Poetry 3

Given that a focus on the arts is part of an integrative practice especially in regard to meaning, this is a regular slot in which a poem can be reflected upon. How it makes you feel, what it says to you and what connection (if any) you can make with the Middle Way.

If there is a poem that you would like to suggest for this section, send it to me at barry@middlewaysociety.org and say in what way you feel it is meaningful to you.



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

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.

D. H. Lawrence

About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

2 thoughts on “Poetry 3

  1. I think this is a good example of Lawrence at his best in terms of conveying a moment of insight about his own responses. It confronts a moment of fear and inner conflict, and by recognition allows that unnecessary inner conflict to relax. It’s thus a creative record of a moment of integration.

    However, to some extent I think I also share the widespread feeling that it’s not really very good as poetry. There was an article about Lawrence’s poetry in the Times Literary Supplement (of which I am an avid reader) recently that conveyed this double edged feeling very well:
    “the extraordinary unevenness, the repeated lapses of judgement, the readiness to bang on, the uncontained profuseness, all these come to seem not incidental deficiencies, but, rather, key elements in the full Lawrence effect. These poems do not come across as particular undertakings that have been finished off well or not so well, as poems by Thomas Hardy or Gerard Manley Hopkins do, but more as parts of a potentially unending series of provisional reports back from what it was to be Lawrence.”
    You can see the full article at http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1336760.ece .

  2. Hi,

    I only began looking at poetry in any detail about 12 months ago and this was one of the ones that I have read. It is one of my favourites, and I found that I liked others form Lawrence too. The Times Literary Supplement highlights ‘extraordinary unevenness’, ‘lapses of judgement’ and a readiness to ‘bang on’ as negative but I think that it may be these qualities that appeal to me… they are just so human. His poetry and the subjects that he chooses feel ragged, they just don’t seem right. This I like too, as I also I like his seeming disgust at humanity. I do not, generally share this, but sometimes I witness human behaviour that utterly repels me and my instinct is to throw a ‘clumsy log’ at those involved. I might want to rage, get revenge, punish and then retreat from human contact, and on the occasions that I have reacted in such a way, I quickly regret it.

    We can often give in to feelings of fear and disgust, which are often unfounded, reacting in ways which are rash and petty. In this poem he seems to be kicking out at specific aspects of his society (human treatment of animals perhaps?) in a similar way that he kicks out at the snake.

    I think that what he might have got wrong here (certainly by today’s standards, which might be unfair) is that he assumes his wonder of the snake is instinctual and that his fear is borne out of his education. Fear of snakes is probably very instinctual, it is common in all societies, even those that have developed in areas where there are no snakes. There are good reasons to evolve a wariness of snakes. This instinctual fear easily turns us to acts of persecution, where as if one is educated about snakes and their behaviour then one is much more likely to look at a snake in wonder and joy, leaving it to go about it’s business.

    I should point out that I like snakes, in fact there is one in my living room, less than a meter away as I am type. He is hungry too…… Sunday is feeding day!


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