Considering the Snail by Thom Gunn

In ‘Considering the Snail’ a reader can find much to appreciate. Depending on how one reads this poem it could be a simple but evocative description of a snail or it could be something more. The poet might’ve written this piece while considering deeper questions, such as the human soul or how the human lives relate to those that we understand even less than our own. 

Considering the Snail by Thom Gunn

 

Summary of Considering the Snail

‘Considering the Snail’ by Thom Gunn is a short and simple poem that describes a snail’s “passion” and “fury” from a human perspective. 

The speaker depicts the snail with clear language and diction. He talks the reader through what he saw when he watched the snail move through the grass and even relays his more emotional observations. He finds it amazing how filled with passion the snail seemed as it “hunt[ed]” for its food. The speaker even suggests that there is some “fury” in its heart, driving it on. 

 

Structure of Considering the Snail 

Considering the Snail’ by Thom Gunn is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of six lines, known as sestets. These sestets do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, the lines are quite similar in length and the number of syllables that can be found in each. 

 

Literary Devices in Considering the Snail 

Gunn makes use of several literary devices in  ‘Considering the Snail’. These include but are not limited to enjambment, caesura, and alliteration. The latter, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “darkened,” “dark,” and “desire” in lines five and six of the first stanza as well as “passion” and “progress” in lines five and six of the third stanza.

Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might precede an important turn or transition in the text. For example, line two of the second stanza which reads: “as he hunts. I cannot tell” or line five of the first stanza: “has darkened the earth’s dark. He”. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as between three and four of the first stanza. 

 

Analysis of Considering the Snail 

Stanza One

The snail pushes through a green

night, for the grass is heavy

(…)

moves in a wood of desire,

In the first stanza of the poem the speaker begins with a few simple, yet image-rich, descriptions of a snail out looking for food. This small creature is through the same world as humans but is experiencing it very differently than any human being does. Everything is wet and “dark” with rain. The grass is heavy, bending over the snail’s head as it moves along the ground. There are some good examples of imagery in these lines as well as juxtaposition. For instance the “bright path” the snail makes and the “darkened…earth’s dark”. 

 

Stanza Two 

pale antlers barely stirring

(…)

I think is that if later

The stalks on the snails head are described as “antlers” in the first line of the second stanza. It is picking up where the last line of the first stanza left off, a technique known as enjambment. The snail’s antlers are “barely stirring” or moving as he “hunts”. The word hunts is interesting in combination with the snail’s size and far from foreboding presence. It is uncommon to consider the snail this way. 

The speaker, who is observing the scene, picks up with first-person narration in the next lines. He wonders over the “power…at work” or not at work, when he looks at the snail. There is a very unusual question in the fifth line where the speaker wonders about the snail’s “fury”. While watching it, he has come to the conclusion that there must be something driving the snail forward. But, as a human observer, he is imbuing a non-human creature with human characteristics. 

 

Stanza Three 

I parted the blades above

(…)

imagined the slow passion

to that deliberate progress.

While still considering the power and “fury’ that he sees at work when he views the snail, the speaker presents a hypothetical scenario. He thinks about what he would’ve interpreted if he’d come upon the snail’s trail later one, without seeing the creature’s slow movement. The trail is all that’s left. He knows that his entire perception of the events would’ve changed. He wouldn’t have “imagined the slow passion” that is part of a snail’s movements. The speaker is marveling over this small creature and therefore promoting the time it takes to look closely at other creatures, and even other people too, and understand them better. 

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