NABOKV-L post 0015726, Thu, 29 Nov 2007 16:09:29 -0500

Re: Brian Boyd on Apples in PF

It never seemed to me unusual for Shade, a poet who intends to record some
retrospection, to begin first with a glance at his present surroundings.
Especially since his present surroundings include as unimprovable a metaphor
as the man's picture window which holds such potent delusions in its
sun-glazed face. So, in his own home, where he has lived his whole life,
Shade finds a thought even more apposite than the fountain-to-mountain
misprint he had so excitedly researched years ago.

It¹s been suggested that the PF poem begins shortly after the death of
Shade's ornithologist parents. My feeling is that Shade materially "begins"
his poem, puts pencil to index card -- at exactly the moment he is currently
living, a time of life when (as a lifelong thanatophile would be
super-aware) the Reaper is at last taking some serious warm-up swings at his
head. This generally impending mortality -- where ³old² uncomfortably but
indisputably has more than a nodding acquaintance with "end" -- motivates
Shade to commence a long poem to be called Pale Fire.

The primary image, the metaphor for so much that the old scholar and poet
has learned and and observed, is the cedar waxwing dead beneath the living
room picture window. Shade has presumably seen this all his life, since he
has lived here all his life. But only seems to perceive it clearly in
advanced age (time enough to have put tape or shiny strings or whatever on
the picture window ... but aviarian disaster is short and life is long).

It's probably unnecessary to mention that there was just such a picture
window, with which cedar waxwings had fatal collisions, in the house where
VN and Vera lived at a time when VN may have been cogitating Pale Fire.

Reflections and delusional images from New Wye to the mirror ateliers of
Sudarg of Bokay (to ... Onhava? ... wherever Charles Xavier¹s father, in
wonderfully waxwing fashion, flew into the freshly complete,
perversely-timed new erection) all reassert the idea of the delusional
permutation of worlds in reflective surfaces. Reflections are to PF what
reoccurrence was to Pnin.

There are no true reflections. None of us really looks like what the mirror
shows us, since we give to a mirror an expression of face we don¹t give to
actual people. There are artistically achieved reflections, sometimes in the
pages of mad men, and there are distorting reflections against which
(possibly juniper-impaired) waxwings can collide with what looks like
endlessly perfect flying weather. And, for all we know, eternally perfect
flying weather into the azure sublime, is what may be reserved for CWWs who
at last fly free of the ovoid form into Waxwing Nirvana. As VN wrote, the
bodiless time might seem as incredible to us as the earth span would seem to
our unborn self had we the opportunity to review it before committing to any
extended stay. Well, VN didn¹t put it exactly that way, but you know that.

I¹m grateful to Jansy for a forehead-smacking insight that made me realize
I¹ll have to seriously reread the novel Pale Fire. I missed the significance
of its being an APPLE on that plate. Slapdash reality may be nothing but a
concatenation of accidents but great literary artists still have to avoid as
many as possible in making imaginary reality. There are some mistakes in
VN's work, as Boyd describes in his essay "Even Homais Nods.² But it¹s no
accident that we later learn how greatly Shade dislikes attacking the
fortress of an apple, whereas vegetarian Kinbote knows no fruit he cannot
love. As a youthful reader it seemed to me that the poem Pale Fire was
written by a man who, in 1959, was old, but that the book Pale Fire was the
work of an artist who would never stop being young.

Andrew Brown

On 11/27/07 3:55 PM, "NABOKV-L" <NABOKV-L@HOLYCROSS.EDU> wrote:

> Many thanks to Brian Boyd for his wonderful close reading of Shade's opening
> lines. What Brian's analysis highlights is how poets--perhaps especially
> formal poets--are often led forward by sound as much as by ideas. Nabokov,
> like Auden and a few others, is witty enough to conform the sound of his poems
> to his ideas, but we fail the poem and the author when we too easily move past
> the texture of the language itself in order to think about meaning.
> As for whether or not the opening lines point to Shade's childhood, I tend to
> side with Sam Gwynn on this, though I have a hard time saying what part of his
> childhood. There is certainly a "then vs. now" theme that runs through the
> first Canto, and the past tense in the opening stanza puts these lines in the
> former category. But I suppose the "then" in this case could point to a more
> recent moment. Still, the exact moment when Shade felt himself to be the
> shadow of the waxwing slain is unclear. Some possibilities: he is reacting to
> the death of his parents; he is reacting to Hazel's suicide; he is referring
> to a change that occured in him as a result of his childhood (or adult) fits.
> Matt Roth
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