Hunting snake by Judith Wright

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Sun-warmed in this late season’s grace

under the autumn’s gentlest sky

we walked, and froze half-through a pace.

The great black snake went reeling by.

 

Head down, tongue flickering on the trail

he quested through the parting grass,

sun glazed his curves of diamond scale

and we lost breath to see him pass.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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

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2 responses

  1. There are two typos in the third line of the penultimate verse: no doubt it should be “we scarcely thought; still as we stood”.

    Two substantive comments: (1) the snake went “reeling” by suggests speed, whereas the rest of the poem indicates the snake was not travelling fast (he “quested”, tongue flickering), and (2) it’s not clear to me what “sun glazed his curves of diamond scale” means. Australian black snakes don’t have diamond patterns (unlike diamond pythons). Does “scale” refer to size or the appearance of scales as on a fish? I hope she wasn’t using the word merely to find a rhyme with “trail”!

    • Thanks for spotting the typos – I’ve fixed them! Sadly the wonderful Judith Wright is no longer with us so we can’t ask her what she intended in describing the movement and appearance of the snake.