, and splendid," and it seems clear from this that the emotions the snake creates in the watchers are thus based both on admiration and danger. In fact, so fearful are the human observers that after the snake vanishes they "took a deeper breath of day" and carried on their walk. The theme of this poem is thus based on man's vulnerability to nature and the way that creatures such as snakes represent danger that it is important to be respectful and mindful of. The title, "Hunting Snake," highlights both the danger of the snake as it was "questing through the grass," but also perhaps the need that humans have to "hunt" out such experiences in order to remind them of the healthy respect they need to have for nature and the natural order.

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Please explain the theme of man vs. nature throughout "Hunting Snake" by Judith Wright.

The theme of man vs. nature in this poem is best expressed through the snake as representing the forces of nature and the audience, the "we" in the poem, made up of the speaker and her companions who see the snake pass them by. Nature is shown to be a formidable, breathtaking force, literally breathtaking, as shown by the response of the speaker, as they "lost breath" to see the snake pass by them. The snake is presented as being both beautiful and deadly: he has "fierce intent," and the way he easily "quested" through the grass presents him as a lethal predator. However, at the same time, the description of how "the sun glazed his curves of diamond scale" likewise presents a picture of natural beauty that is stunning, just as the sight is one that invokes fear. The concluding remark about the snake paints him as "Cold, dark and splendid," and these adjectives seem to highlight both the danger and fear the snake inspires but also the majesty he commands.

The speaker and her companions, as shown by the last two lines of the poem, which expresses both their fear but...

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also the recognition of the power and might of nature:

We took a deeper breath of day,

Looked at each other, and went on.

There is a sense in which the encounter with the snake gives the speaker and her companions a newfound appreciation of nature and how deadly it can be. The phrase "a deeper breath of day," seems to indicate that having seen the snake in all of its deadly might, they are now able to appreciate nature more truly and purely, recognising their own place in it. Man vs. nature therefore is reflected in the figure of the snake and how this creates a kind of epiphany in its audience: they carry on walking, but not the same, and with a newfound respect for the territory that they recognise they are intruding upon.

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