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06_SNAKE_class 10

 

 

Summary

The frightening experience of confronting a snake is beautifully described in D. H Lawrence’s poem, “Snake.” D. H Lawrence personifies a ‘snake’ in this poem with a certain charm. The poem is modern and the natural undertones in the poem fascinate the reader.

Stanza 1 and 2:

The poem begins about an encounter with a snake on a hot day when the poet was in his pyjamas and was going to fill his pitcher. The snake was ahead of the poet and it was there to drink water from the trough. When the poet came towards the Carob tree, spreading its strange scent, he saw the snake and had to stand and wait.

Stanza 3:

The poet stood there watching the snake which slithered down from the crack in the earthen wall and slipped over the edge of the trough of water. The poet describes the snake as having a soft yellow-brown belly. Lawrence stands there watching the snake as the snake sips the water that is dripping from the trough.

Stanza 4 and Stanza 5:

The snake stood there sipping water from the trough which was entering his mouth straight and into its gums. The poet waited and watched over the snake. The snake then lifted his head, looked at the poet ‘vaguely’, flickered his two-forked tongue, stopped for a moment and then drank a little more. The poet then goes on to describe that very hot day of July in the city of Sicily and Etna with the smoky volcano that aggravates the heat. The poet then hears a voice of his education that tells him to kill the snake as black snakes in Sicily are not poisonous as yellow snakes are. That was a yellow bellied snake.

Stanza 6 and 7:

The voice in his head provokes him by saying that if he was a man, he would have taken a stick and killed the snake. ‘Finish him off’ is what the voice urged him to do. But the poet confesses that he liked the snake. The poet was glad that the snake paid a visit to his water-trough. The snake went back into the ‘burning bowels of the earth’ without thanking him.

Stanza 8:

The poet questions himself that was it cowardice that kept him from killing the snake?Or was it his obstinacy that urged him to talk to it? The poet contemplates if it was his humility that made him feel so honored. A voice then challenges him that if he was not afraid, he would have killed the snake.

Stanza 9:

In these lines, the poet confesses that he was truly afraid. He was afraid that he let the dangerous snake to go and feelings of honour that the snake sought the poet’s hospitality.

 

Stanza 10:

The poet describes the pacified snake in these lines who lifted his head, drank water as if he was in a drunken state, flickered his tongue, licked his lips and looked around like god and slowly turned his head. After quenching his thirst, the snake climbed back the wall and disappeared into the earth.

Stanza 11 and 12:

As the snake was slithering back into the hole, the poet suddenly felt a sense of protest and horror and hastily he puts down his pitcher, picks up a log and hurls at the water trough where the snake was stranded.

Stanza 13 and 14:

The snake was unhurt. The poet saw slow retreating body of the snake, disappearing into the hole from where it once appeared. The poet regrets for his foolish act of trying to kill the snake. For a moment, his emotions were different and he hated himself and the voices that urged him to do so. He despised the ‘accursed human education.’

Stanza 15:

The poet thinks of the ‘albatross’ and wishes that the snake would visit him again.

Stanza 16 and 17:

Finally in the last lines, the snake seemed like a king to the poet, a king in exile and the one who lost his crown waiting to be crowned again. The poet regrets that he missed to spend time with one of the lords of life. He is left with something to ‘expiate’ and that is his ‘pettiness.’

 

Questions & Answers

 

Q.1    How does the poet react on catching sight of a snake near his water-trough?

Ans.   The sight of the snake, rather than evoking a sense of mortal fear in the poet’s mind arouses his curiosity. He observes him closely and is fascinated by its grace and dignified movements.

 

Q.2    Why does the poet decide to stand and wait till the snake has finished drinking? What does this tell you about the poet?

Ans.   The poet in all his gentlemanliness lets the snake quench his thirst as he was the first to arrive there. Respecting his right to exist and enjoy the natural resources, the poet steps aside giving evidence of being very generous and considerate. Moreover, he feels honoured that the snake has come as a guest to his water-trough.

 

Q.3    How does the poet describe the day and the atmosphere when he saw the snake?

Ans.   The poet describes the day as a very, very hot day of July in Sicily, Italy. Mount Etna smoking in the backdrop only heightens the heat of the day. The heat is so strong that the poet has to wear pyjamas. Both he and the snake feel so thirsty that they rush to the water-trough to drink water. The water-trough is under the deep, strange-scented shade of a great dark carob-tree.

 

Q.4    What does the poet want to convey by saying that the snake emerges from the ‘burning bowels of the earth’?

Ans.   The interior of the earth is hot and dark. Most snakes live underground or in deep, dark recesses. By saying that the snake emerges from the ‘burning bowels of the earth’ the poet wants to convey two ideas. One, snakes are the uncrowned kings of the earth. Two, hot, dry places are their usual habitat.

 

Q.5    Do you think the snake was conscious of the poet’s presence? How do you know?

Ans.   The snake seemed to be oblivious of the poet’s presence. He does lift his head while drinking water but looks vaguely towards the poet with unseeing eyes. Had he seen him, the snake would not have enjoyed sipping water at such a leisurely pace.

 

Q.6    What does the poet mean by ‘voice of education’?

Ans.   By ‘voice of education’ the poet means the bookish knowledge that he had acquired. This knowledge was neither based on experience nor it had anything to do with the natural instincts.

 

Q.7    Why did the poet feel so honoured initially?

Ans.   A golden brown snake had come to drink water at the poet’s water-trough. He felt that the snake was his guest and showing the snake hospitality and courtesy was a matter of honour for him.

 

Q.8    Why did the snake flicker his tongue?

Ans.   It is instinctive behaviour for snakes to flicker their tongues which they use as sense organs. The snake in question flickered his tongue probably to smell and locate his prey or to make sure the place was safe for him, but the flickering frightened the poet.

 

Q.9    Why did the speaker throw a clumsy log at the snake? What does his behaviour reveal about his character?

Ans.   The poet threw a clumsy log at the snake out of fear and hatred ingrained in him over the years. His behaviour reveals his cowardice as he threw the clumsy log only when the snake’s back was turned on him.

 

Q.10  Why does the speaker consider his intention of killing the snake as a ‘paltry, vulgar and mean act’?

Ans.   The poet considered his act of throwing a clumsy log at the snake a paltry, vulgar and mean act because he hit the harmless snake who was his ‘guest’. The snake came quietly and withdrew without harming him. He didn’t deserve such a treatment, thus this act is taken to be undignified and condemnable as an after-thought by the poet.

 

Q.11  Why does the poet call human education ‘accursed’?

Ans.   The poet calls human education accursed because it has dehumanized and desensitized the poet towards the snake’s right to life. It has made him too selfish and self-centred.

 

Q.12  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?

Ans.   Initially, the snake is perfectly at peace with himself and moves on effortlessly and unhurriedly. He drinks water at leisure, giving himself brief breaks in between and he seems to be enjoying every single sip of water that he has. He then moves on in an extremely languid and easy way as if drunk or in a state of dream. Later when he is hit, he becomes panicky and wriggles in an undignified manner and in a great haste.

 

Q.13  Why does the poet make an allusion to the albatross?

Ans.   The poet finds a parallel between his attempt to kill the snake and the ancient Mariner’s killing of the albatross. Just as killing of the harmless bird was a wanton act of the Mariner, the poet feels that his own act was also equally despicable as the snake was as harmless as the albatross. Hence he makes an allusion to the bird.

 

Q.14  ‘I have something to expiate. ‘Explain.

Ans.   ‘To expiate’ means to make amends. Ashamed of his wanton act of throwing a log of wood on the snake, the poet feels that he needs to make amends for his act of trying to kill the harmless snake as the act was petty, mean and vulgar.

 

WORKSHEET

 

  1. Short Answer Questions

 

  1. What was the poet doing 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”?

 

  1. Long Answer Question:

 

  1. 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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