Adam and Eve: The first migrants

In “Paradise Lost”, Eve gets some of the best lines.

Picasso thought Marc Chagall a master of colour second only to Matisse. Chagall’s “Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise”, painted in 1961, depicts the lovers escaping on the back of a cockerel and “flying away towards the future of humanity”. The canvas hangs in the Musée National Marc Chagall, in Nice (where there is also a Musée Matisse). It cocks a snook at the stigma of shame usually attached to the story and reminds us that migration is as old as the hills.

In the biblical book of Genesis, God banishes the couple from the Garden of Eden so that they might not eat of the tree of life. In 1667, the English writer John Milton published his famous epic poem in blank verse called “Paradise Lost”. Divided into 10 books, a later version made it into 12 and included introductory “arguments” summarizing the plot to prepare readers for the many analogies and digressions into ancient history and mythology that occur throughout the poem.

Milton sold the rights to “Paradise Lost” to the printer Samuel Simmons for the ridiculous sum of £5, with another £5 due once Simmons had sold the first run of 1,300 copies. The poem took its rightful place in the English literary canon despite both praise and derision. A common criticism is that, in his portrayal of Satan, Milton seems unwittingly to cast him as a hero.

When writer Philip Pullman came to write His Dark Materials, he loosely based it on “Paradise Lost”, but like Chagall he turned the story on its head by casting a more positive light on the theme of original sin.

Some of the most memorable lines in “Paradise Lost” are given to Eve, reminding us why Milton is one of the great English poets. In Book IV (Lines 639–652) Eve is speaking to Adam:

“With thee conversing I forget all time;
All seasons, and their change, all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of Morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds: pleasant the sun,
When first on this delightful land he spreads
His orient beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flower,
Glistering with dew; fragrant the fertile earth
After soft showers; and sweet the coming on
Of grateful Evening mild; then silent Night
With this her solemn bird and this fair moon,
And these the gems of Heaven, her starry train:
But neither breath of Morn when she ascends
With charm of earliest birds; nor rising sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, flower,
Glistering with dew; nor fragrance after showers;
Nor grateful Evening mild; nor silent Night
With this her solemn bird; nor walk by moon,
Or glittering star-light without thee is sweet.”

Chagall-Eden

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