'Snake' by D. H. Lawrence: Thematic Analysis and Devices
The poem begins with the arrival of the snake on the poet's water trough on a very hot day and his (poet's) arrival at the same place to fetch water, putting on pajamas due to the hot weather. Since the snake came there before him, he decided to wait for it to finish drinking. According to him, the snake came through a hole in the "earthwall" which was deliberately built to encircle the trough.
As the snake drinks through the straight mouth into its body, it looks round, not minding whoever was around. According to him, the snake's style of drinking water is exactly the cattle's style, for it "lifted his head from his drinking as cattle do/and looked at me vaguely as drinking cattle do" (Lines 22 - 23). At this juncture, the poet begins to contemplate on what to do with the snake as he had been trained to believe that black snakes were harmless while golden ones were harmful.
Conflicting voices begin to flash across his mind to kill and to spare the reptile and finally he decided not to harm it. Suddenly, the snake intensified its drinking in utmost alertness, looking in different directions in the manner of a god "unseeing into the air". And then, it gradually returns to its hole through the same broken wall from the edge of the water trough. Seeing the snake disappearing, he changes his mind - "I picked up a clumsy log/and threw it at the water trough with a clatter". However, he misses his target because a greater part of the snake's long body has already entered the hole while it immediately twists fast the remaining part into the hole like "lightening".
He begins to regret his action of attempting to kill the snake. He remembers a story an ancient sailor had told him concerning an albatross (a bird) he once killed which later brought untold punishment upon him (the sailor). The poet becomes afraid that such punishment is likely to come upon him for attempting to kill the snake, hence, he begins to desire for the snake's return which was practically impossible. The snake appears to have assumed the position of an exiled king who cannot be crowned anymore. He concludes that pettiness has robbed him the opportunity to teach the world how not to use might, especially against lesser creatures of nature.
The language of the poem is smooth - flowing, straight - forward, simple, colorful, graphic, imaginative, narrative and even descriptive. It is also like the language of prose. However, there are still few words that can be problematic to the reader. They include: 'pettiness" (narrow - mindedness), "expiate" (make amends), "fissure" (hole), "perversity" (wilful wrongdoing), etc.
Descriptively, the poem has six parts in ascending order of events. These parts cannot translate to stanzas since they are not structurally demarcated. The first part expresses the poet's first encounter with the snake as he went to drink water while the second part tells us the snake's actions at the water trough. The third part shows the poet's double mind on what to do with the snake - to kill or spare it.
The fourth part highlights more of the snake's action at the water trough and how it finally escaped and the poet's attack and regret. Finally, his wish to make amends.
The poem has no metrical pattern or end - rhyme scheme.
The poet's mood is that of awe and fascination and then regrets of the rare opportunity he misses. The tone is that of admiration and then blame.
In the poet's narration and description of events, he unconsciously uses images that create sensuous pictures in the mind of the reader. Some of them are the golden and brownish colors of the snake; its dreamy eyes and the black, two forked tongue; the Etna smoking; etc. These images make the environment of the poem picturesque.
Figures of Speech
- "...as cattle do, ... as drinking cattle do."
- "Lifted its head as one who has drunken."
- "For he is to me again like a king."
- "Dark door" refers to hole.
- "The voice of my education" refers to the poet's previous lessons concerning the snake.
- "Peaceful pacified"
- "Burning bowels"
"Sipped with his straight mouth". The snake is not a man that can sip drinks.
Many words and expressions are repeated for emphasis and rhythm. They include: "On a hot day", "must wait", "as cattle do", etc.
"Albatross" in the poem refers or alludes to the killing of a bird by a sailor in Coleridge's epic poem titled "Ancient Mariner". Again, "Sililian July" and "Etna smoking" are equally events in history.
- Rhetorical Question
Questions requiring no answers. E.g. "Was it perversity that I long to talk to him?"
- The campaign of a crusader that man should not kill animals indiscriminately simply because he has control over them.
- Live and lets live.
- Good interpersonal relationship should exist between man and other animals.
- Evil doers will not escape guilty conscience.
- The dilemma of a social crusader whose crusade became inconclusive.