The Snake, by D.H. Lawrence narrates a man’s encounter with a snake at his water trough. In my opinion D.H Lawrence attempts to expound upon the internal conflicts that arise when social instruction conflicts with natural instincts. The speaker in the poem is internally battling with his desire to admire and befriend this creature and his opposing desire to kill it. He observes the snake with care and pays close attention to its actions as he states, “He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do, And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do, And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment, And stooped and drank a little more…” As he observes the snake the only negative feelings he explicates are those he felt were imposed by society. The speaker purports that he should perhaps kill the snake because that is what a “man” should do, and then immediately curses his human education that provided him with the thought.
There is an emphasis on the indecisiveness of the speaker, as he waivers all throughout the poem until it is too late for his opinion to matter. When he speaks of the snake it is clear that he is pleased with the snake’s company, while also torn as to whether or not he should interact with nature in this way. When he states, “But must I confess how I liked him, How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough…’ he reveals his feeling in a way that imply a deeper sense of guilt or shame in wanting to befriend the snake. He uses the word “confess” as opposed to simply stating his feeling about the element of nature. There is a shame that is implicated in the preservation of nature as if it is a threat to his manhood. Even after he confesses his delight and honor in spending time with the snake he reverts to questioning whether or not he is a coward because he chose not to kill him.
In closing I believe it is important to note the idea of remorse of the decisions made by the human in the poem. As a result of his indecisiveness he ends up regretting his loss of the snake as well as cursing his human education. It was well within his power to let the snake remain in his company but he let it get away. Towards the end he states, “I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education. And I thought of the albatross, And I wished he would come back, my snake.” Not only does he miss the snake deeply but he refers to the snake as “my snake,” when he had previously contemplated killing the snake. For me this poem well exemplifies the struggle of man vs. nature. What do we owe nature on the path to preserve human life. Is it cowardice to maintain a relationship with that animal as opposed to killing it? When he speaks of fear, is it of the snake or of man? These are all questions that are provoked by Lawrence’s poem.