Re: [NABOKOV-L] Housman: amphisbaenia and gillette in Pale Fire
Probably no relation to "ancient Gilette", but James Joyce had an art historian friend by the name of Louis Gillet.
Date: Mon, 22 Feb 2010 18:18:36 -0300
Subject: [NABOKV-L] [NABOKOV-L] Housman: amphisbaenia and gillette in Pale Fire
More on Housman, aesthetic bliss, Shade and "ancient gillette"*
John Shade: "Now I shall speak... Better than any soap / Is the sensation for which poets hope/ When inspiration and its icy blaze,/ The sudden image, the immediate phrase/ Over the skin a triple ripple send/ 920 Making the little hairs all stand on end..."
Charles Kinbote note to line 920: Alfred Housman (1859-1936), whose collection The Shropshire Lad ...says somewhere (in a foreword?) exactly the opposite: The bristling of thrilled little hairs obstructed his barbering; but since both Alfreds [Tennyson] certainly used an Ordinary Razor, and John Shade an ancient Gillette, the discrepancy may have been due to the use of different instruments.**
Frank Kermode (Nothing for Ever and Ever) "...the Leslie Stephen Lecture ‘On the Name and Nature of Poetry’, which he [Housman, aged 74] gave in 1933. The lecture was a huge success...and what everybody remembers best are the passages about the emotional aspects of poetry. Housman included a number of surprisingly personal comments on this topic. Milton’s ‘Nymphs and shepherds, dance no more’, he said, can ‘draw tears . . . to the eyes of more readers than one’. And tears are only one symptom. A line of poetry can make his beard bristle as he shaves, or cause a shiver down his spine, or ‘a constriction of the throat’ as well as ‘a precipitation of water to the eyes’. For so reticent a man it was a surprising performance. It possibly upset his health, and he came to regard the date of the lecture, May 1933, as an ominous moment in his life...(‘that infernal lecture’, he now called it)...A month before his death in April 1936 he described himself as an ‘egoistic hedonist’, adding that while George Eliot said she was a meliorist, he was a pejorist. And ‘pejorist hedonist’, with its English blend of Latin and Greek, fits him well enough."
JM: One little tidbit. Housman's reference to "bisexuality" (through the image of the "amphisbaenia," a serpent with two heads, or tails, at each end) and its mechanical resolution (by halving it) is mentioned by Kinbote, albeit indirectly.
The direct link is to the Leslie Stephen Lecture ( and its title also resonates with Shade's compositional poetic bath-tub reveries).
The secondary, hypothetical one lies in his inclusion of the "old fashioned gillette." The unsafe and ancient "gillette" ( razor blade) has two opposing cutting-edges. In Brazilian slang the "gillette" indicates a bisexual because, like the blade, he "can cut from both sides."
Not to give up my point qua Alexander Pope, entirely, I underlined the variant lines by CK mentioning "a genius with a foreign name to make...any jackass can rig up the stuff..." in the understanding that a jackass is a dunce, hence....
* Please, check the archives for a discussion about gillette, Housman and Shade. I remember this theme has been discussed before.
** CK writes on: "After this line, instead of lines 923-930, we find the following, lightly deleted, variant: All artists have been born in what they call/A sorry age; mine is the worst of all:/.../A genius with a foreign name to make,/ When any jackass can rig up the stuff;/An age in which a pack of rogues can bluff/The selenographer; a comic age... [...] Having struck this out, the poet tried another theme, but these lines he also canceled: England where poets flew the highest, now/Wants them to plod and Pegasus to plough... ( the theme of Housman's complaint related to the emotional aspects of poetry...)
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