Hunting Snake by Judith Wright, Analysis, Summary & Themes

Experience the captivating encounter with a hunting snake as it slithers through the autumn landscape, leaving us breathless and in awe of its splendor.

Poem Text

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 watch 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.


• A group of people are observing a passing snake
• There is no interaction between the snake and the people
• Setting: daytime outdoor

Split into two parts according to emotion

Part 1: First 2 stanzas (admiration/fascination of the creature)

In the first two stanzas of the poem, the speaker expresses a sense of admiration and fascination towards the hunting snake. The imagery of the sun-warmed late season and the gentle autumn sky sets a serene backdrop for their encounter. As the snake glides past, its presence captivates the observer, who is mesmerized by its sleek movements and the glimmering diamond scales. The speaker is in awe, momentarily frozen in their tracks, as they witness the snake's graceful and powerful presence.

Part 2: Last 2 stanzas (curiosity/apprehension of the snake’s potential ferocity)

The last two stanzas shift the focus towards the curiosity and apprehension surrounding the snake's true nature. Although the observers are enamored by its beauty, they are also aware of its predatory instincts. The snake's questing nature and the mention of its fierce intent raise questions about its purpose and the potential prey it seeks. Despite these thoughts, the observers remain intrigued, their eyes following the snake's path. As the snake disappears into the grass, a sense of unease lingers, and the observers take a deeper breath, reflecting a mix of curiosity and apprehension before continuing on their way.

Major Themes

The major themes in the poem "Hunting Snake" by Judith Wright include:
  1. Fascination with Nature: The poem explores the speaker's admiration and fascination with the hunting snake. It reflects the awe-inspiring power and beauty of the natural world, highlighting the captivating allure of wild creatures.
  2. Coexistence of Beauty and Danger: The poem juxtaposes the beauty of the snake with the potential danger it represents. It explores the complex relationship between admiration and apprehension, emphasizing the inherent risks and realities of the natural world.
  3. Human-Nature Connection: The encounter with the snake prompts reflections on the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world. It raises questions about our place in nature, our curiosity about the wild, and the delicate balance between fascination and fear.
  4. Transience and Fragility: The poem evokes a sense of the transient nature of life and the passing of seasons. It highlights the fleeting moments of observation and the fragility of existence, reminding us of the impermanence of experiences and encounters.
  5. Symbolism of the Snake: The snake symbolizes both power and vulnerability. It represents primal instincts, the cycle of life and death, and the duality of nature. The snake serves as a metaphor for the broader themes explored in the poem.

    Critical Analysis

    "Hunting Snake" by Judith Wright is a contemplative and evocative poem that explores the encounter with a snake in nature. The poem highlights the complex emotions and thoughts that arise when faced with the presence of a wild creature.

    The poem begins with vivid imagery of the late season and the gentle autumn sky, setting a tranquil atmosphere. The speaker's admiration and fascination with the hunting snake are evident as they describe its graceful movements and the glint of its diamond scales. The snake becomes a symbol of both beauty and power, captivating the observers and momentarily holding them in awe.

    However, as the poem progresses, a subtle shift occurs. The focus turns to the curiosity and apprehension surrounding the snake's predatory nature. The questing tongue and the mention of its fierce intent hint at the snake's potential ferocity. The observers, while captivated by the snake's presence, also become aware of the possible danger it represents. This juxtaposition of admiration and apprehension adds depth to the poem, prompting reflections on the coexistence of beauty and the harsh realities of the natural world.

    Wright's skillful use of vivid imagery and sensory details allows readers to experience the encounter with the snake firsthand. The language is precise and evocative, drawing the reader into the scene and creating a sense of intimacy with the observations. The poem's structure, consisting of four stanzas with a consistent rhyme scheme, contributes to its lyrical quality and enhances the flow of the narrative.

    Thematically, "Hunting Snake" explores the complex relationship between humans and the natural world. It invites contemplation on the delicate balance between fascination and fear, highlighting our inherent curiosity about the wild while acknowledging the potential risks and dangers it entails. The poem serves as a reminder of the awe-inspiring power of nature and our place within it.

    In conclusion, "Hunting Snake" is a beautifully crafted poem that explores the intersection of admiration, curiosity, and apprehension in the face of the natural world. Judith Wright's skillful use of imagery and her thought-provoking portrayal of the encounter with the snake make this poem a captivating exploration of human emotions and our connection to the wild.


    • Past tense and 1st person plural suggesting that it is the persona’s memory
    • Very literal language, few language devices:
    • Personification: ‘season’s grace’
    • Hyperbole: ‘sun glazed his curves of diamond scale’
    • Juxtaposition: ‘Cold, dark and splendid’
    • Repeating use of ‘breath’ for dramatic effect: ‘we lost breath’ and ‘took a deeper breath’
    • Repeating use of ‘sun’ for an affect of awe: ‘sun-warmed’ and ‘sun glazed’
    • Repeated focus on ‘eyes’ and ‘watching’: ‘watch him pass’, ‘our eyes went with him’ and ‘looked at each other’


    • Enjambment is evident in all stanzas
    • Consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB until last stanza where it changes to ABBA
    • Suggests that the whole experience with the snake was actually scary
    • Interesting that it was realized after the snake disappeared
    • The Poem is a 4 stanza ballad

    Sound devices

    • Alliteration: ‘we walked’, abundance of alliteration in 3rd stanza (‘w’ and ‘f’)
    • Sibilance: ‘scarcely thought; still as we stood’ emphasis on the hissing of a snake
    • Power of 3: ‘Cold, dark and splendid’


    • Main three persona impressions are Fascination, Admiration and Fear
    • Fascinated by the snake: ‘lost breath to watch him pass’ and ‘great black snake’
    • Curious of the snake’s path: ‘our eyes went with him’
    • Admires the superficial beauty of the snake: ‘sun glazed his curves of diamond scale’ and ‘Cold, dark and splendid’
    • Also in fear of the snake (apprehensive): ‘froze half-through a pace’ and ‘fierce intent’
    • Marveled by the creatures presence

    Linking poems

    • ‘The Cockroach’: shares fascination impression
    • ‘Pike’ and ‘Horses’: shares fearful impression
    • Relatable to ‘Pike’, ‘Horses’ and ‘Hunting Snake’ since they all focus on a specific animal
    • Poem tells only one story, similar to ‘The Cockroach’ different from ‘Horses’ and ‘Pike

    Judith Wright

    • Campaigned for Aboriginal land rights
    • Wrote mostly about Australia’s land and wildlife
    • Also writes about the indigenous population of Australia
    • Known for comparing inner existence and objective reality in her poems
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