Snake by D. H. Lawrence
Summary: This poem is about a human beings respect for an animal; which is quite strange because most of us just get scared at the sight of a snake. The narrator has gone to the water trough to fetch water to drink. He observes a strange visitor at the water trough; a snake. Because of his highly developed civic sense, the narrator prefers to allow the snake to quench its thirst because the snake was the first in the queue. The snake silently drinks water and observes the narrator intermittently.
The snake appeared to be poisonous and the narrator instant reaction was the thought to kill the snake. But the real human inside the narrator wanted to treat the snake as some guest who had come to his water trough. The narrator enjoyed the beautiful creation of nature. Finally, when the snake was about to disappear into a dark hole, the narrator clumsily picks up a stick hits the water puddle to create some clatter. The snake quickly disappears inside the dark womb of the earth. Having thrown the stick, the narrator feels guilty the way the Ancient Mariner felt when he killed the albatross. The narrator is left with a sense of pity for himself.
Multiple Choice Questions:
‘he lifted his head from his drinking as cattle do’ – The poet wants to convey that the snake
- Is domesticated
- Is innocent
- Is as harmless as cattle
- Drinks water just like cattle
Answer: (c) Is as harmless as cattle
‘Sicilian July’, ‘Etna smoking’ and ‘burning bowels of the earth’ are images that convey that
- There are snakes in volcanic areas
- The poet lived in a hot area
- It was a really hot day when the snake came
- Sicilian snakes are dangerous
Answer: (c) It was a really hot day when the snake came
‘A sort of horror, a sort of protest overcame me’ - The poet is filled with protest because
- He doesn’t want to let the snake remain alive
- He fears the snake
- He doesn’t want the snake to recede into darkness
- He wants to kill it so that it doesn’t return
Answer: (c) He doesn’t want the snake to recede into darkness
In the line “And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulder, and entered farther’ the phrase snake easing his shoulders means
- Loosening its shoulders
- Slipping in with majestic grace
- Moving slowly
- Moving fast
Answer: (b) Slipping in with majestic grace
‘He seemed to me like a king in exile’ The poet refers to the snake as such to emphasize that the snake
- Like a king enduring banishment
- Is like a king due to be crowned
- Is a majestic king who came for while on earth
- Is a majestic creature forced to go into exile by man
Answer: (a) Like a king enduring banishment
‘I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act’ – The poet is referring to
- The snake going into the dreadful hole
- The accursed modern education
- The act of throwing a log of wood at the snake
- The act of killing the snake
Answer: (c) The act of throwing a log of wood at the snake
Answer the following questions briefly
Why does the poet decide to stand and wait till the snake has finished drinking? What does this tell you about the poet?
Answer: The snake had arrived at the water trough before the poet and hence the poet decided to wait for his turn. This incident shows that poet has respect for other living beings the way a human being should have for another human being. His civic sense is highly developed.
In stanza 2 and 3, the poet gives a vivid description of the snake by using suggestive expressions. What picture of the snake do you form on the basis of this description?
Answer: The snake is earthy brown and earthy golden in colour and has a long body. it has a two-forked tongue and has toothless gum.
How does the poet describe the day and the atmosphere when he saw the snake?
Answer: It was a hot day of July and the temperature was further increased by the heat from Mt. Etna.
What does the poet want to convey by saying that the snake emerges from the ‘burning bowels of the earth’?
Answer: The earthy brown and golden colour of the snake appeared as if it had just come from the hot innards of the earth.
Do you think the snake was conscious of the poet’s presence? How do you know?
Answer: The way the snake paused for a moment and vaguely looked at the poet shows that the snake was conscious of the poet’s presence.
How do we know that the snake’s thirst was satiated? Pick out the expressions that convey this.
Answer: Once the snake quenched its thirst, it lifted its head dreamily; as if heavily drunk. It also appeared to be licking its lip; the way people do after drinking something. The godly expression on the face of the snake also shows that it was satiated.
The poet has a dual attitude towards the snake. Why does he experience conflicting emotions on seeing the snake?
Answer: Because of his mental conditioning, the poet wants to react and kill the snake. But the artist inside him prevents him to do so. The artist wants to enjoy one of the unmatched beauty of the nature. He wants to enjoy every moment of a snake enjoying the bounty of the nature.
The poet is filled with horror and protest when the snake prepares to retreat and bury itself in the ‘horrid black’, ‘dreadful’ hole. In the light of this statement, bring out the irony of his act of throwing a log at the snake.
Answer: The poet does not want his amusement to end so abruptly. He wants to have more of it and hence does not wish the snake to disappear into the hole. These feelings convey a sense of admiration which the poet has for the snake. But ironically, he tries to hit the snake with a log; as if venting his anger at the snake for daring to break the dreamy sequence.
The poem seems to be full of admiration and respect for the snake. He almost regards him like a majestic God. Pick out at least four expressions from the poem that reflect these emotions.
Answer: The calmness and confidence with which the snake drinks water, the royal style with which the snake lifts its head; convey that the author was full of admiration and respect for the snake.
What is the difference between the snake’s movement at the beginning of the poem and later when the poet strikes it with a log of wood? You may use relevant vocabulary from the poem to highlight the difference.
Answer: When the snake came to drink water, it was moving slowly. It appeared from a dark fissure in the earth-wall and slowly descended over the edge of the stone trough. When the snake was leaving, it was doing so in undignified haste. It writhed like lightning and disappeared into the black-hole.
The poet experiences a feeling of self-derision, guilt and regret after hitting the snake. Pick out expressions that suggest this. Why does he feel like this?
Answer: The poet thought that his act was a paltry, vulgar and mean act. He despises himself and accuses his human education for hitting the snake.
You may have already read Coleridge’s poem The Ancient Mariner in which an albatross is killed by the mariner. Why does the poet make an allusion to the albatross?
Answer: The way the Ancient Mariner felt a deep sense of guilt after killing the albatross, the poet also feels the guilt after trying to hit the snake. Hence, the poet has made an allusion to the albatross.
‘I have something to expiate’ – Explain.
Answer: The poet is repenting at his act of hitting the snake. He was enjoying the sight of the majestic creature; when the snake began to disappear into the dark innards of the earth. The poet probably wanted to enjoy the dignified manner in which the snake would have disappeared.