The Snail by William Cowper


The Snail is written by William Cowper. In the poem, the poet depicts the creature as an individual who is “well satisfied to be his own/ Whole treasure.” Among Cowper’s shorter literary works, this poem is especially significant. It is because the motive for its creation is fairly personal. Cowper’s fundamental drive to be self-sufficient is embodied in the Snail. Cowper’s principal emphasis throughout the poem is on the snail’s attribute of being complete in itself. Cowper aspires to have the same trait. He observes and recounts the snail’s activities in great detail. The poet observes every minor detail, such as the snail’s habit of withdrawing to its shell when touched by someone, the snail’s basic belongings, and the snail enjoying a happy life, and presents these facts as important virtues and ascribes human-like attributes to the snail.

“The Snail” is a relatively short poem of twenty-four lines divided into six stanzas by a harmonious division of four lines each. Every time, the fourth line is a single or a couple of words long. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter with a well-balanced rhyme pattern of aaab cccb dddb eeeb cccb fffb. Cowper”s observation on the life of the snail exposes his purpose from the start, which is to materialise the creature as a complete, self-sufficient being within his “home secure.” The snail”s shell, in which he lives, isolates him from the outside world. But Cowper makes it clear that the creature likes its alone existence. The snail never seeks the proximity of others. He is “Well satisfied to be his own/ Whole treasure.”

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“The Snail” is thus more than just a poem about a snail. It is a poem written primarily to reflect the poet”s search for shelter, for the fullness of existence in the self. Of course, Cowper has gone to tremendous lengths to describe each and every characteristic of a snail in minute detail. The locations of the creature’s residences, the manner in which he consumes nourishment, the manner in which he is intertwined with his “house secure,” or even the manner in which he “shrinks into his house” when experiencing “the slightest touch” in his horns or of “danger imminent,” have all been conveyed through vivid images. However, all of these aspects of the snail point to his being a creature whose sufficiency is found in himself. Because the snail’s island is the self, he enjoys the solitude of a hermit. After losing his haven, Mary Unwin, the poet’s main requirement was hermit-like complacency. In her absence, he felt the need to investigate his home or island (“house secure”) within himself. That is why he desired to become a snail, a species he previously despised.

Here is a bunch of questions and answers that are going to be helpful to the students of Class X.

Stanza I

1. Where does the snail stick close to?
Ans: The snail sticks close to grass, or leaf, or fruit, or wall.

2. Does the snail have any fear of fall?
Ans: No. The snail does not have any fear of fall.

3. What does the snail consider to be his birthplace?
Ans: The snail considers the grass, leaf, or fruit to be his birthplace.

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4. What does the phrase ‘house and all,/ Together’ signify?
Ans: The word ‘house’ refers to the outer shell that hides the body of the snail. The snail cannot be separated from its shell. Therefore the phrase refers to that and states that the snail and the house i.e the shell always stay together. No one can separate them.

5. Who is referred to here by the word ‘he’?
Ans: The snail is referred to here by the word ‘he’.

6. What does the word ‘he’ signify?
Ans: The snail is personified by the use of the word ‘he’. It is an instance of personification.

Stanza II

 
7. Where does the snail hide?
Ans: The snail hides within his ‘house’.

8. Where does the snail find himself secure?
Ans: In his ‘house ’ he finds himself secure.

9. When does the snail hide within his house?
Ans: The snail hides when he smells of coming danger.

10. What are the dangers that may appear before the snail?
Ans: The danger that appears before the snail is the danger ‘of storm or other harm besides of weather.’

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