DH Lawrence's 'Mountain Lion' and 'Snake'

DH Lawrence (1885-1930) is one of the outstanding British authors of the early 20th century. It was obvious from an early age that Lawrence was a gifted child. Raised in a working class environment, he was the son of a Nottinghamshire miner. His mother, however, was from a middle class background. Due to the social contrast their marriage was not successful and Lawrence would often have to witness his father coming home drunk and beating his mother. Despite his background, Lawrence received a first class education by earning scholarships through high school and university.

He attended Nottingham University, qualified as a teacher in 1908 and worked at a school in Croydon until 1912. He rejected society and society rejected him and his somewhat radical views. In the same year he eloped with Freiedra Weekley, the German wife of a professor at Nottingham University College, to travel the world. During his extensive travels Lawrence was able to refine his views and develop a better understanding of the world around him.

Many of his poems were autobiographical, much like the poem “Mountain Lion”.

While staying in Mexico, in the Lobo Valley, he wrote “Mountain Lion” which was based on his experience with the native Mexicans. The poem starts with a vivid description of the situation and scenery. This is very characteristic of Lawrence’s poems. He produces powerful but brief verses which set the scene for the reader. He does this by using a selection of main points such as colours and distinctive features in the landscape.

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After the scene is set there is immediate drama with the sudden entrance of two men.

“Men! Two men! Men! The only animal in the world to fear! From the quote above one can see a powerful technique that is common to many of Lawrence’s poems. He uses repetition for effect in conjunction with very short staccato phrases. There is tension, a feeling of panic and an uncertainty of who the men are, as they seem of a dangerous nature. It is also in this quotation that Lawrence reveals one of his key beliefs; his fear of man, a source of fear for the whole of creation. The drama in the poem has begun but Lawrence has still not declared the subject. One is left wondering from whose point of view the poem is.

Linked with the title there is the distinct possibility that it could be from the mountain lion’s point of view, which would also link with the fear of man. There is then a moment of hesitation, a sense of drama, tension and uncertainty. Short sentences are used again with repetition for impact, heightening the sense of drama. “They hesitate. We hesitate. They have a gun. We have no gun. ” The fear towards man is reinforced by the fact that they have guns. The situation could be dangerous, but there’s an uncertainty about what to do. The use of bold statements is used to make the reality of the situation more apparent.

They are unarmed, unlike the people approaching. There is then a moment of confrontation as they all advance to meet. The tension appears to subside as the strangers approach. A vague description of the approaching party is given, creating the impression that they are strangers trespassing on the “inwardness” of the Lobo Valley. The only true information given is that they are Mexicans, adding to the whole foreign feeling. Descriptive words such as “emerge” are used to make their approach out of the “dark” signify a sense of evil and wrong. There is then repeated questioning of why they are there, what they are doing and what they have.

These questions show an uncertainty and suspicious nature towards the Mexicans. Lawrence then proceeds to ask the Mexicans in Spanish what they are holding. By speaking in Spanish he emphasizes the strangeness of the whole affair – the use of the foreign language shows differences. The Mexican is carrying a lion and upon telling this to Lawrence “smiles, foolishly” indicating guilt. They are embarrassed that they have been caught doing wrong. Lawrence smiles back. There is tension. Neither party is sure what to do. Lawrence then studies the Mexicans’ faces. “He is quite gentle and dark-faced.

Although being a killer, the Mexican is just like everyone else. Lawrence then studies the lion, once again using a brief but vivid account shown in the following quotation: “It is a mountain lion, A long, long, slim cat, yellow like a lioness. Dead. ” There is a feeling of shock and surprise that it is a mountain lion. The length of the sentence describing the mountain lion adds to the affect of how long the lion is, using repetition on the word long. Emphasis is then put on the single word – dead. There is a strong feeling of sorrow towards the mountain lion.

A great wrong has been done, an immoral injustice towards the mountain lion. The Mexicans are still embarrassed and smiling “foolishly”. The mountain lion is described in depth, a thing of beauty. There is a sense of brilliance about the mountain lion even though it is dead. A selection of strong descriptive words depict the lion’s finest features such as bright, frost, fine-fashioned, brilliant, beautiful. Many of the words are repeated throughout the description to get the point across. Lawrence genuinely finds the lion beautiful. There is a mixture of fierceness and splendour.

The Mexicans seem friendly but are truly destructive like the rest of the human race. It was a heartless killing for no reason. There is a great deal of thoughtfulness in what Lawrence writes, and a sense of sadness that he is also human and therefore destructive too. As the Mexicans leave, Lawrence continues into the “gloom” of the Lobo Valley. By using that one word there is a feeling that the landscape has been spoilt by the Mexicans. The damage has been done. Lawrence discovers her lair and there is a sense of emptiness. Something is missing – the lion. Once again, using a vivid description, he describes the situation of the lair.

By using a number of clean-cut words and phrases, Lawrence conveys a real feel of the place. “The blood-orange, brilliant rocks”. There is a sense of mourning as Lawrence thinks about the times when the lion would have been alive. The use of alliteration and a long sentence, once again linking to the lion’s length, adds to the effect. He describes the lion as if it was the king of its environment, something to be admired. The whole feel of emptiness increases as he says: “Her bright striped frost-face will never look out any more,” He feels that this has been a great loss to the world. It is a shock to him, “like a dream”.

He is sorry that the lion is gone, and that she will never be able to look out over the valley again. He regrets that he is the one looking out. He uses vivid description once again to describe the mountains, conveying a strong sense of foreign place and emptiness. The landscape may look perfect, but it is deprived of the lion. He uses all these descriptions to reveal what a true loss the lion is, and how the landscape will never be the same again. He looks across to the opposite steep and studies the scene, comparing it to a Christmas toy, a feeling of it being unspoilt on the other side.

The death of the lion will make no difference to the rest of the world, life will go on as before. He believes that this was a needless death and a heartless killing. He conveys how needless the death was by saying “And I think in this empty world there was room for me and a mountain lion”. With a spur of the moment reaction he makes a bold statement, which many people find shocking and heartless on his part: “And I think in the world beyond, how easily we might spare a million or two humans And never miss them. ” He does not truly mean this, he is merely trying to get his point across by putting the incident into perspective.

One finds it shocking to hear him compare the death of a mountain lion to two million people, but proportionately the mountain lion is a much bigger loss. The last sentence is a final thought, which makes one realise “the gap in the world” from the death of a mountain lion. While on his travels, Lawrence also went to the island of Sicily where he wrote another similar themed poem – “Snake”. This starts with drama as a snake drinks from Lawrence’s water-trough. The most apparent aspect of the first verse is the over-whelming heat for which Lawrence uses repetition to get the feeling across.

This is emphasised by the fact that he is wearing pyjamas because of the heat. Although there is a snake at his drinking trough Lawrence does not appear to be too worried or shocked and studies the snake in awe. He appears to be in some sort of daze. One is given this impression because he does not appear to be shocked and the fact that it is so hot. As he walks down the steps he is able to capture the feel of the carob tree above him providing shade and a “strange-scented smell”. He does this by selecting a few key points about the tree. As he comes down the steps, he waits.

There is emphasis on the word “wait”, using repetition. Lawrence is waiting for the snake to finish. He is acting towards the snake as if it were human, waiting his turn, which is the courteous thing to do. The snake then “reaches” down from the wall. Its movement is described as somewhat leisurely. The snake is an elegant creature in looks and in movement. “And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down” The overall impression of the snake is very relaxed and leisurely and is not the intimidating impression of snakes that we often associate with them.

A similar technique is used in “Snake” as in “Mountain Lion”, that is the use of long sentences to reflect the length of the animal. The snake takes its time with all its actions as it is lazy like Lawrence on such a hot day. “Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body” This reinforces the original impression of the snake. This is a characteristic common to both poems, repeating the same movements and view to reinforce them, ensuring that the reader sees it as Lawrence does. Then referring to the snake as “someone”, Lawrence is almost imagining the snake as human.

He considers himself to be the “second comer, waiting”. The snake is aware of Lawrence’s presence but is not afraid. Instead, the snake gives Lawrence a vague acknowledgment by lifting its head and flickering its tongue in his general direction. Lawrence is not scared of the snake and compares it to that of drinking cattle. The snake is described in such a way that it appears to be one with the earth. Sicily is known for its volcano, Mount Etna, and the snake has many comparisons to it. The movement of the snake is slow and lazy, similar to that of flowing lava.

The snake is described as “earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth”. The sense of place is constantly reinforced by the need for water and the tremendous heat. It is then that Lawrence hears “the voice of his education”. There is a contrast between his attitude towards the snake and the “voice of his education”. His education is deceitful and self-righteous and pushes him on to kill the snake. All people would have the same approach towards snakes and Lawrence is not afraid to admit his true feelings. “And voices in me said, If you were a man You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off. Certain things are expected of him. He is confused over whether he should do the “manly” thing. It is now that his true feelings come out about the snake. “But must I confess how I liked him,” He likes the snake and feels as if it is a guest at his water-trough. He feels honoured that the snake would choose his water-trough. Once again the voice of his education steps in and he questions his feelings and motives. He is in awe of the snake but he wonders if this is merely because he is scared or humiliated that he feels so honoured. There is repetition of the questions, constantly asking himself why.

He wonders whether he can trust the voices or not. Then he admits that he is truly afraid, and emphasises this by repeating it. He has a greater feeling of honour though that out-weighs the fear. He is honoured that a dignified creature has come out of its secretive home to drink from his trough. Lawrence examines the snake further using vivid description. The snake has a slow dignified movement as it lifts it head from the trough. It has drunk enough. It is an impressive creature with majestic qualities. Lawrence uses similes to make the true nature of the snake apparent. “And looked around like a god. ”

There is more concentration on the heat then there is the beauty of the snake. Lawrence’s statements seem somewhat over the top, and it makes one wonder whether this is due to the dream-like effect caused by the over-whelming heat or possibly due to the mystic hypnotic powers of the snake itself. This is the turning point of the poem. The snake retreats in its dignified manner, leisurely leaving the trough. Repetition is used throughout to emphasise the key words. The spell is broken and Lawrence changes his attitude towards the snake. As it puts its head back into the hole in the earth, Lawrence is horrified to see it leaving.

The hole is portrayed as being “dreadful”. This is because he does not think this is where the snake belongs. There is an element of disappointment, but his emotions build and it turns into a personal matter, as if the snake is doing it deliberately to annoy him. He is overwhelmed by the heat and the experience, so turns back to the voices of his education and acts on them. “I looked round, I put down my pitcher, I picked up a clumsy log And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter. ” He is unsure what to do, and wants to stop the snake, so acts on impulse and picks up the nearest thing to him.

The log is described as clumsy to reflect the moment. The snake is now regarded as an enemy in the heat of the moment. As soon as the log has left his hands he regrets it. The snake “convulsed” back into its hole and lost the dignity that it had had before hand. The snake’s poise has been spoilt. Staccato words and sentences are used to reflect the undignified action of the snake. Lawrence is then bewildered at what he has done and is in shock once again. He cannot believe how mean he has been. Referring to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” he compares the retreat of the snake to the albatross.

He despises the forces that made him do it. He almost killed the snake for no reason and is left with his guilt. He thinks of the snake as a king who has been exiled to the underworld. He missed his opportunity with “one of the lords”. He wishes he could remove his extreme guilt from such a petty act. He realises how small-minded he has been. Both poems use very similar poetic techniques to convey Lawrence’s feelings. They also include similar themes – kings of the animal world. It is clear that he feels that humans are inferior to such animals and regrets being part of such a destructive race.

There is a strong sense of place in both poems, achieved by selective descriptive words that provide a vivid description. Repetition is used throughout both poems to emphasise the important words, as is alliteration. The poems both start with a dramatic incident, which is then followed later on in the poem by a change of direction. It is clear that there are many faults with human values and actions from the poems. The key difference between the poems is that ‘Mountain Lion’ is about Lawrence mourning the death and loss of a magnificent creature, delving into the reality of what the world is like with the lion missing. Snake’, on the other hand, is all about the guilt that Lawrence has to face, even though no animals died.

Both show the same fault with our destructive human nature. Both poems are concerned with Lawrence’s experience of and reactions to specific animals in specific situations, utilising poetic techniques to convey to the reader his morals and feelings. When considering which poem is more effective, ‘Mountain Lion’ has a much more hard-hitting story-line than ‘Snake’. There is dramatic emphasis on the death of the mountain lion to underline how precious it is, particularly when Lawrence compares its life to that of two million humans.

It highlights Lawrence’s strong convictions and high regard for animal welfare and shows that he was ahead of his time in such thinking. ‘Snake’, on the other hand, is less compelling. It deals more with the guilt experienced after committing a petty act of cruelty, which in comparison is of far less significance. It is also difficult to determine the truth of what he says because the reader is constantly aware of the possible effects of the overwhelming heat, which may be inducing a dream-like state of mind. Mountain Lion’ also uses the poetic techniques discussed earlier more effectively. There is more opportunity to place emphasis because the situation is more dramatic. It also gives a more detailed description of the setting compared with ‘Snake’ which relies on the reader to use his imagination in a more generally described hot climate. Thus, ‘Mountain Lion’ is the more detailed and dramtatic of the two and has a more profound effect on the reader.

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DH Lawrence's 'Mountain Lion' and 'Snake'. (2017, Oct 20). Retrieved from http://paperap.com/paper-on-dh-lawrences-mountain-lion-and-snake/

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