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A snake came to my water trough On a hot hot

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

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
Of life.
And I have something to expiate
A pettiness..

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