Why is the portrayal of nature important in the poem "Hunting Snake" by Judith Wright?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The portrayal of nature is important in this poem as it focuses on a creature that is usually the object of great fear - the snake - and shows it in a positive light, in a way to command not only our respect but also our admiration. The poem describes the snake in vividly majestic terms: it boasts 'diamond scales', is of 'fierce intent', and leaves a considerable impact on those who see it: 

Cold, dark and splendid he was gone,

into the grass that hid his prey.

We took a deeper breath of day,

 looked at each other, and went on.

The last two lines here suggest that the viewers’ appreciation of the natural world, of life itself, has been enhanced by this encounter with such a magnificent creature; they now have a ‘deeper’ awareness of their surroundings. Although the element of fear is perhaps also present – ‘we lost breath to see him pass’ – this is subsumed in the wave of great awe and admiration. We can conclude that these human witnesses feel truly privileged to have seen the snake.

The poem can be compared to other pieces that celebrate the natural world such as those by the famous English writer D.H. Lawrence, who also wrote a poem about meeting a snake, which is full of praise for the animal at the expense of the humans that so often fear and mistreat snakes and other animals. The snake is described as ‘one of the lords of life’ while of himself the poet ruefully remarks, ‘I have something to expiate/ a pettiness’. In Wright’s poem there is no such condemnation of human beings but there is unquestionably the same sense that the snake is something of a superior creature.

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