“Fit haunt of Gods”: What Does Eve Lose When She Loses Paradise?

In Book XI, when Michael informs Adam that he and Eve must leave the Garden of Eden, one of Eve’s first concerns is the loss of her precious flowers. The language of this lament recalls the earlier description of Eve and her flowers in Book VIII, and I would like to explore these similarities and some possible reasons behind them.

Most obviously, both passages demonstrate the significance which Eve’s flowers hold for her. We learn in Book VIII that Eve’s relationship with these plants is a mutual camaraderie—when she “visit[s]” them, they “spr[i]ng” at her coming (VIII.45-46)—and her reaction to her exile from Paradise in Book XI reaffirms this importance. After hearing Michael’s words, her mind almost immediately turns to the fate of these flowers: “O flow’rs…which I bred up with tender hand/ From the first op’ning bud, and gave ye Names,/ Who now shall rear ye to the Sun, or rank/ Your Tribes…?” (XI.273-279). Eve’s relationship with her flowers resembles that of a parent and child, and she views them as perceptive of and responsive to her care.

Also significant is the concept of Eve as a “Goddess” or “God” which features prominently in both passages. Leaving Adam and Raphael’s conversation to turn her attention to these plants, Eve is described as going forth “With Goddess-like demeanor” (VIII.59). And in her lament in Book XI, just before addressing the plants, she refers to the Garden as the “Fit haunt of Gods” (XI.271). This phrasing seems especially notable. The garden has been her haunt—does she view herself as (or like) a God?

Perhaps also importantly, both passages find Eve occupying an uneasy position in the company of the epic’s other characters. Her choice to depart Adam and Raphael’s conversation in Book VIII follows two books’ worth of conversation between the two men, during which she has been either ignored completely or demeaned to her face (as when Raphael, rather than offering advice to her directly, instead merely tells Adam to “warn/ Thy weaker [VI.908-909]). Similarly, in Book XI, she delivers her lament from an “unseen” hiding place (XI.265) where she has concealed herself upon Adam’s command that, to avoid “offend[ing]” the recently-arrived Michael, she must “retire” (XI.236-237). In both cases, finding herself disregarded and subordinated by other characters, one of the first places to which she turns her attention is her flowers, and, in both cases, a suggestion of God-like status accompanies this action.

Eve clearly finds companionship with her flowers, but does she perhaps find something else as well? Their reliance on and responsiveness to her direction, as she “rear[s] [them] to the Sun” and “rank[s]/ [Their] Tribes” (XI.278-279), suggests that, with these flowers, Eve occupies a role not just of friendship, but, moreover, of creation and power. Considered alongside the subordination she experiences at the hands of Adam and the angels, do these flowers, which rely on her for their growth and organization, offer Eve a sense of control, a chance to be “Goddess-like”? And if so, what effect does Michael’s response to her lament—an admonition to not “set thy heart,/ Thus over-fond, on that which is not thine” and a command that “[Adam] to follow thou art bound” (XI.288-291)—have on Eve’s already tenuous sense of independence and agency?


Annemarie Lisko