Keats's Ode in Ada

Submitted by Shakeeb_Arzoo on Sat, 07/27/2019 - 02:16

Another cursory thing came up while doing other things. There are more than enough allusions in the rich tapestry of Ada for me to add one more, but something in the following passage just clicks instantly. Brian Boyd annotates it as follows:

Chap 22: 139.30-32: the last resort of nature . . . (when flowers and flies mime one another): That is, when flowers and flies end their brief summer existence; hint also at natural mimicry (cf. 99.11-101.20 and nn.) as well as alliteration? Ardeur 119: "quand la feuille et le phalène s’imitent" ("when leaf and moth mime one another").

The alliteration that comes before this: "had not summer,which had appeared in prospect as a boundless flow of green glory and freedom, begun to hint hazily at possible failings and fadings, at the fatigue of its fugue."

Partly, because of the summer and the juxtaposition of flowers and flies, one is inevitably reminded of the exquisite lines from Keats's Nightingale Ode:

"Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves."  (Stanza V lns. 47-50)

My Norton Critical edition tells me that the flowers catalogued in that stanza of the ode refers back to Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream (Act II Scene 1) as well as to Milton's Lycidas where the passages in question are:

"I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine" (Shakespeare)

"The glowing violet,
The musk-rose, and the well attir'd woodbine," (Milton)

Another allusion to a Keatsian ode that is noted down at comes from:

Chap 8: 50.11-16: He threw the cone at a woman of marble bending over a stamnos but only managed to frighten a bird that had perched on the brim of her broken jar. “There is nothing more banal in the world,” said Ada, “than pitching stones at a hawfinch.”

which Brian Boyd explains as:

Note the “marble fore-image,” the “everlasting draught of marble water,” and the “jar” or stamnos: we are suddenly directed to Keats’s great odes, “To a Nightingale” and the stopped time, the marmoreal memorial of “On a Grecian Urn.”

That's all folks!

I think VN was also referring to the artist William-Adophe Bougerearu's painting "La Cruche Casse" (The Broken Pitcher) which features a young girl who has been deflowered next to a broken pitcher, symbolic of her rape.


Hence, the pun on "pitcher/pitching" and suggestive of Van & Ada's first sexual encounter (with the link to 14 year old Van). From Brian Boyd's 

 50.16: pitching stones at a hawfinch: The “pitching” here later connects with the “daughter with pitcher” (320.14-15) in the Crimean scene linked with this moment via Van’s comment on Kim’s photograph (“greeting his fourteen-year-old self, shirtless, in shorts, aiming a conical missile at the marble-fore-image of a Crimean girl doomed to offer an everlasting draught of marble water to a dying marine from her bullet-chipped jar,” 399.24-27). Cf. Boyd 1985/2001: 170-71 and Afternote below.

Thanks Mary, for quoting the full thing from Boyd's Ada Online. I was really interested in the possible Keatsian echo. To my ears it is there, but the universality of that would be better judged by others. Or whether Nabokov had that in mind consciously or unconsciously. We need a Helen Vendler among the Nabokovians! ;)

Shakeeb, didn't mean to deflect from your point. Just saw something additional in there and it seemed to fit with the pubescent sexual awakening theme. Nabokov seems to layer on meanings. Taking on Ada has been too much for me - just one reading - so I don't know if Keats fits in to larger themes.

As Brian Boyd would say, you are hardly the first Nabokovian to balk at Ada. See this interesting post by an experienced reader, describing his trysts with Ada over the years. .

Thanks, Shakeeb, I had read and appreciated and identified with Samuel Reifler's post previously. One of these days I may attempt Ada again, with the help of Brian's site, but I haven't reached the bottom of Pale Fire's rabbit whole yet.