Snake by David Herbert Lawrence: Summary and Analysis

David Herbert Lawrence, one of the greatest literary figures of 20th century English literature, through this poem raises the ecological concerns through the medium of the snake. To justify his argument regarding ecology, he presents the interior monologue of the speaker.

David H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

As the speaker sees the snake in the water-trough his inner voice tells him to kill it. He struggles with his dual personality: he wishes to appreciate this snake, a beautiful creature of nature and the other voice insists him to kill the satanic serpent. The inner voice encourages him again and again to finish off the serpent. But at the same time, he is aware that the serpent has done no harm to him. But he remembers that black snakes are innocent and brown snakes are venomous. He feels a kind of a negative impulse towards the snake imposed by the society. He comes to the conclusion that he is certainly supposed to kill the snake as the general tendency of the society. He categorizes this snake as venomous and decides to kill him. By presenting the interior monologue of the speaker D. H. Lawrence makes criticism on the education system itself. We are taught to kill the living things and beings for no obvious reason. Despite the fact that, he feels honored. He decides to kill the serpent.

Although, he throws a log towards the snake after it is gone.  He intends to kill it. He is a criminal in his attitude. To intend is to crime. By bringing the reference of innocent bird albatross from S. T. Coloridge. Lawrence shows the criminal attitude of the people. Whether the log hits the serpent or not that is another question, but the major question is that he intends to kill the serpent.

Lawrence is trying to examine the mean human act through the medium of personification. He presents serpent as the guest, king god and lord of life. It is because of the serpent, environment has become hygienic. The serpent becomes venomous while protecting mankind from the venom. But human beings are so malevolent that they try to destroy their own savior. Through this poem, Lawrence ask the human beings to accept all the living creatures as the guest of one another.

The speaker is pleased with the company of the snake, but immediately he feels that the human society is not safe when the snake is left alive. He wants to save the snake from the ecological point of view. He cannot decide his action. By the end of the poem, the speaker regrets at his loss of the snake and he also gets angry at the human education system that encourages to kill the natural elements of the environment.

The speaker feels helpless and cowardice when he decides not to kill the snake, here, the poet indirectly raises a question, is it timidity to maintain a healthy relationship between nature and human being? As Lawrence is popularly known for challenging the social norms and values, this poem is the best example to question upon the existing education system and the complicated human thoughts.

The irony lies in the poem when the man is projected as the savage instead of civilized and cultured. The snake is depicted as more civilized in the sense that it does not hurt anyone unless provoked. At first the speaker does not hurt the snake who comes to drink water, but all of a sudden he hurls a log at the snake. This activity keeps the snake a step up in terms of height of civility. The man who is considered a higher species of the nature is shown as the degraded human being who without any reason goes on hurting others. Later, the speaker falls in the grip of the remorse of his activity. He regrets his action of trying to hurt the snake. This realization of the speaker finally gives a ray of hope in the existence of humanity.