In the creation story we will read from the Torah in synagogue this Shabbat, God creates the world, and man, and woman. Adam and Eve sin and are ejected from Eden.
Wright plays off both the biblical story and Milton’s Paradise Lost. In both those versions of the story, Adam is God’s junior partner in the creation; he names the animals, tends the garden, and is the raw material from which Eve is created. In both stories, man is ruined by his urge to know more–but the sin begins with Eve’s curiosity.
In Wright’s poem, it is Adam’s need to understand, to “unravel everything/because he believed that mechanism /was the whole secret” that is the original sin. As soon as he comes into being, Adam begins the process of uncreation. Having the power to uncreate gives him power, and power creates hubris: “And now that I know how it works, why, I must have invented it.” Adam’s surging powers of analysis lead him to the conclusion that he cannot demonstrate God’s existence–so God must not exist.
“Yes, he got to the centre/where nothing at all can be demonstrated,” Eve says in exasperation to her daughters. She warns them of Adam’s error and suggests that they take command–yet she suspects that their own faults will make the next generation of women as submissive to men as her first generation has been. “Perhaps nothing exists but our faults?/At least they can be demonstrated.”
Wright rhymes “exist” with “egotist”–the very quality of human existence creates an ego that leads us to disbelieve our own being and that of those around us.
By the end of the poem, Eve’s Adam has made himself into a creating, destroying God “who is faultless, and doesn’t exist.” Eve and her daughters are less feminist heroines than ironic observers of a personality they cannot control. In Paradise Lost, Adam hesitates before biting into the forbidden fruit. He knows he should not, but he also knows that Eve has already sinned. He eats not to gain knowledge but in order to share the fate of the wife he loves. He does not regret his choice. In Wright’s version of the story, it is Eve who has followed Adam out of paradise, and she is not at all sure that she made the correct decision.