Eve Names the Animals

by Susan Donnelly

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How does the speaker's use of words in "Eve Names the Animals" by Susan Donnelly differ from Adam's?

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The task of naming the animals and giving order to the natural world through that process of naming is something that is famous from the Biblical account that the Book of Genesis explores. However, this poem powerfully challenges such patriarchal assumptions, as Donnelly, speaking through the persona of Eve, shows that her own way of naming was very different. Consider how Adam is shown to have named creatures:

I swear that man
never knew animals. Words
he lined up according to size,

while elephants slipped flat-eyed
through water

and trout
hurtled from the underbrush, tusked
and ready for battle.

Eve overtly criticises the naming of Adam, suggesting that he "lined up according to size" the names that he gave them, leading to some hilarious or tragic mistakes as elephants and trout are confused. Eve, on the other hand, is very creative about the way she describes how she named creation:

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

To Eve, in comparison with Adam, naming is an opportunity to show creativity and to capture the sense and essence of the animal being named. For Adam, there is no sense of imagination or trying to make the name fit the animal and its attributes. Instead, you line them all up by size and name them accordingly. Eve's system of naming is shown to be more intuitive and to reflect the personality and characteristics of the animal that the name applies to.

 

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The speaker in "Eve Names the Animals" uses words in her own way. How is this way similar to or different from the speaker's use of words in "Adam's Task" by John Hollander?

It is clear that there are some similarities in the way that naming is conducted in these two poems. If we have a look at "Eve Names the Animals," we can see that Eve is greatly annoyed by the way that Adam names the animals, with rather hilarious consequences:

I swear that man
never knew animals. Words
he lined up according to size,

while elephants slipped flat-eyed
through water

and trout
hurtled from the underbrush, tusked
and ready for battle.

To Adam, in this poem, words are just blunt tools to be used to do a job as best as possible. Eve's way of naming animals is far more intuitive, as she seeks to find out the essence of the animal and name it accordingly. It is far more of a creative endeavour requiring her intelligence and time, trying to capture exactly the right word for the creature she is trying to name. Note the metaphor that she uses to describe her naming process:

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

For Eve, naming is above all something that is creative, a work of art, and a chance to really get to know the animals she is naming.

In "Adam's Task," the overall impression that we get from Adam is that he is enjoying his work, as is shown by the series of completely nonsensical names he picks. Consider the way he moves from "glurd" to "spotted glurd," naming each, having a great time doing so. My personal favourite is the "McFleery's pomma"! The key to this poem, however, lies in the penultimate stanza, where we are told that : "work, half-measuring, half-humming, / would be as serious as play." Although there is obvious humour in this poem, it also suggests that proper work is something that we can do and enjoy at the same time. Adam does take his job of naming the animals seriously, but it doesn't necessary follow that this means he has to do it joylessly.

The similarities therefore are in the way that both Eve and Adam in these two poems take great delight in their task of naming. The difference would be in the way that Eve really tries to capture the identity of the animal in the name that she chooses, whereas Adam is so busy having fun that he picks some ludicrous names.

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