“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.