Tayla-Sam Malyon is an English student at Nottingham Trent University. As part of her dissertation she was asked to create a visual essay that explored one aspect of Lawrence’s work. She decided to explore Lawrence as an ecocritical writer through the poem Snake. You can see this and other visual essays created by students at our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage.
Written whilst Lawrence was in Sicily in 1923, Birds Beast and Flowers is a collection of poems that encapsulates not only Lawrence’s adoration for nature but his growing consciousness of the implications of humans on wildlife. Snake is probably the most famous poem in the collection and captures the moment a man encounters a snake at a water trough.
The narrator is in two minds about the snake, in some parts of the poem he seems to be admiring the snake referring to him as a “king” and “god”, and in others “the voice of [his] education [is saying to him] He must be killed”. In Reversing The Fall: The sense of place in D.H Lawrence, John Middleton Murray claims, “man has two distinct fields of consciousness, two living minds” he likens one to our human nature, a primary mind and one as the secondary mind, which is all that we are taught by society. We can see Lawrence representing both these ‘minds’ or states of consciousness through the admiration yet fear of the snake. According to Lawrence Buell, a pioneer of ecocriticism, the four characteristics that make a text environmentally aware are as follows:
- The nonhuman environment is present not merely as a framing device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is implicated in natural history.
- The human interest is not understood to be the only legitimate interest.
- Human accountability to the environment is part of the [preferred] text’s ethical orientation.
- Some sense of the environment as a process rather than as a constant or a given is at least implicit in the text.
There is a sense of the above-mentioned biocentrism here as Lawrence genders the snake ‘him’ while also referring to it as ‘someone’. When he waits for it to finish drinking, it gives the impression there’s an equality between them. At first he shows the snake respect, “someone was before me at my water trough, And I, like a second-comer, waiting”. However, as the poem progresses, seemingly out of nowhere, the narrator becomes aggressive and throws a log to scare the snake away. He goes on to scorn his “human education” for making him commit such a “mean act”. This shows the human accountability Buell mentions when characterising environmental texts. Furthermore, we get a sense that Lawrence is aware the cracks in the earth serve as a home for the snake and not a known place he can describe as a ‘framing device’, “out the dark door of the secret earth”.
Poorani claims “The ecocritical interpretation manifests the destructive tendency and loss of humanitarianism towards the benevolent nature”. Looking at Snake through an eco-critical lens, Lawrence appears to be highlighting the disturbed balance between nature and humans, condemning how we have come into their habitat yet are taught to scare them out of it instead of living harmoniously.
To see more visual essays and other interpretations of Lawrence’s work please see our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage. We also post one minute films of Lawrence’s writing on our instagram account: dhldigitalpilgrimage In 2019 we will be begin building our memory theatre. You can submit artefacts here.