Snake by D.H. Lawrence – Critical Analysis

Snake by D.H. Lawrence – Critical Analysis

Snake – Critical AnalysisD.H. Lawrence’s poem “Snake” was composed during the summer of 1920 when he resided in TaominaSicily. The poem deals with an ordinary and commonplace phenomenon of the appearance of the snake in the water-trough. The poet’s encounter with the snake has been described in a simple and lucid style.

David Herbert Lawrence been considered as a renowned novelist, short-story writer and poet in the arena of English literature. He was a poet of the twentieth century between the two World Wars. As a modern poet, D.H. Lawrence rejected the conventional manner and style of writing. His poetry holds the vital force that exhibits the primitive and elemental impulses. He had an acute sensitivity to natural beauty including animals and nature. It is reflected through his poetry.

Snake – Critical Analysis

It is important to note that D.H. Lawrence was associated with the Imagist Movement; and influenced by the aesthetic theories propounded by Thomas Ernest Hulme. Some of his poems appeared in the three anthologies called “Some Imagist Poets” published between 1915 and 1917. As a follower of the Imagist group, he emphasized the principle of liberty which can be achieved by a skillful use of irregular rhythms of free verse; or verse libre.


In the poem “Snake’, D.H. Lawrence has employed an image of a snake as a sign of life which symbolizes the mysterious power of nature not comprehended by man. The poet has expressed his thoughts in a casual manner in order to convey his belief that ‘we can go wrong in our minds, but what the flesh, the blood says must be true’.

D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Snake” reveals the conflict in the poet’s mind between the instinctive reverence and respect for the fellow-creature: a snake; and his inner voice which is the outcome of his learning.

The poet’s experience with a snake is based on a common experience; he came across a snake in a water-trough in a hot sunny day in July. When the poet went to fetch water in a pitcher, he saw a yellow-brown snake crawling in the water-trough. The uninvited guest reached there before the poet to quench his thirst.

The poet keenly observed the snake which took shelter in the earth-wall. It came out and drank water. The beautiful creature dreamily looked at the poet, and he was quite uncertain about him. D.H. Lawrence has vividly described the shiny, slender yellow-brown body of the snake in the poem. The snake rested its throat upon the stone bottom and sipped water dripping from the tap.

“A snake came to my water-trough

On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,

To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark


I came down the steps with my pitcher

And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was

At the trough before me.”

The poet has artistically used figures of speech such as alliteration and repetition in the opening lines such as ‘drink there in the deep’; and ‘hot, hot’ etc.

The thought came to the poet’s mind that he was a second comer waiting there for the snake’s departure from there. The snake had already come there before the arrival of the poet. So he had to wait till the snake finished its task. The snake glanced at the poet like any cattle do; and it flickered its forked tongue. The poet felt he was probably enjoying the moment.

“He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall

in the gloom

And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down,

Over the edge of the stone trough

And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,

And where the water had dripped from the tap,

in a small clearness,

He sipped with his straight mouth,

Softly drank through his straight gums,

into his slack long body


The snake drank little more water in the hot day. The poet went through mental conflict at the sight of the snake. He heard voice of education which commanded him to take some action against the harmless fellow-creature. The conflict in the poet’s mind has been unveiled in the second stanza.

Snake – Critical Analysis

“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.

And voices in me said, if you were a man,

You would take a stick and break him now, and

finish him off.”

The poet felt both love and abhorrence for the snake. The voice of learning asked him to kill the snake; he had been taught like that. The poet knew that the black snakes are less poisonous than the gold venomous snakes in Italy. His educated mind wanted him to kill the snake for its venomous nature. But the poet was enticed by the beauty of the snake. The poet observed the snake which was undisturbed and quiet as a guest. The poet found no harm in allowing the snake to drink a little more water but his educated mind ordered him to kill such a venomous creature though it was beautiful.

With the slow movement of the snake, the thought of doing something came to the poet’s mind. He felt restless and anxious as the snake had intruded into his territory. The poet was afraid that the people would call him a coward. The poet has made use of rhetorical questions in the stanza. The people might call it his ill-humour because he stood so long watching the movement of the snake without any action. They might call it modesty to consider the snake as his guest.

There is no doubt that the poet was afraid of the snake at first but the feeling of fellow-creature came to his mind. He felt glad that it came to the water-trough to drink water as a guest. Again the thought of hitting the snake came to the poet’s mind. He was in duality of mind whether to hurt a beautiful creature; or to let it depart on his own. But his learning and trained mind ordered him to take action against the snake.

“If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,

But even so, honoured still more

That he should seek my hospitality

From out the dark door of the secret earth.”

The snake drank some more water and moved away with the movement of his tongue into the whole. It glided slowly and steadily back into the hole. The poet knew that it was his last chance to show courage. He took a log of wood and threw it at the snake as a gesture of protest which he learnt in his school-days. But he did not want to harm the snake. The log partially hit the trails of the snake. It writhed in pain, and moved away showing no hatred and anger but magnanimity of heart.

The poet felt regret for his cowardice that he tried to harm the creature without any reason. He considered it as a mean act. He felt sorry for the snake and blamed himself for hitting the animal. He despised his learning which taught him to kill somebody only to display his prowess. It was a vain show of his feeling of insecurity and protest.

D.H. Lawrence has alluded Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous ballad, ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The thought of the killed albatross came to the poet’s mind. The poem also reminds the reader of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself”. The poet feels that the snake is also a part of a creation; and he feels ashamed of his misdeed.

The poet considers the snake as a king in exile who has been dethroned. It is like the uncrowned king of the underworld. The poet feels that it should come out again off the hole. He also thought that it should be crowned again as a king for its magnanimity of heart and forgiveness. The snake did not respond to the poet’s violent act and connived at his mistake. It moved away gently ignoring the mean act of the poet. At the end of the poem, the poet feels that he has lost a chance with the lord of life.

Use of Figures of Speech: Snake – Critical Analysis

Thus, D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Snake” deals with a simple theme of meeting of a snake at the water-trough, but he has handled the theme in an artistic manner. He has employed figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, personification, and alliteration. For example, he calls the snake as ‘like a guest in quiet’, ‘like a king’, ‘like a king in exile uncrowned in the underworld’ and ‘one of the lords of life’ in order to musical effect.

Conclusion: Snake – Critical Analysis

D.H. Lawrence’s poem ‘Snake’ expresses a feeling of ‘Oneness’ in all things and their role and co-existence in life. Though the feeling of insecurity and protest comes to the poet’s mind it stays there for a short time, and he feels ashamed of his mean act. He realizes his mistake and wishes to see the snake again which is also a part of God’s creation. The poem also conveys a perpetual clash between man and nature through a personal experience of the poet.

 Read it also: Critical Analysis of Philip Larkin’s The Trees

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