Adam and Eve by Marjorie Pickthall explores the first days of life within the Garden of Eden. Pickthall focuses on the arrival of ‘Beauty’, how she cares for and allows Adam and Eve tranquility. It balances ‘light’ and ‘dark’ images, looking at how the first night changes the garden. Although ‘night’ becomes more powerful as the poem goes on, ‘Beauty’ protects the two lovers.
Adam and Eve by Marjorie Pickthall begins by focusing on the first-night fall, after a day of ‘praise’ it comes and overshadows everything. Yet, in this darkness ‘Beauty found them’, coming to love and protect the two lovers. The following day ‘Beauty’ began to teach the pair, giving them ‘heavenly words’ while angels and birds played in the background. Whenever Adam and Eve found trouble, for example as they ‘fled in the burning weather’, ‘Beauty’ provided for them, cooling ‘them at her stream’. Beauty and nature can be compounded as the same idea within this poem, the beauty of nature being something comforting to the lovers. Even as the night grows stronger, Beauty is still there to protect them, following in their wake at all times.
You can read the full poem here.
Pickthall’s Adam and Eve is written over 4 stanzas, the poem measuring 16 lines in total. The poem is written in four quatrains, with an ABAB rhyme scheme flowing across the poem. The consistent rhyme scheme could be a reflection of the support Beauty gives Adam and Eve, being there any time they are unsafe or unprepared for the world. Similarly, the ABAB rhyme creates an almost dreamlike flow to the poem, the scheme being easy to read and furthering the atmosphere of peaceful harmony the poem evokes.
One technique that Pickthall uses in writing Adam and Eve is placing metrical emphasis on the final word of each sentence. This is achieved through a mix of syntax structure and rhyme, with the ABAB rhyme scheme enforcing an expected metrical emphasis. This leads to the final word of each line becoming the most important. This is especially important within the final line of the poem, the image of ‘dust’ perhaps signaling that this beautiful paradise will not last forever, an ominous note to finish the poem.
Another technique Pickthall uses is personification. Pickthall personifies ‘Beauty’ throughout the poem, using the abstract noun as a character that follows and helps Adam and Eve. In personifying Beauty, Pickthall allows for a connection with the concept to be established, furthering the friendly comfort beauty provides. This is also achieved by capitalizing ‘Beauty’, suggesting that ‘she’ is a named person, rather than an abstract concept.
Adam and Eve analysis
When the first dark had fallen around themAnd the leaves were weary of praise,In the clear silence Beauty found themAnd shewed them all her ways.
The poem begins by exploring the ‘first dark’ that has ‘fallen’ upon the Garden of Eden, looking at the first night within this biblical story. The use of ‘dark’ is ominous, with the poem continuously becoming more threatening as time goes onward. While the first day of life was filled with ‘praise’, the first ‘dark’ has a note of the unknown, insinuating a slight fear.
The fact that throughout the poem Adam and Eve are referred to simply as ‘them’ shows their unity. Considering that biblically Eve was created from the rib of Adam, Pickthall could be literally embodying this concept through the unity suggested in ‘them’. Even in the rhyme, Pickthall connects ‘them’ and ‘them’, using the same word and trying to pass this off as a rhyme. Although a little questionable in terms of poetic technique, this could be attributed to furthering the unity suggested by ‘them’, Adam and Eve connected through this repetition and rhyme.
The consonance of /w/ across ‘were weary’ furthers the sense of tiredness created within these opening lines, the extended sound whistling softly like the wind as night falls. The ‘first’ day of life was tiring, with Pickthall focusing on the ‘silence’ of sleep following this period.
The connection of ‘praise’ and ‘ways’, in regard to Beauty showing them all she knows reflects the harmony that she brings. All of her ‘ways’ are instantly elevated through the rhythmic connection to ‘praise’, Pickthall establishing Beauty as a loving presence.
In the high noon of the heavenly gardenWhere the angels sunned with the birds,Beauty, before their hearts could harden,Had taught them heavenly words.
The following day, Pickthall explores ‘high noon’ within the ‘heavenly garden’. The soft light suggested by ‘high noon’ furthers the beauty of this scene, the light of this stanza contrasting the ‘dark’ of the last. The semantics of this stanza further the beauty of the scene, ‘heavenly’, ‘sunned’, ‘hearts’ all containing a blissful depiction of the Garden of Eden. The unity of nature, ‘the birds’, and ‘the angels’ demonstrates the harmony of life, with Pickthall suggesting that heavenly and natural beings are at peace with each other.
The suggestion of ‘before their hearts could harden’ implies that eventually Adam and Eve become ‘harden[ed]’ and bitter, perhaps reflecting the fall from grace. Beauty is described as having ‘taught them heavenly words’, the being teaching Adam and Eve words of beauty. This could perhaps be suggesting that Beauty teaches Adam and Eve kindness, or a similar positive condition that can be affirmed through words.
When they fled in the burning weatherAnd nothing dawned but a dream,Beauty fasted their hands togetherAnd cooled them at her stream.
In moments of strife, ‘Beauty’ comes to Adam and Eve and protects them. While in ‘burning weather’, she comes to ‘cool them at her stream’, the flow of water directly contrasted with the ‘burning’ state of the ‘weather’. Pickthall presents Beauty as a force for good, conflating ideas of nature to suggest its comforting presence.
And when day wearied and night grew stronger,And they slept as the beautiful must,Then she bided a little longer,And blossomed from their dust.
Eventually, the sense of tiredness, ‘wearied’, returns, with ‘night gr[owing] stronger’ as day turns to night. The gaining strength of ‘night’ could reflect the growing evil within the world, the story soon to be interrupted with the temptation of the snake.
Beauty seems to be fighting against the oncoming ‘night’, these harmonious moments thus contrasted against the ‘night’ that is growing in ‘strength’. Pickthall suggests that ‘they’ themselves have become ‘beautiful’, engendering the lessons that Beauty has taught them. This is the final completion of the poem, with ‘beauty’ then ‘bolssom[ing] from their dust’. They have learned all they can from Beauty, now using what they have learned to continue their journey into the world.