A Few Reflections on Eve

Book IV offers us our first description of Adam and Eve: “for contemplation hee and valor form’d,/ For softness shee and sweet attractive Grace” (297-298). I would like to investigate this description of Eve, alongside her following, personal account of awakening in the Garden.

Eve recounts how, upon coming into existence, she found a lake and became fascinated with her reflection in it. Her story calls to mind the Greek myth of Narcissus (a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection, ultimately leading to his death)—a rather ominous evocation, which may already hint at Eve’s failure.

Eve herself, however, seems rather less concerned with her physical appearance. In fact, while the earlier description evoked sensual aspects such as her “softness,” her own initial reaction does not. She first assesses herself, nondescriptly enough, as “A Shape” (461). Moreover, when she begins to find this “Shape” attractive, it is not because of its physical aspect, but rather its actions.

She focuses on the shape’s “answering looks/ Of sympathy and love” (464-465). At first glance, the word “answering” here seems to refer simply to her reflection’s mirroring of her own motions. But when we consider that Eve’s first action, upon awakening, was a series of four profound questions—“I first awak’t…much wond’ring where/ And what I was, whence thither brought, and how” (450-452)—the word may take on further significance. Since Eve’s inquisitive nature is already apparent, could her pleasure at these looks derive from a hope that, in this shape, she will somehow find the answers to her deep questions?

With such varied interpretations possible, I wonder what Eve’s following assessment of this pseudo-relationship as “vain desire” (466) means. Does she realize the flaws of a narcissistic self-love? Is she frustrated at losing the intellectually revealing relationship she sought to find in her reflection? What precisely does Eve lament to have lost?


Annemarie Lisko