Should God create another Eve, and I
Another rib afford, yet loss of thee Would never from my heart. No, no! I feel
The link of nature draw me: flesh of flesh,
Bone of my bone thou art, and from thy state
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.
Paradise Lost (Book IX, 908-916)
All famous couples are better understood in light of the famous first couple. We carry within us knowledge of Paradise, as if the bowers draped with vine in which Adam and Eve consorted were our former home. We bring the expectations Paradise has aroused into this lesser world.
Anyone who searches the Book of Genesis for an exhaustive explanation of man and woman, searches in vain. It speaks of the essential truths. All nature is hierarchical. Male and female are complementary, each in a state of dependence. Their complete happiness in each other is spoiled.
Here, none of the sensual delights of Paradise, or of the pleasures of love so richly detailed in the Song of Songs, is described. They are inferred. It took the great artists to help us envision just what it would have been. Here is Milton’s Adam with Eve:
His fair large front and eye sublime declared
Absolute rule and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clustering, but not beneath his shoulders broad:
She, as a veil down to the slender waist,
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved
As the vine curls her tendrils, which implied
Subjection, but required with gentle sway,
And by her yielded, by him best received,
Yielded with coy submission, modest pride,
And sweet, reluctant, amorous delay.
Paradise Lost (Book IV, 300-311)
“Absolute rule” and “subjection” – these are repulsive to modern thinking. However, this Eve of “sweet, reluctant, amorous delay” and this manly Adam with his eye “sublime” live on in the ordinary dreams of most men and women.
It is interesting to note what Adam and Eve are not. They stand apart from figures in other creation literature for their recognizable humanity and domesticity. He is not spangled warrior, Herculean strong man or collector of many wives. She is not fertility goddess, insatiable seductress, or wise oracle.
They were created to rule over the earth, but are not arrayed in monarchical splendor. Their rule implies husbandry and order. They were put unto the garden to “dress it and to keep it.” There is hierarchy in this Paradise, but also noticeable equality. Adam and Eve are both free to discern and to choose. In this, there is no difference between them. This is a revolutionary account of humanity’s spiritual origins, upsetting notions of life as pure power struggle.
Genesis speaks unequivocally of feminine power. The woman’s moral downfall precedes that of all humanity. What greater earthly strength than that? Here is a patriarchal account of civilization’s beginnings, but this is patriarchy with feminine freedom. Adam and Eve are of all time, yet they seem to speak directly to us now. Has there ever been a time when woman more boldly turned her back on the Garden?
When the truths of Genesis are lost, we look for them in other places, in other creation accounts. Darwinism, with its emphasis on the self-interest and delusion that governs male and female interactions, tells us of the same fallen condition. But, in this view, there is no possibility of anything but reproductive struggle. Darwinists have no memory of Paradise.
There must have been a distant day, however brief, in which there was no divide between man and woman. Our dreams tell us we once lay on Milton’s “soft downy bank damasked with flowers.” These dreams, once uncovered, are cause for bitter disillusionment or for hope. We cannot recreate our interlude in Paradise. We can honor the possibilities it has left behind. We can marvel at the strange miracle of our lingering love.