What the Serpent Really Said


What Eve told Adam he said, and we believe
As he believed her, stands in Genesis;
But what the Serpent really said to Eve,
Among the dappled leaves that day, was this:

O innocent, naked, still unbroken reed,
Clasp with your naked hand this perfect fruit.
Within you both there sleeps the deathless seed,
Though neither of you from any seed took root,

But when, fulfilled by the prevenient Word,
Adam’s first dream, the first dream of this tree,
Became, as that inscrutable darkness stirred,
First fruits of a new immortality.

Take now this apple and eat! That you may live,
Take death into your mouth and learn to die;
Till it know loss, no heart can learn to give,
Nor know truth till it prove it by a lie.

Before you bite, pause, listen, look around
This natural world of which you are a part,
Though Adam forget it as he breaks the ground,
You will keep always virgin in your heart.

The silence of creation before speech,
The naked animal hid in human dress,
These are your path to knowledge, past the reach
Of all that Adam by thought or skill may guess.

Painfully, step by step, his sons must learn;
Their Babel of words, their tower of science will grow:
For you and for your daughters, each in turn,
Only to eat this apple will be to know.

And this is why you must be first to eat,
To lose, to lie, to suffer, to give birth;
Your fall at once, in full, will be complete;
He, by slow toil must dig his from the earth.

And always in your arms he will be wild
With longing not centred in his love for you,
Passion with its own triumph unreconciled,
Betrayal and grief no pleasure can subdue.

Your nakedness will always be the dim
Image of this paradise as it was;
The act of love, within its joy, for him
Echo the re-enactment of its loss.

For you he will make history: One by one
Gods, civilizations, systems, law and art;
You will accept them all, be bound by none
Of all his stratagems to probe your heart.

For in your fruitful belly you must bear
His future worlds and in your heart his past,
Foreknowing the next he gropes towards, aware
Of what decreed the ruin of his last.

He is your means to change the universe;
You are his guest, the doubt his mind explores;
The knowledge of Good and Evil is his curse;
The knowledge of all that lies beyond is yours.

And for this cause you will exalt his power,
Yearning for what you know he cannot do;
Worship his otherness and in the hour
Of passion adore him when he turns to you,

Cry out: “Now take, possess me as a god;
Do with me what you will; think not of me;
Master me; crush me; break me with your rod;
Only if I am nothing shall I be free!”

O blessed among women, immortal Eve,
Take now this fruit of his mortality.
This is your body broken for his reprieve;
This is your sacrament; take, eat and die!

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