This poem begins with a certain charm, at least until the end. D.H. Lawrence personifies this creature in his garden, in "Snake."
The snake comes to get a drink from the water trough on a hot day. The speaker wants water also, but with a healthy respect for the snake, decides to wait until the reptile is done. Note Lawrence's beautiful imagery, which in itself is charming:
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree...
...describes where the trough is. The snake does not seem particularly threatening. In fact, the heat seems to affect speaker and snake similarly, for there is only a need to drink, nothing else.
Lawrence again describes the stunning creature: "yellow-brown," "soft-bellied," resting his "throat upon the stone," sipping from a puddle; and, it "softly drank." This warm and inviting imagery calms the reader to the presence of the snake. The speaker also further "personifies" the creature by referring to it as "he" (and saying it "mused"). In this way, the snake takes on a quiet and gentle personality as it simply comes for water. There is a connection forming, as man and snake gaze at one another. The snake is also compared (with similes) to cattle, gentle, non-threatening creatures. After the snake looks unconcernedly toward the speaker, he goes back to drinking.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more...
Lawrence describes the snake with inviting words that make the reader want to see what the snake looks like. It is "earth-brown, earth-golden" as if it has been fashioned from clay within the earth.
However, the tone abruptly changes. Even in light of the beauty of the day and the snake, intellect and social training interrupt the speaker's reverie, demanding that the snake must be destroyed.
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
A voice in the speaker's head berates him: if he were really a man, he will kill the snake immediately—like a small boy throwing stones at birds—just for the perverse pleasure of it. The speaker infers that an internal struggle rages, for he knows what society expects; by discussing it rather than doing it, we see he's not sure in his mind that he should kill the beautiful and seemingly placid snake.
But I must confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet...
The struggle continues: does he not kill it because he's afraid? He says he actually feels "honoured." Still his upbringing almost screams in his head that fear keeps him from the killing. The speaker is afraid...but still feels honored.
Then the snake looks "around like a god," and climbs the wall, entering a black hole there. Instantly the speaker is repulsed by its disappearance into the "blackness." He clumsily throws a log, but seems to cause no real harm, and it's gone.
Immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
He hates himself and a society that taught him to kill. He wishes the snake would return...
For he seemed to me again like a king...
He feels a sense of loss:
I missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have something to expiate:
A rare opportunity presents itself and he foolishly tries to destroy it—against his better judgment: something he will forever regret.