AD's English Literature : Critical Appreciation of Judith Wright’s "Hunting Snake": Experience of Watching a Black Snake

Critical Appreciation of Judith Wright’s "Hunting Snake": Experience of Watching a Black Snake

Judith Wright’s Hunting Snake describes the poet’s experience of watching a black snake as it makes its way across an area of grassland. The poet looks on fascinated, as the snake hunts for food and finally disappears. With a classical structure of in-flowing abab rhyme scheme for all except the last stanza which is abba indicates a disruption in the flow. It is a time-honored convention of the action-and-adventure poem that what the readers fear the most as the rhyme begins will be what they must face and defeat as the lines progresses.   Read More Poetry Judith Wright’s Hunting Snake is no exception to this hallowed principle of increasing physical fear through psychological terror. Readers may be certain that being dead by snake is a probable fate that will confront our hero of humanity.
Hunting Snake is a beautiful ecocritical poem that simply describes the hunting snake. We can snap shot a moving and reeling snake through the grassland through the eyes of Judith Wright.   Read More Poetry The snake here is neither the Keats’ nightingale, nor Shelley’s skylark, nor Thomas’ owl, nor Hughes’s hawk. Even that snake in this poem voices a simple underneath message that beauty is everywhere in natural phenomena – even in fierce beauty. In this four stanzaic poem, Judith compacts a soft morning of autumn where beauty rests in every corner – even in snake which is given a taboo of evil or ominous in our daily life.

 In the first stanza Judith describes a picture of harmony and calm when the worm sun glittering through the autumn sky. The “sun” sets the weather warmed, beautiful and “grace” i.e. a calm and delicate atmosphere.   Read More Poetry However, the arrival of a snake can disrupt and break down the atmosphere. In fact, the poet and her mate were walking through the green grassy land. At this time the great black snake went reeling by makes a big change in atmosphere. As usual, the appearance of the snake causes the people to suddenly freeze. The author represents this surprising and sudden arrival with the reaction by making an abrupt change of mood in the middle of a verse: “we walked, and froze half-through a pace”. The fact it was “half-through a pace” reinforces the idea of surprise, they did not have time to think or finish their action they were stopped in the middle of it. The fact this snake justifies stopping their walk shows it is potentially dangerous. It is great in size and black in colour: “The great black snake went reeling by.”
In the second stanza the poet went on describing the snake showing the beauty and strength the snake whose head down tongue flickering on the trail. The snake is here linked to a knight gone on an adventure. This comparison brings up a mixed image, on one side a knight is a brave soldier fighting for his king, he is a hero. On the other he is a violent person that kills many people and can be perceived as ruthless- to be feared and admired.   Read More Poetry It made its passage through the parting grass- this may be a biblical reference to the sea that parted in front of Moses.  The blazing sun reflected its curves of diamond scale. In fear the author say that “we lost breath to see him pass”. The snake in its natural setting is the king / or supreme in power, gorgeous and pompous in show and gallantry. The world stops as it passes, time is lost, only the snake is moving: “and we lost breath to see him pass.”
The 3rd stanza continues with the same vigour describing the “fierce intent” of the snake which reveals the power of the snake and describes it as a predator.  Read More Poetry All the other creatures fled in tear of it. The author remains stand still to see this majestic art and their eyes followed the snake and arrested their vision – “our eyes went with him as he went”. It is a creature that will kill. However, the author does not choose to be completely explicit and instead of saying the snake’s intent is to kill, she says “fierce intent”. This makes our image of the snake less savage, it just shows its power, instead of depicting it as a monster. the author gives a lengthy description of the snake, which could lead the reader to think it is passing slowly. However the fact they did not have time to think shows that the action actually passed very fast, we are back on a regular time track. The repetition of “went” in one verse shows that the author has difficulty formulating words as she says herself “we scarcely thought”. She has trouble expressing herself at this point. They are awed and cannot take their eyes off this snake they cannot move until it leaves, they are powerless facing the snake:
“What track he followed, what small food
fled living from his fierce intent,
we scarcely thought; still as we stood
our eyes went with him as he went.”
In the last and concluding stanza the receding snake is seen. The poet uses three adjectives-  Cold, dark and splendid.   Read More Poetry The cold is its blood as well as our fear; dark is its colour as well as our vision, splendid is its glamorous show as well as our natural bond. With a snake vision at this day a deeper breath on a great plunge into the visionary myth of nature embedded. The poet and her mate looked at each other at this great miracle of nature and went on with the day and days to come:
“Cold, dark and splendid he was gone
into the grass that hid his prey.
We took a deeper breath of day,
looked at each other, and went on.”
From the critical perspective Judith Wright’s Hunting Snake can be read an ecocritical observation to nature. From philosophical ideology the snake can be the fierce experience of nature, alike the tyger of Blake it shows awe and veneration, prey and prayed.
Ardhendu De                 

Poem Source:  A second Australian Poetry Book compiled by Barbara Giles (Oxford University Press, 1983)

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