explain line by line chapter snake
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there
In this stanza, the poet describes how it was a typical summer day and how he had been wearing pyjamas, which are light, in order to cool himself. Again in order to keep cool, he had gone to fetch water from his trough, but found that a snake had reached before him. A “trough” is a wooden or stone open container for holding water.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.
The trough was shaded by a dark carob tree and the place had a strange smell. When he poet reached with his pitcher, he has to stand and wait for the snake to finish drinking. He waits because he has to avoid the snake.
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
The poet describes how the snake came out of a crack in the wall of his house. He describes the snake as ‘yellow brown’ and ‘soft bellied’ with ‘straight gums’ and a 'slack long body; invoke a vivid picture of the snake in our mind. The poet further says that the snake trailed along to the edge of the stone trough. He again says ‘the snake drank water through his slack gums into his slack long body silently.’
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting
In this stanza, the poet says that generally he was the only one to drink out of his trough, but that particular day, he himself was second to reach the trough and he had to wait as a result. This suggests that the snake’s presence is, naturally, not at all welcome by the poet.
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,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking
The snake lifts its head, looks at the man, flicks its tongue, thinks a moment, and then goes back to drinking at the faucet. The snake appeared to the poet very thirsty. The poet describes the snake as a creature of earth-brown, earth-golden colour and it appeared to him like the ssnake had come out of thye burning bottom of the Earth. He further says that it was a very hot day in the month of July in Sicily. The Mount Etna was smoking. Mount Etna is a natural volcano on the Sicilian island of Italy and the poet lived around this region when the episode in the poem took place.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous
The poet’s mind urged him to kill it. To him the snake was a danger as he knew that in Sicily the black snakes were harmless, but the golden ones were highly poisonous.
And voices in me said, if you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off
We feel a natural repulsion to fear and all things that convey it. The poet is no stranger to this instinct. The voice in his head provoked him to kill the snake and prove his masculinity. The words ‘finish him off’ show us how deeply repulsed the poet was at the snake’s very presence.
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
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
In this stanza, the poet says that he quite liked the snake and was happy that it had come to drink at his trough like a guest and then to leave as peacefully as he had come to go back to the depths of the earth from which he imagines it had risen. The fearful, it should seem, is often fascinating.
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured
The man wonders if he is a coward for not killing him. Or was it wrong that he wanted to talk to the snake. Or was it respect because he felt so honored that the snake had visited his trough. He repeats that he felt honored. The urge to kill the snake and the fascination with him keeping the poet from doing so are the two thoughts in mutiny with each other in the poet’s mind which he expresses in this stanza. He is in a state of dilemma as to how he should act. In the end he concludes that it was because he felt honoured to have been visited by the snake. In this stanza the poet expresses emotions of fear and feelings of honour.
And yet those voices :
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
The voices from his knowledge of how to handle a snake keep haunting him with “If you were not afraid, you would kill him”. The fears were present in the back of his mind. This stanza further elevates the tension of the internal struggle of the poet in the eyes of the reader.
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
The poet admits that he was afraid of the snake; that he was utterly scared at the sight of him. But he was honored more that the snake should seek his hospitality from out of its dark hole.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
As he stood there being honoured about the visit of a snake, and the lengthy reptile slowly disappearing a horror struck him. While the snake is climbing the broken bank of his wall-face, he had enough time to react and to make a quick decision to kill it. Placing down his pitcher, he braced himself, picked up a clumsy log, and hurled it at the water- trough with a clatter.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned
Here, the poet uses a curious expression ‘snake-easing his shoulders’ to mean easing his way inside the hole. The poet witnessed a sort of horror and protest as he saw him sneaking his way slowly inside the dark hole. He despised himself and the voices which bade him to kill the venomous reptile.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
He put down his pitcher and picked up a log that was not easily handled and threw it at the water trough.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste,
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination
The poet when recounting the tale is unsure is the log hit the snake. He however believes that it most probably did not. But as he threw the log the part of the snake that was trailing behind him suddenly convulsed in a rapid motion. It twisted and came up close to itself and in another moment was gone. The motion of the snake was as fast as lightning and he disappeared in a second. The poet stood alone in the intense afternoon with fascination gazing at the hole into which the snake had disappeared.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
In this stanza, the poet describes how he was filled with regret that he had acted in such a cruel and petty way with the snake. He hated himself and the education that had urged him to act in such a manner.
And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
As the poet says he thought of the ‘albatross’, the ‘albatross’ he could be talking about his emotional burden or guilt after attacking the innocent snake. Then the poet desires the venomous reptile to be his visitor once again.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
In this stanza, the poet says that the snake should have been a king. Though his place was beneath the surface of the earth, it had not been crowned there. However, the poet thinks it would be crowned shortly.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords Of life.
And I have something to expiate :
In this manner in the last stanza the poet concludes by saying that he missed a chance of meeting with one of the lords of life and must now apologise for his own lack of concern and his petty behaviour with the snake.