One hot afternoon, a snake quietly crept into the poet’s house. The poet also came down from the garret to fill his pitcher of water, but he was horror-struck to find a snake already drinking water at his trough. The snake was relishing the pleasure of satisfaction while sipping the water gradually. He enjoyed a lot during the process of drinking for satisfaction and pacification, which he received by quenching his thirst. The poet had to wait for his turn. The poet first considered him an intruder but afterward, he took him as a respectable guest, who had quietly entered his house and honored him to become a host.
At the sight of the snake, different thoughts arose in the poet’s mind and he had to experience conflicting ideas. According to prevalent social traditions, his inner voice instructed him to act daringly and prove his manliness by killing the snake at once. But at the same time, he thought the snake harmless, rather he felt a lot of attraction in him in his heart, he was glad to receive him as a guest in his house.
These conflicting ideas puzzled him. If he acted on his inner voice fed by social education and tradition, then it was necessary to kill the snake. But deeper than inner voice his instinctive urge told him with more force than the snake had no ill intention. The snake was only a guest as he had entered the house to quench his thirst. The poet had doubts to determine the righteousness of his reaction towards the snake. He could not decide whether it was cowardice or the result of his corrupt mind. He was also not sure whether his behavior toward the snake was disgraceful or honorable.
Despite the poet’s favorite inclination towards the snake, his inner voices kept him instigating to kill the snake. He admits that he was afraid of the snake as the social education had taught him that it was a horrible venomous creature.
After instant quenching his thirst when the snake moved away towards the hole, the poet got hold of a clumsy piece of wood and hastily threw it towards the snake. The snake was not hit but he vanished in the hoe at a lighning speed.
In the end, the poet is full of remorse for his uncivilized behavior towards the guest and wishes the snake to come back to enable him to make amends for his pettiness. He thinks that the snake is the uncrowned king of the underworld. DUe to his folly and narrow-mindedness, he had lost the chance of his respectable company.
The entire poem is symbolical having a deeper meaning interpreting Freudian philosophy of sex and psychoanalysis.
Explanation with Reference to the Context
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pajamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
In the given lines, the poet tells that once a snake came to his water trough to drink water. It came there on a hot day of the summer season. The poet also came there in the deep, storage-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree. He also wanted to quench his thirst like the snake. He was wearing pajamas for protection from heat of the noon of hot summer.
The voice of my education said to me
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold is venomous.
And voices in me said if you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
In the given lines, the poet is in a state of conflict. He has learned from his education that the snake must be killed regardless of his being harmless or harmful. In both cases, the snake must be put to death. The poet already knows that in Sicily, the black snakes are innocent while the golden ones are poisonous. He, therefore, felt the urge from his inner voices that he should show his manliness. He should take a stock stick, hit the snake now, and finish him forever.
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?
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 honored?
I felt so honoured.
In the given lines, the poet describes his point of view about the snake. He says that he did not intend to kill the golden snake. So, he rather admits that he began to like it. He was glad that snake had come quietly as a guest of honor to quench his thirst from a drinking trough. His guest, the snake, was about to depart peaceful, pacified but thankless into the burning bowels of the earth. The poet is in a state of confusion about whether he was cowardice that he did not dare to kill the snake. Whether it was his obstinacy that he wished to talk to the snake or it was his humility that made him feel so honored by the arrival of this guest. In a sense, the poet felt great honored due to the presence of snake.
And yet those voices:
if you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honored still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out of the dark door of the secret earth
In these lines, the poet explains that he still remembers those inner voices of his conscience that if he were not afraid he would have killed the snake whereas the poet was really afraid to kill the snake. Although the poet confesses his cowardice in killing the snake yet he felt honored that the snake was his guest of honor. The snake had sought the poet’s hospitality not cruelty. The snake had come out of the dark door of the secret bowels of earth.
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.
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 the above lines, the poet tells that he observed the hind part of the snake convulsed in undignified haste. The hind part being beaten by the log coiled like heavenly lightning. But soon he was gone, into the black hole. As a matter of act, this hole was the earth-lipped fissure (split) in the wall front at which the poet stared with fascination. The poet immediately regretted hitting the hind part of the snake with a wooden log. He thought it was his paltry, vulgar, and meaningful action. He began to hate himself. And, he started cursing the voices that came out of his accused human education. His disgust was because his education had instigated him to kill the snake.