Snake by D.H Lawrence
‘Snake’ is a poem composed skillfully on a simple theme. A snake visited the poet’s garden to quench its thirst. It emerged from the recesses of the earth. It was a hot day. The Etna’s smoke, a volcano in Sicily, heightened the heat. It was quite natural that a snake comes out of its abode, a hole, to quench or satiate its natural appetites. The poet has come out of his house with a pitcher to fetch water. The poet had to wait till the snake disappeared because it had come at the trough prior to the poet.
The poet describes the snake as ‘earth-brown, and ‘earth golden’. The voice of his education told him that such snakes must be killed for in Sicily the black snakes are innocent. The golden snakes are dangerous. It is shows a prejudiced society. In fact, the poet was afraid of the snake. If he doesn’t kill the snake he would be considered as a ‘coward’. The poet instinctively likes the snake. Thus he treats it like a guest. He also feels honoured that it had come to drink at its water trough.
Instead of receiving the ‘guest’ showing hospitality, the ‘educated and civilized’ poet tries to throw a log at it. After drinking the water the snake raised its head just like cattle do and flashed his forked tongue. It drank some more water and started going back. The poet suddenly filled with a protest against the idea of the snake withdrawing into its hole. He puts down his pitcher, picked up a log and hurled it at the snake. The snake twisted violently and and vanished into the hole in the wall.
The poet later feels remorse in that act. Furthermore, he is trying to expiate for that ‘mean act’ in future. The snake was frightened by poet’s odd behavior and returns to its abode.The poem is a self-critique. It is also a social criticism. It unfolds the negative impact of social conditioning. Instead of feeling sympathy for other creatures man has become selfish and a ‘fearful being’. The practical wisdom told him that this brown snake is poisonous and it must be killed. This points its finger to man’s prejudice to other creatures. Man misjudges creatures with its colour. Man’s urge to terminate all those creatures who are the potential threat to him is revealed here in poet’s uncouth behaviour. Who is responsible for that?
It is human education that alienated human beings from nature. Man acts on an impulse to survive himself. In course of such struggle to exist he deliberately ignores or ‘take for granted’ the right to live of all other creatures. We human beings fight for our rights. We formulate international laws to protect human rights. What about the rights of other creatures on this planet, and who is bothered about it? Do they also have the same right as we have to exist?
The poet quenches his thirst by drinking from his cup and nobody intimidates him. On the other hand, when this ‘King in exile’ does this same thing it is targeted and destined to be killed. This is a biased behaviour. The poet should have shown hospitality. He never should have tried to kill it. Only social conditioning and education compelled him to do so.
To put it brief, the poem skillfully criticizes modern human education, which is one-sided, alienated from nature and selfish. By telling that he wants to mend his ways, the poet calls for a reconstructive, redefined idea of education which would enable man to live close to nature. It demands a collaborative living. It also suggests a mutual collaborative existence giving equal room and right for other creatures to exist and lead a peaceful life as human beings.