Study Guide

Adam's Curse Themes

  • Literature and Writing

    Poetry is a high art, one that takes plenty of labor to get just right. So says the speaker in "Adam's Curse." Each line needs plenty of editing and re-editing before it's good, and that's a lot of work. What's more, it shouldn't look like work. But therein lies the problem: if writing looks effortless, some folks might think that it actually was effortless. That's why so many folks think writing is an "idle" way to spend time. Ultimately, this depresses the speaker (and us too, honestly), and the end of the poem finds him pretty bummed out in general about the state of things, including the state of writing in a society that no longer treasures beautiful old books. Sad.

    Questions About Literature and Writing

    1. Why is editing so important to the speaker? What imagery does he use when discussing the writing of a line?
    2. What makes poetry less useless than laboring, at least in the speaker's mind?
    3. Why is the memorization and quoting of "beautiful books" so important to the speaker? What does he think is happening to this practice? Do you agree with his take?

    Chew on This

    The speaker thinks that poetry isn't good unless it 1) takes a lot of work to compose and 2) appears effortless. That's just too narrow a view to account for all the good poetry that's floating out there in the world.

    Poetry is a not a tool, it's an escape from a world obsessed with effort and profit. Trying to compare it to other avenues of "work" is just plain wrong.

  • Time

    Time has a wearying effect in "Adam's Curse." As the speaker considers the state of romance, writing, and beauty in society, he is reminded of his own love life and how it has, because of the passage of time, not worked out the way he probably intended. In fact, he says that the passage of time has worn out his heart, the same way the sea wears down a seashell. Smooth heart? Now that sounds painful. It's safe to say he doesn't have the most positive feelings about what time does to us.

    Questions About Time

    1. How does time operate in the poem? What does it do to objects and people?
    2. What has changed over time, and what effect does time's passing have on the speaker?
    3. Super-deep question: Is time the enemy of love? How would the speaker answer that question?

    Chew on This

    The speaker is nostalgic (or just grumpy) for the way things used to be. He's unable to cope with the passage of time, which seems to have done a number on him.

    The speaker is confusing time passing with romantic rejection. It's not time's fault that you got shut down, buddy.

  • Love

    Ah, love. Though it starts out mildly enough, by the end of "Adam's Curse," the speaker seems pretty heartbroken. He's been reminded of the effects that time has on love, and how few even think "high love" is a worthwhile venture. What's more, the object of his love is there with him, and, well, it doesn't seem to have worked out so well. When the word "love" makes them all fall silent, the speaker contemplates how he felt about this woman, and how their love didn't work out the way he wanted—bummer.

    Questions About Love

    1. In the poem, is love an art or a feeling? Is it both? How?
    2. How does the speaker relate poetry to love?
    3. How does the speaker relate love and beauty? Does one incite the other?

    Chew on This

    The speaker thinks that chivalry, the old "high way of love," is dead. Worse, he has no hope for its return.

    Excuse much? The speaker is confusing his desire for the old ways of love with his inability to cope with the passage of time.