Eve Names the Animals

by Susan Donnelly

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How do "Eve Names the Animals" and "Adam's Task" project attitudes through poetic devices?

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These two brilliant poems compare and contrast different attitudes towards naming animals and the task that God gave Adam, according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible.

In "Eve Names the Animals," both Adam and Eve are shown to have made mistakes in their naming of their animals, but notice the way in which Eve's approach to naming animals is so different from Adam's. For Adam, "Words / He lined up according to size," suggesting that names are, at best, a rather blunt instrument that do not try to capture the essence of the animal. For Eve, on the other hand, naming is instinctive and an act of creation:

To me, lion was sun on a wing
over the garden. Dove,
a burrowing, blind creature.

Even though the names are different than from those we have received, the way these names summon up a very distinct and certain image of these animals shows very clearly how Eve's approach to naming is one of creation, as she wears the names she picks "as garlands."

In "Adam's Task," on the other hand, it is clear that naming is one massive task that provides Adam with endless amusement. Consider the large variety of highly creative names that he comes up with. My personal favourite is the McFleery's Pomma:

Thou, verdle; thou, McFleery's pomma;
Thou; thou; thou -- three types of grawl;
Thou, flisket, thou, kabasch; thou, comma-
Eared mashawok; thou, all; thou, all.

There is a similar sense of creativity in this poem as we imagine Adam coming up with ludicrously sounding names for what he sees around him. This device of name-creation shows very clearly the way that work can be fun, which is of course one of the central themes of this poem, as through Adam's zeal for naming work is shown to be "as serious as play."

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How are the attitudes in "Eve Names the Animals" and "Adam's Task" projected by devices in the poem?

Both of these excellent poems concern the different ways that Eve and Adam named creatures at the beginning of the history of the earth, and the kind of attitudes that are expressed through that process of naming. Key in "Eve Names the Animals" is the way in which Eve took a much more creative, intuitive approach than Adam, who she somewhat dismissively mocks by saying that "Words / He lined up according to size" and then listing the series of mistakes he makes. For Eve, however, names are meant to capture the essence and the identity of the animals that they apply to. Consider the following metaphor that Eve uses to describe her own naming process:

I strung words
by their stems and wore them
as garlands on my long walks.

We can see from this metaphor that naming is a creative endeavour that is compared to weaving garlands out of flowers. It is an act of creation itself as beauty is formed through the words that are created.

In "Adam's Task," on the other hand, the sheer humour of the various names that Adam comes up with for the animals that he names demonstrates the key message of the poem: work can be fun. The central section of the poem that conveys this message is as follows:

Were, in a fire of becoming,
Laboring to be burned away,
Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
Would be as serious as play.

Note the simile in the final line of this quote. Work becomes "as serious as play" as Adam surveys creation and takes real delight and joy in having to come up with the names for all of these animals and creatures. Work doesn't necessarily need to be boring and applying ourselves to our task with our full energy can make it fun.

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