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Home » , » The Central theme of D.H. Lawrence's poem Snake

In “Snake” D. H. Lawrence, one of the great novelists and poets of the twentieth century describes his encounter with a snake ona hot and humid day. The poet had ambivalent attitude to the snake, but ultimately decided to assault it as he was guided by the ‘voices of human education’. Throughout the poem, the theme of man’s education versus nature has been dramatized. Lawrence’s “accursed human education” teaches him to abhor and kill snakes, and he felt “afraid”. 

As the poem opens, the poet says that on a very hot day a snake came to his water trough to drink water: 

“A snake came to my water-trough On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat, To drink there.” 

Both the poet and the snake were in need of water. The sight of the snake pleased him to a great extent and he describes in positive terms using positive images. Without causing any disturbances the snake drank water “silently”: “Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body”. The innocence of the creature has been emphasized in the following lines: 

“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 & moment, And stooped and drank a little more”. 

He portrays the snake as harmless as drinking cattle are. But as soon as the poet describes the snake as being “‘earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth”, he is reminded of the traditional know ledge regarding snakes. His education tells him to kill the snake: 

“The voice of my education said to me He must be killed,

For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.” 

The voices kept on telling the poet to take drastic action against the snake: 

“And voices in me said, if you were a man You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.” 

But the poet was pleased and felt elated that the snake came to his water trough to drink water from it — “cHow glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough’’. He even felt a ‘perversity’ to talk to the creature. But, an inward voice kept on instigating him — “If you were not afraid, you would kill him!” Even though he was afraid, he felt ‘honoured’ too. He feels like offering ‘hospitality’ to the visitor creature. 

But his Christian education comes into play. In Christianity, snake is traditionally associated with evil or bad things in life as it was the Serpent in the Eden that led Adam and Eve to commit the ‘original sin’. From this point onward, the poet also describes the snake in terms and words connotative of evil. The snake is now ‘so black’ and attempted to move into that “dreadful hole” or “horrid black hole”. So he acted very quickly: 

“I looked round, I put down my pitcher, I picked up a clumsy log And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.” 

The act quickened the snake’s return “Into the black hole, the earth lipped fissure in the wall-front’. The poet immediately regrets his act. He longed to see the snake again. But his action under the influence of the human education has made this impossible. Suddenly, it appeared to the narrator that the snake was “a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,/ Now due to be crowned again’’. It is the sense of pettiness that ultimately prevails in the poet after the mean act. He regretted that he had wronged the creature, which did hot cause any harm to him. Thus, throughout the poem it has been the Man’s education versus nature.

D.H.Lawrence Poem


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