CBSE Class X English Support Material – Poetry – Snake

-D. H. Lawrence

Summary: Inspired by an event in the natural world, D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Snake” is about an encounter between a person and a snake; the person has to choose between listening to his own voice and admiring the snake, and listening to the voice of his education and forcing the snake to leave. Many figures of speech strengthen the power and meaning of the poem, including alliteration, simile, personification, and emphasis.

This poem, entitled “Snake” was composed by D.H. Lawrence in 1923. It is mainly about an encounter between the speaker and the snake on a very hot morning of July in Sicily, Italy. The feelings of the speaker play a very large role in the process voicing his feelings as well as his education.

Lawrence places the speaker in the middle of two choices, to choose between the voice of his education and his own. At the start of the poem, the speaker admires the snake and ignores the voice of his education. But, it is not until the snake retreats back into the fissure that the speaker chooses to listen to the voice of his education and decides to pick up a log and throw it at the snake as a protest.

Lawrence introduces the poem by getting straight to the point, also using a repetition to show that it is a really hot day. Lawrence wrote the poem, possibly because it was a true story, but most likely because he was trying to display man’s feelings about snakes and question it. He believes that the snake is a gentle creature, simply thirsty and grateful to be near water. To him it is a compliment. But to most, it is a natural instinct to kill the beautiful creature.

The poem indicates that even though his knowledge was telling him to end the snake right then and there. But he considered it a king, which shows that the snake had as much right to drink from the water trough as any man or beast did. Even though it was venomous, it was doing no harm.

A great technique used, as I mentioned earlier, is repetition. D. H. Lawrence uses repetition at the beginning, describing how hot the day is. Lawrence obviously wants us to know that the reason he and the snake have come to the trough is because it is a very hot day. Another technique he uses is simile. He uses it when describing the snake lifting his head like drinking cattle do. He uses the drinking cattle reference twice, showing that the snake’s actions deeply resemble those of cattle. He also uses a simile when saying that the snake looked around like a god. Another good technique Lawrence uses is when he is describing his act after he threw the log. By using the three synonyms paltry, vulgar and mean, he shows that trying to harm the creature was definitely a horrible thing to do.


Multiple Choice Questions:
Read the extract and answer the questions that follow:

But suddenly that part of him that was left behind
Convulsed in undignified haste
Writhed like lighting, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately, I regretted it.

a) Which part of the snake convulsed in undignified haste?

i) which had entered the black hole
ii) which had left behind at the water trough
iii) that was left behind outside the black hole
iv) the part hit by the log.

b) Why did the poet stare at the snake with fascination?

i) the snake was earth brown
ii)he liked the snake
iii) the snake had its own beauty and grace
iv) he feared the snake

c) Why did the snake convulse in undignified haste?

i) the snake had finished drinking
ii) hit by log
iii)there was intense heat outside
iv) wanted to take rest.
Answers: a) iii b)iii c) iv

II) Short Answer Questions:

a)How does the poet describe the day when he saw the snake?
Ans. The poet happened to see the snake at the water trough on a hot day of Sicilian July. The poet went to the water trough in his pyjamas. The poet also used the image of Mount Etna to heighten the intensity of the heat. Also, the snake had come from the burning bowels of the earth to quench its thirst.

b) The poet has a dual attitude towards the snake. Why does he experience contrast emotions on seeing the snake?
Ans. When the poet saw the snake drinking water from the water trough, he was overpowered by the voices of human education and natural instinctive fascination for the snake. On one hand, the voice of modern education prompts the poet to kill the snake for golden brown snakes are poisonous. On the other hand, his natural instinct fascinated him and he felt honoured that the snake had sought his hospitality.

I Answer the following in about 40 words:

1. What was the poet on his way to do when he first became aware of the snake?
2. What was the snake doing?
3. What did the ‘voice of his education’ tell the poet he should do?
4. How did he actually feel about the snake when the voices told him to kill it?
5. What caused the poet’s horror towards the snake?
6. What did the poet do?
7. What does he feel after having done it?
8. What does the poet mean by “the voices of my accursed education.” Why are they accursed?
9. Why does the poet call the snake one of the ‘Lords of Life’?
10. Why does the poet call his sin a ‘pettiness’?

II. Long Answer Question:

1. Write a paragraph on: What underlying statement do you think the poet is making in ‘Snake’ about human beings in general and himself in particular?Support your answer with a quotation from the poem.

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