D.H. Lawrence, "Snake"

1          A snake came to my water-trough 
2          On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat, 
3          To drink there. 

4          In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob- 
5             tree 
6          I came down the steps with my pitcher 
7          And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at 
8             the trough before me. 

9          He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the 
10           gloom 
11        And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, 
12           over the edge of the stone trough 
13        And rested his throat upon the stone bottom, 
14        And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small 
15           clearness, 
16        He sipped with his straight mouth, 
17        Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long 
18           body, 
19        Silently. 

20        Someone was before me at my water-trough, 
21        And I, like a second comer, waiting. 
22        He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do, 
23        And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do, 
24        And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and 
25           mused a moment, 
26        And stooped and drank a little more, 
27        Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels 
28           of the earth 
29        On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking. 

30        The voice of my education said to me 
31        He must be killed, 
32        For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold 
33           are venomous. 

34        And voices in me said, If you were a man 
35        You would take a stick and break him now, and finish 
36           him off. 

37        But must I confess how I liked him, 
38        How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink 
39           at my water-trough 
40        And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless, 
41        Into the burning bowels of this earth? 

42        Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? 
43        Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? 
44        Was it humility, to feel so honoured? 
45        I felt so honoured. 

46        And yet those voices: 
47        If you were not afraid, you would kill him! 

48        And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, 
49        But even so, honoured still more 
50        That he should seek my hospitality 
51        From out the dark door of the secret earth. 

52        He drank enough 
53        And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken, 
54        And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so 
55           black, 
56        Seeming to lick his lips, 
57        And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air, 
58        And slowly turned his head, 
59        And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream, 
60        Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round 
61        And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face. 
62        And as he put his head into that dreadful hole, 
63        And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and 
64           entered farther, 
65        A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing 
66           into that horrid black hole, 
67        Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing 
68           himself after, 
69        Overcame me now his back was turned. 

70        I looked round, I put down my pitcher, 
71        I picked up a clumsy log 
72        And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter. 

73        I think it did not hit him, 
74        But suddenly that part of him that was left behind con- 
75           vulsed in undignified haste, 
76        Writhed like lightning, and was gone 
77        Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall- 
78           front. 
79        At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination. 

80        And immediately I regretted it. 
81        I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act! 
82        I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human 
83           education. 

84        And I thought of the albatross, 
85        And I wished he would come back, my snake. 

86        For he seemed to me again like a king, 
87        Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld, 
88        Now due to be crowned again. 

89        And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords 
90        Of life. 
91        And I have something to expiate; 
92        A pettiness.
                                                                                                Taormina (Sicily), 1921 
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