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Poet's Corner I: Snake & Ant

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

with Audrey Ardern-Jones

The Hub is delighted to announce, after such a brilliant introduction with the Remember Emily Wilding Davison blog, Epsom's award-winning poet Audrey Ardern-Jones has agreed to host Poet's Corner, a new bi-weekly feature. Each fortnight Audrey will introduce two poems, drawn from her favourites from the classics and her own collection of poems.

You can hear Audrey read her inaugural Poet's Corner choices, Snake by DH Lawrence and Prize Day Antic from her collection Doing The Rounds, by clicking on the link below. And see Audrey's charming snake and ant illustrations by scrolling on.

As Audrey implies, snakes are marmite creatures. Most people either hate and fear them, or love them. With his childhood in Ireland, cleared of snakes says legend by St Patrick, The Hub is firmly in the Indiana Jones "Why did it have to be snakes?!" camp. But they say face your fears, so Audrey's praise of Lawrence's Snake is a good challenge.

YouTube video: Indiana Jones: Why did it have to be snakes?

Andrew Spacey, a poet and writer on poetry on Owlcation, a site for educators and experts to share knowledge about all things academic, introduces his analysis of the poem, as: "Snake is one of D.H. Lawrence's best animal poems, written during a stay at Fontana Vecchia in Taormina, Sicily, in 1923. It explores the relationship between humans and one of the most feared reptiles on earth - a venomous snake." You can contact Andrew via his site.

Audrey's animal poem, Prize Day Antic, shows the poet's word craft and conceptualisation, being distracted by the antics of a tiny ant as the humans celebrate their offsprings' achievements, at its simplistic yet powerful best. The poem is dedicated to Audrey's son Michael, the then 10 year-old subject of the title, and won highly commended in a competition starting Audrey off on a new path as a published poet.


Snake by DH Lawrence

Image: "And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords

Of life." Original image of a snake / Credit: Audrey Ardern-Jones

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 me.

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, Silently.

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 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 further, 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 accursèd 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.



Prize Day Antic by Audrey Ardern-Jones

Image: "one tiny ant shared with me the glitter"

Original image of an ant / Credit: Audrey Ardern-Jones

Sitting, squared solid in a crowded

tent, I glimpsed a tiny ant, alone

and lost on one huge mass

of a stranger's jacket, And despite

the herds of togethered parents,

he seemed to me quite unique.

And so I watched this ant manoeuvre

pranks dancing on the brown

worn weave and felt a sort of pride

at this small creature present

amidst the prize-borne day

and long hot speeches. Then this

minute being staged for me

his cunning dance: turning, twirling,

groping like a man lost in strange surrounds.

He sent a sort of irritation,

a skin-fluffed needle, enough to receive

one hasty hot enquiring hand

upon the pink-fleshed playground of a neck.

And still he pranced

and feathered thorns.

And to this day, I don't suppose

that father knows,

one tiny ant shared with me the glitter

of the prizes and disappeared

in the darkness of his neck.


Listen to Audrey

You can hear Audrey read her inaugural Poet's Corner choices, Snake by DH Lawrence and Prize Day Antic from her collection Doing The Rounds, by clicking on the link below.


A Poet with an Artist's Painterly Sensibility

Audrey Ardern-Jones at the summer 2021 unveiling of the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial in Epsom's market square where Audrey read her poem 'Tattenham Corner' about Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison's last moments / Credit: Audrey Ardern-Jones

“Ardern-Jones is a poet with an artist’s painterly sensibility, a musician’s fine ear, a nurse’s affinity for strangers and their plight. Poems for the ear, poems of language – Polish and Bemba, Portuguese and English. An intelligent, finely crafted poetry of curiosity and caring, of listening and loving, of humour and hope.” Paul Stephenson, an award winning poet and blogger, podcaster and co-curator of Poetry in Aldeburgh and teacher at the Poetry School, who interviews poets on their first collections.

Audrey Ardern-Jones spent her childhood in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) where her English father and Polish mother were posted. She’s enjoyed a wonderful nursing career, specialising in cancer genetics. Audrey has always loved the Arts and founded The Poetry & Music Ensemble in 1984.

Her poems are widely published and have won prizes or been commended in international competitions. Currently, she is Artist in Residence at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and is an active supporter of poetry projects in her community of Epsom & Ewell.

The publisher's link takes you to Doing The Rounds, Audrey's collection of poems. "This collection touches on the poet's childhood memories of living in Africa - her feelings of being in awe of so much and yet uncertain about many of the happenings. Most of her travel poems in India relate to incidents that have made her question herself - some of the poems about her Polish mother and her suffering post WW2 echo throughout the collection."



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