The author of Genesis A/B, an Old English verse interpretation of the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Genesis, expands considerably upon certain aspects and details of the creation story. The elaboration most relevant to this entry is the additional details given to the creation of Adam and Eve, the Biblical first humans. The original Genesis story is sparse, limiting the narrative to the creation of the bodies of the humans: Adam is built and breathed into, Eve formed from the rib of Adam. Until the moment of Eve’s temptation by the serpent, neither are given any details of personality: they are animated bodies, with even the temptation being a physical one–an act of consumption. It is only after they “fall” that the author of the Hebrew Genesis gives the reader a glance at their interiority: Adam and Eve realize that they are naked, and they are ashamed. This moment–a moment of shame–is the first in which it is indicated to the reader that Adam and Eve have self-concepts, emotions, internal thoughts. That Eden is something experienced beyond the body. Something that can be missed, that is missed, at this moment of self-knowledge and nakedness.
French philosopher Gaston Bachelard conceives of childhood as a place, writing that: “Through dreams, the various dwelling-places in our lives co-penetrate and retain the treasures of former days. And after we are in the new house, when memories of other places we have lived in come back to us, we travel to the land of Motionless Childhood, motionless the way all Immemorial things are. We live fixations, fixations of happiness. We comfort ourselves by reliving memories of protection. Something closed must retain our memories, while leaving them their original value as images. Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home … . [W]e are never real historians, but always near poets, and our emotion is perhaps nothing but expression of a poetry that was lost” (The Poetics of Space, 5-6).
In the original Genesis story, the space of Eden is a place of childhood: an innocence that is lost upon the eating of a forbidden fruit. The internality expressed as shame is a transition of location: an exit from the cloistered garden of God’s care, of the childlike state of unknowing-ness and obedience. The author of Genesis A/B, expanding greatly upon the characterization of Adam and Eve in the Hebrew Bible, emphasizes a transition from childlike unknowing-ness to adulthood, an adulthood rife with shame and the distant mournful memory of the “place” that is childhood: here, Eden.
From the sparse line’s of Eve’s creation in the Hebrew Bible, the author of Genesis A/B improvises:
“A spirit was formed inside her, a perpetual soul. She was like an angel, and that Eve,
Adam’s wife, was imbued with spirit. They were both
brightly beautiful in their youth, brought forth into the world
by the might of the Maker. They knew how to do nothing evil
nor how to accomplish it, but the love of the Lord
was burning in both their breasts”.
Genesis A/B expands the childlike experience of Eden from one that is contained within the body to one that engages with the spirit. Adam and Eve, “brightly beautiful”, live in the motionless happiness that is pure devotion to God: they, in their initial obedience, form the “house” of childhood, a landscape of revelry and rapture. The author of Genesis A/B describes, with the loving detail of one “reliving [their own] memories of protection” the very landscape of Eden, in poetry that extends far beyond any Biblical establishment of place.
The “fall” is itself much extended in Genesis A/B: the simple transition from unknowledge to knowledge via a single sensual act of eating is replaced by a more tumultuous journey of resentment, temptation and, perhaps, self-knowledge. It is a journey away from the overt “land” of childhood that is Eden and into the more treacherous and adult “land” of the interior. As such the description of humanity’s plight is at once more sensible and sympathetic and more repulsive; it is rife with the problems of “true sight”, as if Adam and Eve were steadily-growing children, working out how to discern truth from untruth, friend from foe.
The poet-author of Genesis A/B, recording in detail their journey out of Eden into internality, acts not as historian but as emotive poet, per Bachelard. Re-framed as poetry, as journey in and out of childhood, the “fall” becomes for the reader not a simple story of moralization but an expression of the great loneliness and nostalgia of lost memory and place; Eden the childhood locale of humanity, the site of poetry lost to sin.
Edgar, Swift, and Angela M. Kinney. 2010. The Vulgate Bible: Douay-Rheims translation. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Hostetter, Aaron K. “Genesis A & B”. https://anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/genesis-ab/. Accessed April 26, 2020.
Bachelard, Gaston (2014). The Poetics of Space. New York: Penguin Books. cited via Dr. Alexis Chema’s opening lecture for Poetry in the Land of Childhood, April 6, 2020.
Image: Gustave Dore, engraving of Genesis 3:24, 1865.