Eve's Sweet Speech to Adam
From John Milton, Paradise Lost
Why should it be difficult for man to write about sweetness? Shouldn’t it be as natural as a bird breaking out into song on a warm and bright morning?
Strange, isn’t it? If you say, “Impersonate an angry man, raging at the world,” I know right away what to do. Anybody would. It doesn’t require a lot of thought. But if you say, “Impersonate a happy man, simply and quietly happy,” I guess that would stretch the imagination of the best of our actors, and some of them would shrug and walk away. It’s not that we don’t know what it is to be happy, but we can’t easily find the signs for it, maybe because it’s too profound for signs, or because, when we’re truly happy, we’re not thinking about it at all, we’re not conscious of ourselves as putting on a part, and how our faces show at those times, we can’t tell, and even those who share in our happiness and who are looking our way will find it hard to describe. When we’re angry, and we feel sorry about it afterwards, we’ll say, “I wasn’t myself,” and there’s a truth to that, but when we’re blessedly happy, we are hardly aware of ourselves at all
So then, how to describe the feeling of someone wholly innocent and blessed? You can’t describe it. Maybe you can catch a strain of it in song, and that’s what John Milton tried to do when he crafted the speeches of Adam and Eve before the fall. Here, it’s evening, the happy couple have just finished their blameless meal of fruit and nuts and grain, they are alone, and the stars are just beginning to show.
And Eve, caught up in the sweetness of the time, says that she hardly is aware sometimes whether it’s morning or afternoon or evening, so long as she is with Adam, and especially when the two of them are doing one of their favorite things, what rational creatures enjoy doing — talking. Here, Eve breaks into a kind of spontaneous poem, a song, brilliantly moving from one sweet thing to the next through the course of a day, and then recapitulating them by denying to every one of these sweet things what makes them sweet, after all, and that is the presence of the man she loves. Adam feels the same way. And even we can understand the feeling. What good to me is the house I am writing from right now, except that my wife is here with me, and without her, what would it mean?
With thee conversing I forget all time, All seasons and their change, all please alike. Sweet is the breath of Morn, her rising sweet, With charm of earliest birds; pleasant the Sun When first on this delightful land he spreads His orient beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flower, Glistering with dew; fragrant the fertile earth After soft showers; and sweet the coming on Of grateful evening mild, then silent Night With this her solemn bird and this fair Moon, And these the gems of heaven, her starry train: But neither break of Morn when she ascends With charm of earliest birds, nor rising Sun On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, flower, Glistering with dew, nor fragrance after showers, Nor grateful evening mild, nor silent Night With this her solemn bird, nor walk by Moon, Or glittering starlight without thee is sweet.
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I've always had the fantastical pipe dream that Paradise Lost could make a phenomenal film, though the rational part of me knows that even in a near-perfect world, it would likely be impossible. In the Hollywood of today, there isn't even an iota of possibility, since they're so utterly antithetical to everything in the poem. I had heard, some years ago, that some misguided director-actor pairing (Bradley Cooper was the latter, I think) wanted to attempt it. Blessedly, it fell through, and let us hope it remains so. I shudder to imagine the hack job they'd do to it.
Perhaps the great directors of the Golden Age and their moral sensibilities, married with the best and most subtle use of the technology we have today, could have crafted something great of it, but even then, I do not know. But what a sight it could be, were it actually done justice! The poem will suffice, though...more than enough, and at least I can make the perfect movie of it in my head!
"And even we can understand the feeling. What good to me is the house I am writing from right now, except that my wife is here with me, and without her, what would it mean?"
I'm also writing from a house, but there is no wife here with me and almost certainly never will be. In Catholicism we sometimes talk about the "vocation to the generous single life" which is what I'm trying to lead. My experience is that this way of life, too, can have meaning.