NABOKV-L post 0014517, Thu, 28 Dec 2006 11:46:09 -0500

Optics and windows in PF (JF to CHW, CK, and MR)
--- Chaswe@AOL.COM wrote:

> In a message dated 26/12/2006 17:26:51 GMT Standard Time,
> jansy@AETERN.US
> writes:
>> Nice photographs!

I agree completely.

> Thanks for the comment, Jansy. I was extremely mystified by this
> which was unique in my experience, but I now understand that for such
> Shackleton visions of this kind were an almost everyday occurrence,
> as DN has stressed, for mountaineers as well.

I don't think that's what Shackleton saw on a daily basis,
though ice-crystal optical phenomena (parhelia, halos, arcs, etc.)
are apparently common in the Antarctic. Since I learned about
the Brocken specter and its glory, I've looked for it every time
I've been in an airplane under suitable conditions, but I've never
seen it.

I thought I'd seen impressive rainbows, but they don't compete
with what Matt and Jansy describe. On the day I handed in my
dissertation, though, I saw a halo around the sun with both
the upper tangential arc and the circumzenithal arc, a bit off
kilter to each other.

Matt, why are you referring to all of these atmospheric
optical phenomena as parhelia? The Merriam-Webster Collegiate
and the American Heritage dictionaries both say a parhelion
is only a bright spot level with the sun ("on the parhelic
circle"). This is actually relevant to a tiny detail in
/Pale Fire/. If the dictionaries I used are right, then
Kinbote makes one of his mistakes in natural history in
subsuming Shade's "iridule" under "parhelia"--or Shade is
wrong and Kinbote is right, as I don't think a cloud can
reflect an image of anything. But if you're right, then
both Shade and Kinbote can be right.

In addition to the Web site you linked to, an excellent
source on these matters (and many others of some Nabokovian
relevance, such as colored shadows) is Marcel Minnaert's
book, /The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air/.
I need to get myself the new edition (or new translation),
/Light and Color in the Outdoors/.

Charles again:
> I still find it difficult to visualize exactly what Shade is
> in the opening lines of his Pale Fire.

In the first lines, which you may not have meant but Carolyn
discussed, I think young John identified with the waxwing and
the shadow paralleling it on the ground--and still with both
as the waxwing died but the shadow lived on in his imagination
(and elsewhere?). If you see two things moving together but
are looking at only one (the bird) at the moment when both
stop, I think you could easily have the illusion that the
other (the shadow) was still moving.

I don't think the poem says the shadow is inside the house,
though it might make the image more striking. That would happen
any time the light was slanted even a little toward the inside--
for instance, if the window faced west, the shadow would be inside
for at least a brief time before the collision provided the sun
was almost anywhere in the western half of the sky.

> Presumably, "from the inside", the shadows
> of the room's furniture (bed as well as chair? --- from where
> is
> the light source coming?) are being projected out on the lawn,
> Or is
> it that the interior of the room is being reflected on the inside of
> windowpane, but by letting his eye pass through the glass, the man who
> is looking
> upon it can simultaneously see the lawn outside, sometimes covered
> snow?

That's how I read it. Reflections, not shadows. The light source
doesn't matter, as long as it's inside the room.

Jerry Friedman

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