D.H. Lawrence’s poem Snake is an eighty-seven line narrative/poem about a man’s encounter with a snake. This poem is very detailed, laying out one event after another, while being so descriptive that is easy to envision being in the man’s shoes. At first glance this poem simply looks like a narrative of a man seeing a snake and contemplating whether or not he should kill the snake, though if one delves a little deeper, the poem Snake can have multiple interpretations.
One interpretation that I uncovered from this poem is the pattern of duality. Through this entire poem the pattern of duality is present. In the beginning of the poem Lawrence writes about the immense heat of the day, “hot, hot day” and the water, how it is used to cool off. Then there is the duality between what his education and his inner voices told him, “The voice of my education said to me He must be killed,” versus what he actually wanted to do since he liked the snake, “But must I confess how I liked him. There is the duality between being a man versus something that is less than a man. Also there is a duality between the man’s emotions: fear versus honor. “And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more”, I think this is one of the most prominent lines in the poem because it gives clear insight into the man’s brain. From this line, we realize how intrigued he is with this “earth-golden” snake. Lastly, there is the duality between what the man did versus what the snake did. The poem starts off talking about the snake moving towards the trough to take a drink, while the man was going to fill his pitcher up with water but then he freezes “And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.” This movement is important because he freezes, it is possible that he froze out of fear, or froze to ensure safety but whatever the case, the poem doesn’t show us he moves again until the snake begins his retreat. That is when he “put[s] down my[his] pitcher” and picks up a log. This line leans to the possibility that the man is frozen with fear for most of the poem while the snake moves freely about.
The second interpretation that I pulled from Snake was that it is an in-depth look into the human psyche. I formulated this idea from the indecisive nature of the man. Everyone at some moment in their life has had to make a decision where “inside voices” have told you to do one thing but you felt like doing something else. It is possible that the man applied morals to the situation which is contributed to his inaction like many people do in their brains. He had established the snake as a “guest in quiet” who simply came “to drink at my water-trough, And depart peaceful, pacified and thankless.” Many people apply morals to situations when considering whether or not to act, just like the man possibly did when he considered the snake as a guest, and would it be ethical to harm a ‘guest’? Also I related the voices to peer pressure, except the education and his own brain was applying the pressure, because the voices were telling him “If you were a man”, and “If you were not afraid” then the man/anyone else would act!
Snake is a brilliantly written poem that is unconventional in style and structure, but conveys insight into a man’s inner contemplation of whether or not he should act, and delves into the insight of everyday life and the “voices” inside of us all.