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

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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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