Snake: Poems by Emily Dickinson and D.H. Lawrence

“Snake” fascinated D.H. Lawrence and Emily Dickinson pictured its true nature. Each observed its form and movements. Lawrence uses symbolism and about Emily’s poem, one cannot say for sure.

Cover of Poems (Shambhala Pocket Classics)

Snake is a reptile that has fascinated and frightened the humans for long. Poets have captured these emotions in words and have immortalised them.

Emily Dickinson’s and D.H. Lawrence’s poetry are often prescribed for the school curriculum. Their poems on snake are the most admired ones. These two poems have only the similarity of the snake being the observed by the poets; they are so different in attitude and themes.

Emily Dickinson‘s “A narrow fellow in the grass” was published in the Springfield Daily Republican, in 1886, with the title, “The Snake”. It became very popular and with her unusual choice of words, it presents the image with clarity, of the snake hurrying through grass when a youngster keeps watching with a chill in his heart yet with curiosity.

The American poet Emily sees the snake through a child’s eyes. “A narrow fellow in the grass” rides over the grass, dividing it as if with a comb. Only a spotted shaft is seen. The boy is standing barefoot. It moves very close and swiftly goes ahead. Many a time the boy is cheated by his eyes into believing that a whip lash is lying down, and as he bends to pick it up, it wrinkles and disappears. The child confides in the end that he has seen and been cordial to many animals but this animal alone makes him gasp for breadth gives him “a zero at the bones”, which means chills him to the bones.

The first three quatrains (stanzas of four lines) give the image of the snake’s appearance and movement. The last three reveal the fear and the attitude humans have towards the snake. We may admire the snake but we can never get over the fear we have for the snakes.

One noteworthy point is that she has not used the word snake even once in the poem. While you read on you are sure it is the snake. Her judicious use of the metaphors like spotted shaft, a whiplash ‘unbraiding’  in the sun and also denoting its sly nature by appearing quite suddenly, saying, “you may have met him, His notice sudden is” and personification “a narrow fellow in the grass” and nature’s people, referring to animals, recall the occasions we have ourselves seen the creature.

D.H Lawrence glorified the form and grace of the snake in his poem “Snake”. The poem is symbolic of the rising if evil in man, and man’s attempt to kill it, say some critics and several interpretations are given for this poem. If we do not consider the symbolism, we see how much these poets differ.

Everyone knows how Lawrence exalts the physical over the intellectual. He describes the snake’s form, beauty and grace. He goes to bring water from his water trough, for drinking. There already is the snake drinking water.  It was the month of July, in Sicily, with Etna the volcano smoking. Both animal and man are thirsty.

The poet’s “voice of education tell him” to kill the snake. Obeying that, he throws a log at the snake. The snake is not hit. It disappears. The poet feels sorry for his act and thinks that he should expiate.

Written in free verse, the description of the snake with its fluid movement is unbelievably impressive.

The following lines depict the movement and the form of the snake ,” trailed his yellow brown slackness, soft bellied down”.

The poet uses several similes to describe the snake. “As cattle (the snake lifts its head), a king in exile, God and the lord of life”.

He uses the metaphor “albatross” for the snake, an allusion from Coleridge’s “Rime of the ancient mariner”.

As opposed to Emily, Lawrence considers the snake his guest and wants to be friendly with him. He even thinks his attempt to kill the snake is an act of cowardice.

The same animal, snake has evoked contradictory thoughts in these poets.

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23 Comments
  1. Posted October 12, 2009 at 9:14 am

    nice information…

  2. Posted October 12, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Great information, thanks for sharing.

  3. Posted October 12, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Excellent

  4. Posted October 12, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Interesting information… liked it!

  5. Posted October 12, 2009 at 11:12 am

    The snake evokes contradictory thoughts in us all. I liked Tom T. Hall’s “Sneaky Snake.” He would try to steal your root beer.
    Enjoyed your comparison.

  6. Posted October 12, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Excellent

  7. Posted October 12, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Interesting info.TX

  8. Posted October 12, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    An excellent article so inspiring and artistic.Write more.

  9. Posted October 13, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Very nice – DH Lawrence is one of my biggest influences :) Incredible pictures …

    Usually, Lawrence photos are when he was much older

    – VERY NiCE ARTiCLE

  10. Posted October 13, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Very insightful analysis.

  11. Posted October 13, 2009 at 8:42 am

    Very interesting comparison.

  12. Posted October 13, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Thank u friends , for your energising comments.

  13. Posted October 13, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Very good review on this book, and I really like poems written emily dickinson. :-)

  14. Posted October 13, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Hi, Chit.

    Very good comparison/review. Good job on the explanatory passages. Not everyone would write about such a trivial coincidence, but you not only tackled the project head on, you did well. The ending could use a little more elaboration, but all in all, the content of the piece is satisfactory.

    My only regretful observation is that you have misused some words and there are some spots where your verb-noun connection is off.

    Nonetheless, it is not so overbearing as to wear down the interest of the notes. Thanks for sharing, and have a good day.

  15. Brandon
    Posted September 23, 2011 at 2:49 am

    “If we do not consider the symbolism, we see how much these poets differ.”

    Is it suppose to be the same? If it is different, explain.

  16. Posted September 25, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Brandon, mthe very first paragraph says they are dissimilar in other aspects. You have not read it

  17. Tommy Tran
    Posted September 26, 2011 at 2:05 am

    What do you mean by that: If we do not consider the symbolism, we see how much these poets differ?

  18. Posted September 29, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Dickinson’s Snake seems a simple, sly creature, that arouses childish curiosity. Lawrence’s is a creature that is more than an object of curiosity. It arouses an instinct of self protection in an adult who knows snakes are dangerous.
    Dickinson’s Snake is a normal creature. Lawrence’s is a creature worthy to be admired, ‘a Lord, a King’ in his words.
    Some say that Dickinson’s Snake symbolises sexual awakening in a youngster.
    Lawrence’s Snake poem and its symbolism is widely known and discussed.
    The objective of my essay is not that. I just wanted to show the admiration the poets have for this creature and how they have pictured it, each in his/her own way.

  19. Kei
    Posted October 3, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Why did the snake drink water

  20. Posted October 6, 2011 at 6:04 am

    Snakes drink water when they are thirsty. Lawrence’s Snake is considered ‘the evil in humans’ – suggested as perversion by some critics. They say Lawrence takes exception to what is normally considered evil by the soceity, perverted sex. But his description of the snake and its movements is striking, even without considering the hidden comparison.

  21. Posted November 30, 2011 at 3:35 am

    O man u hav described the whole poem. And as u have written, poet hasn’t even used snake word even at once. But the poem starts with the name of snake only. U need to read poem once again. LoL

  22. Posted November 30, 2011 at 9:40 am

    The poem by Dickinson is as follows: (you can’t find the word snake in this)

    A narrow fellow in the grass
    Occasionally rides;
    You may have met him,–did you not,
    His notice sudden is.

    The grass divides as with a comb,
    A spotted shaft is seen;
    And then it closes at your feet
    And opens further on.

    He likes a boggy acre,
    A floor too cool for corn.
    Yet when a child, and barefoot,
    I more than once, at morn,

    Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
    Unbraiding in the sun,–
    When, stooping to secure it,
    It wrinkled, and was gone.

    Several of nature’s people
    I know, and they know me;
    I feel for them a transport
    Of cordiality;

    But never met this fellow,
    Attended or alone,
    Without a tighter breathing,
    And zero at the bone.

  23. EMPERIO
    Posted December 8, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    thank you!

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