Adam’s Task

June 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field” – GEN. 2:20

Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted
  Glurd; thou, whitestap, lurching through
The high-grown brush; thou, pliant-footed,
  Implex; thou, awagabu.

Every burrower, each flier
  Came for the name he had to give:
Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
  Not yet sunk to primitive.

Thou, verdie; thou, McFleery’s pomma;
  Thou; thou; thou — three types of grawl;
Thou, flisket, thou, kabasch; thou, comma-
  Eared mashawok; thou, all; thou, all.

Were, in a fire of becoming,
  Laboring to be burned away,
Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
  Would be as serious as play.

Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou, greater
  Wherret, and thou, lesser one;
Thou, sproal; thou, zant; thou, lily-eater.
  Naming’s over. Day is done.

– John Hollander

There are four types of names at play here: the onomatopoetic (paw-paw-paw), the eponymic (McFleery’s pomma), the seemingly exotic (awagabu, mashawok), and names that describe the creature (lily-eater, whitestap). Curiously, McFleery’s pomma suggests that there is another man besides Adam walking around Eden. Ferdinand de Saussure might delight in witnessing how the animal’s names came about; they are arbitrary insofar as they spawn from Adam’s whim, but I’d like to think there are reasons behind each name. Paw-paw-paw must be a mammal, rivarn perhaps a stripy antelope-like thing, whitestap a nervous bird, and the glurd either an oafish ungulate or a big stupid fish.

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