Of course, no-one, not even the “writer”, can “know” what the poem “means”, but still…

…academics can tie themselves in some fascinating knots and, it is even rumoured, disappear up their own theories.

Here’s some more commentary on poems I’ve already posted:


The fruit slipped ripe into the hand

The hunting hard, but always good,

The trees made shade to sleep within

That was the Eden we once knew


They say. Then a hard awkward seed, hard won

Out of a rasping husk whispered to Eve:

I am a million. You’ll be rich

Your children’s children will be many.

She took the seed and planted it.


The trees were felled, the game was killed

The seed told truth, but the new life

Was sweating hard, and then the rains

That always held back, always came

Did not come. Eden’s loss

Could not have been through a grass seed,

And so it was a snake instead.

I’ve long had a theory (which may well be wrong) that the myth of the Garden of Eden, which apparently has similar versions in other traditions than the Jewish, reflects the transition from a hunter-gatherer to an agrarian lifestyle. This first happened, it seems, in present-day Turkey, not at all far from Israel.  Hunter-gatherers existed in very small numbers, but their diet was varied, their tasks and life quite varied too, and in places where food was abundant they had plenty of spare time. Agriculture allowed much bigger and more settled communities to develop, which tended to be more hierarchical and to have a quite limited diet, with a huge amount of time taken up by repetetive tasks such as grinding corn. Moreover, some of the easiest places to farm were vulnerable to over-farming and becoming unsuitable for crops quite quickly, and loss of tree cover to make space for fields and villages may well have contributed to reduction of rainfall. Of course, agriculture was the future and necessary for cililisation, but it will have seemed a hard transition to many and might well be reflected negatively in myth.

In this poem, Eve is the first farmer. She sees the potential of the edible grass-seed. The result is the desertification of the Garden of Eden. The farmers cannot face the truth of what they’ve done, so create a myth of the evil snake leading Eve astray.


In the eternal city

Brilliantly planned

The pavements stretch forever

Covered, smooth, safe

Here and there the off-white

Changes to mid-grey

Or the palest of yellows

Interesting, bland


The planning is now wiser

The people aren’t dwarfed

Turned into clumsy figures

Unruly shape and smell

Now they fit in

Piazzas or plazas

Though someone cries in them

Are welcoming


Underneath the pavements

Coursing, unseen,

Suppressed creek and stream

And the bones of sea-monsters

Turning, not quite dead,

Swim into dream.

I suppose this poem is about urban landscapes and town planning, and behind that, our wish to control and belief that we control when we don’t, as well as maybe the fragile victory of the rational, conscious mind over the unconscious and the spiritual. The “eternal city” is not Heaven, but an idea of urban landscapes lasting forever. It’s well-planned, to do it justice, and ought to be comfortable. Dangers have been eliminated (reflected by the soft colour tones). “Piazzas or plazas” – same word in Italian or Spanish, meaning a town square) have been planned in to encourage people to mix and have fun.  But people are left unsatisfied. One who cries may not be comforted. Suppressed undercurrents survive unrecognised, things we thought we’d done away with – and they can emerge.

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1 Comment

  1. Your theory about Eve makes one think….very interesting indeed….


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