“Snake” is a seventy-four-line free-verse poem divided into nineteen verse paragraphs (stanzas of unequal length). Like many modern lyrics, it incorporates a narrative element, recording the poet’s encounter with a snake at his water-trough. Through this structure and carefully mobilized imagery, the poet reveals his conflicted, deepening consciousness, which moves from casual description to epiphanic confession. Written when D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda were living in Taormina, Sicily, in 1920-1921, the poem is derived from Lawrence’s actual experience there. Its imagery and themes, however, are anticipated in the second section of his 1917 essay “The Reality of Peace.”
The setting is a hot July day upon which the poet takes his pitcher to the water-trough, where a snake is drinking. The first five verse paragraphs establish the scene and provide the occasion for the poet’s initial, sensual description of the snake. Domestic and exotic images are combined as the pajama-clad poet observes the snake “In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree.” Light and dark are contrasted in the snake’s golden color and the surrounding gloom. The poet conjures the creature’s snakiness with emphasis on his “straight mouth,” “slack long body,” and flickering, “two-forked tongue.” He also compares the snake to domesticated farm animals (“drinking cattle”) and to a human by referring to the snake as...
(The entire section is 480 words.)