One hot summer noon in Sicily, the narrator came to his water-trough to take a pitcherful of water and found that a golden brown snake was having a drink from the trough. The snake went on drinking calmly even after the narrator came upon the scene. From its colour, he concluded that the snake was poisonous as Sicilian black snakes were non poisonous while those of golden colour were deadly poisonous and his human education and training demanded that the snake be instantly killed. But the narrator had become greatly fascinated by the sight of his gleaming beauty. He was inclined to regard the snake as a great lovely guest that had come out of its home, deep in the earth, to have a drink at his water-trough, and, therefore, he rather wanted that the snake should depart in the proper manner of a guest satisfied in mind and sound in body.
The narrator reflects and tries to analyse his own motive in sparing a snake known to be poisonous. He first considers the possibility that he might have done so through cowardice or fear, but he rules out the first of these. He finally comes to decide that he spared the snake because he had been fascinated and spell-bound at his beauty and because he had felt honoured that such a charming guest should choose to come and have a drink at his trough. The fear was there, but it was not this which made him spare the snake.
The narrator then describes how, after having had his fill of water, the snake slowly retires into its hole. On seeing this beautiful creature disappear down a dark, miserable hole, the narrator is filled with a sudden, vague loathing and resentment. Moved by this revulsion, (disgust, sudden change of feeling) the narrator picked up a log of wood and threw it at the snake. The log missed the snake, stuck the water-trough, and produced a noise. The snake was unhurt but alarmed by the noise, it hastily dragged the rest of his body into the hole.
When the snake had disappeared, there was again a change in the narrator’s feelings. He now thought that his sudden impulsive attempt at hitting the snake was a vulgar, petty, and mean act. He began to blame his human education and training which had prompted him to act as he did. He was reminded of the evil which comes to the person who kills an Albatross (such as the horror that befell to the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). He was terrified lest like harm should come to him for having offended his beautiful guest, the uncrowned king of the underworld, the lord of life. The poem ends with the narrator’s expressing a wish that the snake should come back once again, so that, he could expiate his petty act.