Friday 23 August 2013

'What is a snail's fury?'

Excited reports this morning of a research project to discover what garden snails get up to at night, how much ground they cover, and how fast they travel - faster than we might have thought, it seems, though I'm rather surprised the maximum speed was so low; I'm sure they get around faster than that in my garden (and in every garden I've ever had - I am, willy nilly, a friend to the snail). There's a related video on the BBC site that shows snail racing in France - with the big Roman snails - and they certainly cover the ground at quite a lick, perhaps spurred on by the knowledge that the slower among them will be boiled up in a big pot and eaten.
  For a truer, deeper insight into the snail's nocturnal progress, let us turn to Thom Gunn's poem Considering the Snail, which travels at a steady seven syllables a line -

The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth's dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,

pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail's fury? All
I think is that if later

I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.


  1. A world away from the Thom Gunn, but still worth a look, is John Bunyan's Upon a Snail:

    Upon A Snail

    She goes but softly, but she goeth sure,
    She stumbles not, as stronger creatures do.
    Her journey's shorter, so she may endure
    Better than they which do much farther go.
    She makes no noise, but stilly seizeth on
    The flower or herb appointed for her food,
    The which she quietly doth feed upon
    While others range and glare, but find no good.
    And though she doth but very softly go,
    However, 'tis not fast nor slow, but sure;
    And certainly they that do travel so,
    The prize they do aim at they do procure.


    Although they seem not much to stir, less go,
    For Christ that hunger, or from wrath that flee,
    Yet what they seek for quickly they come to,
    Though it doth seem the farthest off to be.
    One act of faith doth bring them to that flower
    They so long for, that they may eat and live,
    Which, to attain, is not in others power,
    Though for it a king's ransom they would give.
    Then let none faint, nor be at all dismayed
    That life by Christ do seek, they shall not fail
    To have it; let them nothing be afraid;
    The herb and flower are eaten by the snail.

    John Bunyan

  2. Ah yes - interesting that Bunyan's snail is female. Everyone else seems to think of snails as male...