The poem, “Snake” by D. H Lawrence has many meanings. It has been interpreted in different ways since its first appearance in 1919. It has served as inspiration for both artists and songwriters alike. Also, it has spawned several books of analysis due to its remarkable complexity in interpretation. This study of D. H Lawrence’s Snake looks at the major themes present in this poem. It will also highlight how these themes appear to the reader through symbolism, imagery, rhyme scheme, and more.

D. H Lawrence’s poem “Snake” explores the various ways in which humans respond to snakes. Specifically, Lawrence uses literary and poetic elements to compare the Snake to sin, women, and the devil. Through his analysis of the way these metaphors interact throughout the poem. Readers can gain insight into many of his beliefs about morality, nature, and the psychology of fear and desire.

Cultural Context

“Snake” made its first appearance in 1917 in an anthology, The Love Poems and Other Verse. At that time, Lawrence had been living in Nottinghamshire, England, with his family. His reading and friendship with English author Edward Thomas heavily influenced most of his writings. A brief biography of D.H. Lawrence includes details on how his marriage disintegrated after an affair with another woman. Following the affair, he left her for another woman but eventually reconciled with Frieda after World War I began. 

During World War I, Lawrence wrote numerous essays supporting pacifism as well as stories and poems dealing with themes of death and destruction. One such poem is “Snake”, which tells a story similar to one described in Homer’s Odyssey. In it, Odysseus encounters a giant snake while sailing home from Troy. Despite its fearsome appearance, it turns out to be friendly. Odysseus even names it Eleanor after one of his dead crew members.

Summary of the Poem “Snake” by D. H Lawrence

The poem revolves around the speaker memorable encounter with a snake that came to his water trough to quench its thirst. During a hot day, the speaker goes to his water trough to fill his pitcher. Surprisingly, a dangerous snake is already there, taking the lead. He is peacefully drinking the water, without being bothered about the speaker’s presence. The speaker, being second comer, waits for his turn. Although he gives a quick look to the speaker, yet his presence does not make any difference to the snake.

To our surprise, the speaker observes the horrific snake closely. He informs the readers that the yellow and brown color of the snake indicates that it has come from the fiery bottom of the earth. However, the presence of snake evoked a strong emotional response. The speaker finds himself in a fight of terror and intellect. He tries to hit the snake with a stick, and later regrets.

“Snake” by D. H Lawrence
“Snake” by D. H Lawrence

Major Themes in “Snake”

Regret, hasty nature of mankind and terror are the major themes present in the poem. The poem presents the speaker’s dual approach toward the presence of the snake. At first, he compares him with corrupt human world. Later, the presence of snake at his water trough makes him feel endangered. Thus, unwillingly, he throws a stick toward the snake and later feels sorry for his action.

Through this simple poem, the writer unfolds a deep message that we are hasty creatures. Sometimes our conditions make us act against our will. The poem shows how the speaker gets involved in various thoughts. His fascination with the venomous creature stops him, while his intellect urges him to kill the snake. The writer shows sometimes we find ourselves in a difficult situation, where emotions like good and bad become blurred.

Poetic and Literary Elements Used in “Snake”

Tone and Mood

Lawrence focuses heavily on his tone and mood in his poem, “Snake.” The tone of his piece is angry and aggressive with feelings like hate, lust, and revenge running through it. This is apparent in lines like Oh lovely snake! / Oh hateful life! / I’ll smash your head / And bite you dead (Lines 1-3). These phrases show that Lawrence had strong feelings towards something or someone that could not be controlled or stopped by anyone else.

Moreover, these emotions made him want to act upon them because he couldn’t control them. The words I’ll and you are used repeatedly throughout all three stanzas, showing that he wants to take action against the snake. In addition, there is a sense of urgency present throughout each stanza as well as an overall feeling of hopelessness from the speaker.

Lawrence describes a slow death for himself from being bitten by a snake. But it seems as if no one will help him or even notice until it’s too late. There is also an overall theme of loneliness within each stanza. The description shows how isolated and desperate he feels at that moment in time while writing his poem.

Flow and Rhyme

According to scholars, Flow and Rhyme are two major qualities seen in nearly all of Lawrence’s poems. In Flow, we notice how his words flow smoothly together. For instance, his thoughts go from one sentence to another as if they were part of a stream. On first glance, Flow can be seen in lines 7-9: darted about/His forked tongue came out; however, on closer inspection we see that there is also a rhyme scheme happening: out/about and came/came.

This shows us that not only does he have Flow, but he has Rhyme as well. There are many other examples of these techniques throughout Snake.

We also notice something else when looking at these poems: they are very direct and straight forward with their meaning. For example, in line 11 we read I am afraid you will bite me which clearly tells us what is going on within the poem. Lawrence keeps everything upfront so that it is easy to understand what he means by each line or phrase.

Other Literary/ Poetic Devices

The writer has used fear as an extended metaphor in the poem. The presence of the snake makes him feel afraid that he decided to kill him with a stick. Lawrence has also inserted various symbols in the poem to talk about his encounter with the venomous snake. Some of the symbols are “fiery earth bowl”, “Sicilian July”, “earth-lipped fissure.”

Let’s Sum up

Thus, “Snake” by D. H Lawrence is a descriptive poem that recounts the writer’s meaningful encounter with a snake. It highlights the shortcomings as well as dark side of human nature. No matter how hard we manage to suppress our evil thoughts, there comes a time when we unwillingly act upon them.

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