|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|
|And I have something to expiate:|
D.H. Lawrence, Taormina, 1923