Re: Brown Study
This is a continuation of an idea I proposed in a comment on in Alain Champlain’s post, “Tea With Ancestors.” Since it is rather long, I don’t wish to hijack Alain’s insightful take on Shade’s poem lines 365-366 (Submitted by Alain Champlain on Sun, 10/20/2019 - 16:22)
[...] and you would be
In your own study, twice removed from me,”
And my alternate (not at all exclusive) interpretation:
The word "you" is in "your." And, if "you" would be "b", then line 366 would read "In brown study, twice removed from me." "Brown study" means in deeply absorbed thought, as in shutting out the rest of the world. Therefore "twice removed" not only physically, but mentally. I believe this kind of word-play, where the solution is contained within the sentence is called a Cryptic Crossword (?)
“Brown study” made me think of the lines 964-66 of Shade’s poem:
[…] The brain is drained
And a brown ament, and the noun I meant
To use but did not, dry on the cement
The definition of “ament” is “catkin,” but it is also a person who is out of their mind:
Just as a person is out of one’s usual mind in a trance-like “brown study”, an “ament” is a person out of their mind. This sets up the dichotomy of interpretation for John Shade’s swoons – is he crazy or in a rapt mystical state?
I searched the Nabokov Listserve and found that Jansy Mello mentioned this in 2006:
I'm certain that Nabokov must have had, at least at the back of his mind, the word "ament" as related to the existing pathology: "a-mentia" ( the particle "a" indicates "absence" and "ment" refers to "mind" ). The sentence speaks of "drained brain and brown ament".
Still, "ament", as it is used in this verse, literally means "catkin" ( bisexual "Botkins" lurking somewhere, too?) but they also slide towards the netherlands ( not Holland, certainly) as ' "Amentet" ( or "Ament"), patron of the gates of the underworld, a woman dressed in the robes of a queen": Here Ament is the consort of Aken and she greets the souls of the newly dead, offering them bread and water. Just like our poet, newly dead some thirty lines later...
So much for Shade's "fantastically planned/ Richly rhymed life"!
Wikipedia informs: Catkins, or aments, are slim, cylindrical flower clusters, wind-pollintated and without petals, that can be found in many plant families.They contain unisexual flowers. Often one plant has only male catkins, while another has female, but it is also possible for a plant to contain both male and female catkins. Oak, birch, willow, alder and poplar are catkin-bearing.
Here is more from Wikipedia that I think is of interest:
>So, the hazel tree has long strings of male catkins, but the female flowers are single. This description seems reflected in Kinbote’s promiscuous male sexuality and Hazel’s de facto celibacy. In Zembla “Catkin Week” is celebrated; is that to honor the male genitalia?
>Kinbote says that he resembles Hazel in some ways. The way he resembles her is as a mirror reflection, a primary motif of PF.
>The hermaphrodite is an image used in alchemy to denote the combination of the male and female elements. Alchemy allusions are found throughout PF
>The trees mentioned in Wikipedia are all mentioned in the description of New Wye’s Shakespeare avenue. These particular trees all have associations with death and the occult, another major motif.
>Insanity vs. mysticism if perhaps the main theme of PF.
It is amazing where investigations of VN’s work can go! This would seem to substantiate the “brown study” cryptic puzzle. Shade’s brain is drained; he can’t even remember what noun he was searching while in this absent state. The brown catkin otherwise stands out as rather an irrelevant phrase, except as a clever pun on “brown/noun ament/cement.”