Judith Wright was an Australian writer, born in 1915; she died in 2000. She celebrated nature in many of her poems. In her later life she was a conservationist and campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal peoples.
Wright’s poem recalls something of D. H. Lawrence’s poem Snake. There is the same awestruck observation, a sense of stopping dead in one’s tracks.
There are three useful areas of content to focus on:
the description of the snake itself
the effect the snake has on the speaker and her walking companion
the brief mention of the creature being hunted.
Each stanza has four lines; each line has eight syllables; the rhyme pattern is similar for the first three stanzas but not the last: these are of course statements of the blindingly obvious. WHy does the poet write like this?
Ask students to picture the scene depicted in the first stanza. What do the words ‘grace’ and ‘gentlest’ convey? How is the suddenness of their stopping suggested? Consider the contrast between ‘Sun-warmed’ and ‘froze’.
Discuss the words which describe the physical qualities of the snake. The word ‘reeling’ is interesting. In
what ways might it apply to the people as well as the snake?
The majestic qualities of the snake. They might consider the force of ‘the parting grass’, ‘glazed’, ‘diamond’ and ‘we lost breath’.
Consider the effect of the alliteration in ‘food’, ‘fled’ and ‘fierce’ (in stanza three).
Chart the reactions of the speaker and her companion to the snake as described in each stanza. How do the words used convey their reactions? What do you make of the poem’s final two lines and their relationship to the rest of the poem?
Some lines are monosyllabic and others almost so. Are there any lines where this feature particularly complements or reinforces the content?
Thematic links with set poems
Nature: Pied Beauty, Horses, Pike, The Woodspurge, Summer Farm,
Where I Come From, Upon Westminster Bridge
Personal reflection: A Different History, The Woodspurge, The Cockroach, Summer Farm,
Where I Come From