Adam by Derek Walcott is a poem that primarily deals with the book of Genesis and the story of how Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden. The poet expresses gratitude and love towards God. He explores Adam’s bond with Eve and God. He emphasizes the consequences of Eve’s sins and forgives her. This poem explores the themes of betrayal and redemption. The poem follows a lyrical style but changes its rhythmic scheme constantly.
Adam’s Song | Summary and Analysis
This poem alludes to Paradise lost where Adam turns against Eve but still loves her. The poet talks about the current state of mankind, there’s a tragedy in their condition. Men have lost their ways and committed the same sins as Eve. Eve succumbed to the temptations of the Devil and tasted the forbidden fruit, she made Adam do that. They both thus betrayed God and were cast out of Eden. Adam’s love for Eve humanized him.
Adam’s Song | Analysis, Lines 1-4
“The adulteress stoned to death
is killed in our own time
by whispers, by the breath
that films her flesh with slime.,”
The poem has Biblical allusions to Adam and Eve and their damnation. Before women who committed infidelity were punished by being stoned to death, now they are killed by “whispers”, gossip and guilt kill them. Christ also questioned that the first person who throws the stone must be without sin, thus implying that no one is without blame. The imagery of slime over flesh depicts a horrid and snake-like picture. Alliteration is used with the “b”.
Adam’s Song | Analysis, Lines 5-8
“The first was Eve
who horned God for the serpent,
for Adam’s sake—which makes
everyone guilty or Eve innocent.”
The first woman, Eve was guilty of betraying God. She fell for the Devil’s temptation and defied God’s orders. The word “horned” is also associated with infidelity and betrayal. The serpent refers to the disguise the Devil used to manipulate Eve. The poet says that what Eve did was “for Adam’s sake”, which makes everyone guilty. If Eve sinned then so did everyone who came after her. Otherwise, she is innocent. It could also suggest that Adam takes the blame upon himself to save Eve from being damned alone.
Adam’s Song | Analysis, Lines 9-11
“Nothing has changed,
for men still sing the song that Adam sang
against the world, he lost to vipers,”
The poet says that everything is still the same, nothing has changed. Mankind still sings in despair like Adam sang when he was damned. Men have lost to “vipers”, poisonous snakes which symbolize evil temptations. Paradise was lost and it is still lost, there’s no redemption. Just like Adam lost to the Devil men have lost to their inner devils.
Adam’s Song | Analysis, Lines 12-14
“the song to Eve
against his own damnation;
he sang it in the evening of the world”
The song Adam sang was for Eve. He sang for his love for her and his anguish due to his damnation. Adam did not wish to be damned but was condemned anyway. He sings as darkness descends upon the world, after Genesis and after paradise was lost to them.
Adam’s Song | Analysis, Lines 15-17
“with the lights coming on in the eyes
of panthers in the peaceable kingdom
and his death coming out of the trees,”
With the darkness comes the realization, of what happened and how horrible the consequences are going to be. In Eden Adam and Eve were immortal but as they were cast out, they became mortals. In Eden, they had a peaceful kingdom but now that’s gone. The light comes into the panther’s eyes as they turn into wild beasts. Thus with darkness comes the fear of death. Alliteration is again used in line 16.
Adam’s Song | Analysis, Lines 18-20
“he sings it, frightened
of the jealousy of God and at the price
of his own death”.
As Adam sings he’s afraid of damnation. Men still sing that song, afraid of God’s jealousy and the prospect of their own death. God who is jealous longs for affection. For temporary happiness, their souls are eternally damned. They have lost their souls and happiness to eternal damnation. Anaphora is used in these lines.
Adam’s Song | Analysis, Lines 21
“The song ascends to God, who wipes his eyes:
Adam’s song, the song that men sing reaches the heavens and it makes God cry. God is saddened by this song.
Adam’s Song | Analysis, Lines 22-25
“Heart, you are in my heart as the bird rises,
heart, you are in my heart while the sun sleeps,
heart, you lie still in me as the dew is,
you weep within me, as the rain weeps.”
In his song, Adam says that God is in his heart. God is within him when the sun rises in the morning, God is within him when night comes, and God is within him as the water in his body and God cries within him like the weeping rain. Even after being damned the love for God still remains. There’s regret in the song which makes God sad. The poet makes the readers empathize with Adam and to some extent Eve as well. He alludes to the pain that followed their damnation.
Adam’s Song | Themes
Paradise lost, betrayal and redemption
There are Biblical allusions in this poem and right from the title it clearly indicates that it’s related to the story of Adam. The poem revolves around both Adam and Eve but mostly focuses on Eve’s sins. Even if the poem is called Adam’s song, it talks more about Eve. Most of the blame is placed on Eve and how she fell for the Devil’s temptations. Adam is portrayed in a more positive image; he even sings the song that makes God cry. The “Horned God” creates a negative image, associated with evil and evokes a sinister character. This depicts a clear visual of Satan, the Devil.
However, the poet creates ambiguity as he says Eve sinned “for Adam’s sake”, meaning she might be innocent as whatever she did she did it for Adam. Thus that way Adam is to be blamed too. Most of the blame goes towards evil as she betrayed God for “the serpent” and in that way Adam is not directly blamed. The poet presents Eve as a villain in this story but puts Adam’s perspective of his love and forgiveness towards Eve. Men sin now as well, nobody is immune to temptations thus the poet can understand Eve’s decision and forgive her.
Adam’s Song | Poetic Devices
The poem uses alliteration as some points to emphasize and intensify the poet’s point of view. The phrase “panther in the peaceable kingdom” uses alliteration to emphasize a harsh tone, the contrast between “peaceable” and “panther” emphasizes Adam’s fear of sudden darkness and death. The safe paradise is gone and danger awaits him.
The poet also uses Imagery to depict an agonizing experience, “adulteress stoned to death” creates a vivid image of horrible and painful death. The phrase “films her flesh with slime” evokes a repulsive and disgusting picture in the reader’s mind. The light in the panther’s eyes also creates a terrifying image.
The poem also uses anaphora and metaphor in some parts of the poem.
Adam’s Song | About the poet
Sir Derek Walcott (1930-2017) was a Saint Lucian poet and playwright. His works explore the Caribbean cultural experience and make use of themes from the black folk culture in the Caribbean. He received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature and has many awards including the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize for his book of poetry “White Egrets” and the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry Lifetime Recognition Award. “In a Green Night: Poems 1948–1960 (1962)” is his best-known work of poetry that celebrates the Caribbean landscape’s natural beauty.