Tuesday, September 2, 2014



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

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.

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,

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting.

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

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

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 honoured?
I felt so honoured.

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, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

An opening of purest naturalism, in the strict, observational convention of nature poetry: I, Human, encounter one of Circe's creatures and, like any trained scientist - only I a scientist of the soul - I watch, and describe.

But I, Human, am indignant, for I, Human, am God's custodian, appointed even before Eden, whence mere snakes were banished. Encounter has already become confrontation.

The snake though is oblivious. Haughty, arrogant in its knowledge of its own superiority, blithely indifferent to the edicts and ordinances of Eden, the snake pursues not confrontation, not even encounter, but only the quenching of its thirst. The snake, incurious, drinks.

And I, Human, hands-on-hips in outraged indignation, I am affronted. Like Etna in my fury, smoking. More so indeed, for in its brazenness, in its audacity, it has had the gall (yes, gall) to look up at me between drink and drink - and sneer.

Ah, but it is a beautiful, a magnificent creature, this snake. (He who admires his enemy is lost.)

The encounter-confrontation takes place beyond consciousness, animal pulse to animal pulse: pure will. But now the human consciousness asserts itself, Reason and Knowledge called to the dock to justify Man's bestial-humanity, his ignorance-named-intelligence, his inferiority-named-superiority, his destruction-named-progress: wanton, malign dominion of the Edenic covenant. The Siren voices whisper, nag, upbraid - how many could resist being dashed upon the rocks? Yet Lawrence resists. For a while. Better attuned to the animal pulse than the Siren voices, Lawrence yields to admiration - guilty admiration, doubt-riddled admiration - and is lost.

Now it is no longer confrontation between Man and Beast, but between the Reptile and the Adam within the Human Soul. The actual reptile presents no threat or danger: only the inner struggle is dangerous to the inner man, and so transfers itself to the external force, imbuing the innocent snake with latent menace.

(The antithesis of human intelligence is not ignorance, but violence.)

I, Human, admit to fear: fear of the latent beast inside me whom I see reflected in the blameless beast before me; fear of my own inferiority, which I dare not admit; fear that my impregnable tower will prove breachable, the tower I have built with quicksand of morality, education, culture. And I, Human, am rendered infinitely vulnerable by fear. My fear is made manifest in the very existence of the snake - what choice, then, do I have, but to worship, or destroy?

Because I, Lawrence, have yielded to admiration, because I would choose the animal pulse before the Siren voices, because I would choose the Adam in me before the Reptile in me - I, Lawrence, worship.

But the Siren voices never cease their whispering (dangerous, dangerous; kill, kill).

And my snake (my snake), like a dissatisfied god, unworshiped, has turned its back (histir panav - the means by which wickedness may now enter: my wickedness).

I throw a log - not to appease the Siren voices, but only because my god might otherwise abandon me, descending back into its underworld beyond reach of my worship.

And the god is demeaned, belittled, insulted.

And the animal pulse in me is robbed of contact.

Farewell, mighty snake!

I, Human, am nothing in comparison with Thee - less than nothing: an over-educated fool.

Farewell, mighty snake, god who has forsaken me, and been forsaken by me.

Now must I in worship seek forgiveness.

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