Snake is one of Lawrences most famous poems. Although the poem seems to be about an encounter with a snake, the true theme of the poem is the conflict between emotional behavior and learned behavior. This conflict is displayed through setting and symbolism.
The poem begins with a very narrative voice and is a pleasure to read for that reason. Lawrence is exuberated in expressing his reverence for nature. In the first three stanzas of the poem the setting is established and the movement of the snake is described. The poem took place in a garden near his house because the boy was in pajamas and under the shade of a great dark carob-tree. The movement of the snake is described by the alliteration of the s sound in the words straight, softly, slack, and silently.
Symbolism is used throughout the poem. The garden in which the poem takes place can be a symbol of the Garden of Eden, and the snake, a symbol of the devil. A snake is a symbol of evil, but a snake is also a symbol of enlightenment and wisdom according to ancient civilizations. The snake, however, is the ultimate symbol of tension. The tension in the young boy is caused because he has to make a decision. When he encounters the snake, he is posed with the question to kill the snake or to let it leave unharmed, to act upon his human education or his instinct. While the snake is drinking at the trough, the boys emotions are in conflict. Even though the boy was scared, he was even more honored that the snake should seek his hospitality. Once the snake started to leave, the boys time was running out. He had to make a decision. Because of his accursed human education, he decided to act in an evil way and throw a log at the snake. Does this suggest that the snake is not evil, but the soul in man is inherently evil? Or is the snake evil because he was retreating into the evil darkness of hell symbolized by the hole in the fissure? Once the boy threw the log at the snake, he immediately regretted it, revealing I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean actI wish he would come back, my snake. After the boy threw the log, he recognized the innocence of the snake noting, And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords/ Of life. This illustrates man always trying to rob the dignity from all Godly creatures, and how petty it is.
Through this poem, Lawrence has illustrated his point about strife and the clash of opposites. The symbols used in this poem are very ambiguous because they can be interpreted many ways. The snake can be a symbol of evil, enlightenment and wisdom, or tension. The boy battles through many emotions in this poem, finally coming to the realization that men are inherently evil.