swimming pools & sharks in Pale Fire & in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 01/14/2022 - 09:27

In Canto Four of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) lists swimming pools and sharks among the things he loathes:


Now I shall speak of evil as none has

Spoken before. I loathe such things as jazz;

The white-hosed moron torturing a black

Bull, rayed with red; abstractist bric-a-brac;

Primitivist folk-masks; progressive schools;

Music in supermarkets; swimming pools;

Brutes, bores, class-conscious Philistines, Freud, Marx,

Fake thinkers, puffed-up poets, frauds and sharks. (ll. 901-930)


In J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey Franny tells Zooey her spidery nightmare (cf. Hazel’s “Spider, redips” in Canto Two of Shade’s poem) about a swimming pool:


"Whew!" Franny said again, and put her hand on top of her head. Her hair, cut fashionably short, had survived sleep very well indeed. She wore it-most fortunately for the viewer- parted in the middle. "Oh, I had the most horrible dream," she said. She sat up a bit and, with one hand, closed the lapels of her dressing gown. It was a tailored tie-silk dressing gown, beige, with a pretty pattern of minute pink tea roses.

"Go ahead," Zooey said, dragging on his cigar. "I'll interpret for you."

She shuddered. "It was just horrible. So spidery. I've never had such a spidery nightmare in my entire life."

"Spiders, eh? That's very interesting. Very significant. I had a very interesting case in Zurich, some years back – a young person very much like yourself, as a matter of fact-"

"Be quiet a second, or I'll forget it," Franny said. She stared avidly into space, as nightmare-recallers do. There were half circles under her eyes, and other, subtler signs that mark an acutely troubled young girl, but nonetheless no one could have missed seeing that she was a first-class beauty. Her skin was lovely, and her features were delicate and most distinctive. Her eyes were very nearly the same quite astonishing shade of blue as Zooey's, but were set farther apart, as a sister's eyes no doubt should be-and they were not, so to speak, a day's work to look into, as Zooey's were. Some four years earlier at her graduation from boarding school, her brother Buddy had morbidly prophesied to himself, as she grinned at him from the graduates platform, that she would in all probability one day marry a man with a hacking cough. So there was that in her face, too. "Oh, God, I remember it now!" she said. "It was just hideous. I was at a swimming pool somewhere, and a whole bunch of people kept making me dive for a can of Medaglia d'Oro coffee that was on the bottom. Every time I'd come up, they'd make me go down again. I was crying, and I kept saying to everybody, 'You have your bathing suits on. Why don't you do a little diving, too?,' but they'd all just laugh and make these terribly snide little remarks, and down I'd go again." She gave another shudder. "These two girls that are in my dorm were there. Stephanie Logan, and a girl I hardly even know-somebody, as a matter of fact, I always felt terribly sorry for, because she had such an awful name. Sharmon Sherman. They both had a big oar, and they kept trying to hit me with it every time I'd surface." Franny put her hands over her eyes briefly. "Whew!" She shook her head. She reflected. "The only person that made any sense in the dream was Professor Tupper. I mean he was the only person that was there that I know really detests me."

"Detests you, eh? Very interesting." Zooey's cigar was in his mouth. He revolved it slowly between his fingers, like a dream-interpreter who isn't getting all the facts in the case. He "looked" very contented. "Why does he detest you?" he asked. "Without absolute frankness, you realize, my hands are-"

"He detests me because I'm in this crazy Religion seminar he conducts, and I can never bring myself to smile back at him when he's being charming and Oxfordish. He's on lend-lease or something from Oxford, and he's just a terribly sad old self-satisfied phony with wild and woolly white hair. I think he goes into the men's room and musses it up before he comes to class – I honestly do. He has no enthusiasm whatever for his subject. Ego, yes. Enthusiasm, no. Which would be all right – I mean it wouldn't be anything exactly strange – but he keeps dropping idiotic hints that he's a Realized Man himself and we should be pretty happy kids to have him in this country." Franny grimaced. "The only thing he does with any zing, when he isn't bragging, is correct somebody when they say something's Sanskrit when it's really Pali. He just knows I can't stand him! You should see the faces I make at him when he isn't looking."

"What was he doing at the pool?"

"That's exactly it! Nothing! Absolutely nothing! He was just standing around smiling and watching. He was the worst one there."

Zooey, looking at her through his cigar smoke, said dispassionately, "You look like hell. You know that?"


Describing Lucette’s suicide (Van's and Ada's half-sister jumps into the Atlantic from Admiral Tobakoff), Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions “Swim like hell from sharks, Tobakovich!” in Lucette’s stream of consciousness:


She drank a ‘Cossack pony’ of Klass vodka — hateful, vulgar, but potent stuff; had another; and was hardly able to down a third because her head had started to swim like hell. Swim like hell from sharks, Tobakovich!

She had no purse with her. She almost fell from her convex ridiculous seat as she fumbled in her shirt pocket for a stray bank note.

‘Beddydee,’ said Toby the barman with a fatherly smile, which she mistook for a leer. ‘Bedtime, miss,’ he repeated and patted her ungloved hand.

Lucette recoiled and forced herself to retort distinctly and haughtily:

‘Mr Veen, my cousin, will pay you tomorrow and bash your false teeth in.’

Six, seven — no, more than that, about ten steps up. Dix marches. Legs and arms. Dimanche. Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Tout le monde pue. Ma belle-mère avale son râtelier. Sa petite chienne, after too much exercise, gulps twice and quietly vomits, a pink pudding onto the picnic nappe. Après quoi she waddles off. These steps are something.

While dragging herself up she had to hang onto the rail. Her twisted progress was that of a cripple. Once on the open deck she felt the solid impact of the black night, and the mobility of the accidental home she was about to leave.

Although Lucette had never died before — no, dived before, Violet — from such a height, in such a disorder of shadows and snaking reflections, she went with hardly a splash through the wave that humped to welcome her. That perfect end was spoiled by her instinctively surfacing in an immediate sweep — instead of surrendering under water to her drugged lassitude as she had planned to do on her last night ashore if it ever did come to this. The silly girl had not rehearsed the technique of suicide as, say, free-fall parachutists do every day in the element of another chapter. Owing to the tumultuous swell and her not being sure which way to peer through the spray and the darkness and her own tentaclinging hair — t,a,c,l — she could not make out the lights of the liner, an easily imagined many-eyed bulk mightily receding in heartless triumph. Now I’ve lost my next note.

Got it.

The sky was also heartless and dark, and her body, her head, and particularly those damned thirsty trousers, felt clogged with Oceanus Nox, n,o,x. At every slap and splash of cold wild salt, she heaved with anise-flavored nausea and there was an increasing number, okay, or numbness, in her neck and arms. As she began losing track of herself, she thought it proper to inform a series of receding Lucettes — telling them to pass it on and on in a trick-crystal regression — that what death amounted to was only a more complete assortment of the infinite fractions of solitude.

She did not see her whole life flash before her as we all were afraid she might have done; the red rubber of a favorite doll remained safely decomposed among the myosotes of an unanalyzable brook; but she did see a few odds and ends as she swam like a dilettante Tobakoff in a circle of brief panic and merciful torpor. She saw a pair of new vair-furred bedroom slippers, which Brigitte had forgotten to pack; she saw Van wiping his mouth before answering, and then, still withholding the answer, throwing his napkin on the table as they both got up; and she saw a girl with long black hair quickly bend in passing to clap her hands over a dackel in a half-tom wreath.

A brilliantly illumined motorboat was launched from the — not-too-distant ship with Van and the swimming coach and the oilskin-hooded Toby among the would-be saviors; but by that time a lot of sea had rolled by and Lucette was too tired to wait. Then the night was filled with the rattle of an old but still strong helicopter. Its diligent beam could spot only the dark head of Van, who, having been propelled out of the boat when it shied from its own sudden shadow, kept bobbing and bawling the drowned girl’s name in the black, foam-veined, complicated waters. (3.5)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Dimanche etc.: Sunday. Lunch on the grass. Everybody stinks. My mother-in-law swallows her dentures. Her little bitch, etc. After which, etc. (see p.375, a painter’s diary Lucette has been reading).

Nox: Lat., at night.


There is an old-fashioned swimming pool on Admiral Tobakoff:


They met again in the afternoon.

To most of the Tobakoff’s first-class passengers the afternoon of June 4, 1901, in the Atlantic, on the meridian of Iceland and the latitude of Ardis, seemed little conducive to open air frolics: the fervor of its cobalt sky kept being cut by glacial gusts, and the wash of an old-fashioned swimming pool rhythmically flushed the green tiles, but Lucette was a hardy girl used to bracing winds no less than to the detestable sun. Spring in Fialta and a torrid May on Minataor, the famous artificial island, had given a nectarine hue to her limbs, which looked lacquered with it when wet, but re-evolved their natural bloom as the breeze dried her skin. With glowing cheekbones and that glint of copper showing from under her tight rubber cap on nape and forehead, she evoked the Helmeted Angel of the Yukonsk Ikon whose magic effect was said to change anemic blond maidens into konskie deti, freckled red-haired lads, children of the Sun Horse.

She returned after a brief swim to the sun terrace where Van lay and said:

‘You can’t imagine’ — (‘I can imagine anything,’ he insisted) — ‘you can imagine, okay, what oceans of lotions and streams of creams I am compelled to use — in the privacy of my balconies or in desolate sea caves — before I can exhibit myself to the elements. I always teeter on the tender border between sunburn and suntan — or between lobster and Obst as writes Herb, my beloved painter — I’m reading his diary published by his last duchess, it’s in three mixed languages and lovely, I’ll lend it to you. You see, darling, I’d consider myself a pied cheat if the small parts I conceal in public were not of the same color as those on show.’

‘You looked to me kind of sandy allover when you were inspected in 1892,’ said Van.

‘I’m a brand-new girl now,’ she whispered. ‘A happy new girl. Alone with you on an abandoned ship, with ten days at least till my next flow. I sent you a silly note to Kingston, just in case you didn’t turn up.’

They were now reclining on a poolside mat face to face, in symmetrical attitudes, he leaning his head on his right hand, she propped on her left elbow. The strap of her green breast-cups had slipped down her slender arm, disclosing drops and streaks of water at the base of one nipple. An abyss of a few inches separated the jersey he wore from her bare midriff, the black wool of his trunks from her soaked green pubic mask. The sun glazed her hipbone; a shadowed dip led to the five-year-old trace of an appendectomy. Her half-veiled gaze dwelt upon him with heavy, opaque greed, and she was right, they were really quite alone, he had possessed Marion Armborough behind her uncle’s back in much more complex circumstances, what with the motorboat jumping like a flying fish and his host keeping a shotgun near the steering wheel. Joylessly, he felt the stout snake of desire weightily unwind; grimly, he regretted not having exhausted the fiend in Villa Venus. He accepted the touch of her blind hand working its way up his thigh and cursed nature for having planted a gnarled tree bursting with vile sap within a man’s crotch. Suddenly Lucette drew away, exhaling a genteel ‘merde.’ Eden was full of people.

Two half-naked children in shrill glee came running toward the pool. A Negro nurse brandished their diminutive bras in angry pursuit. Out of the water a bald head emerged by spontaneous generation and snorted. The swimming coach appeared from the dressing room. Simultaneously, a tall splendid creature with trim ankles and repulsively fleshy thighs, stalked past the Veens, all but treading on Lucette’s emerald-studded cigarette case. Except for a golden ribbon and a bleached mane, her long, ripply, beige back was bare all the way down to the tops of her slowly and lusciously rolling buttocks, which divulged, in alternate motion, their nether bulges from under the lamé loincloth. Just before disappearing behind a rounded white corner, the Titianesque Titaness half-turned her brown face and greeted Van with a loud ‘hullo!’

Lucette wanted to know: kto siya pava? (who’s that stately dame?)

‘I thought she addressed you,’ answered Van, ‘I did not distinguish her face and do not remember that bottom,’

‘She gave you a big jungle smile,’ said Lucette, readjusting her green helmet, with touchingly graceful movements of her raised wings, and touchingly flashing the russet feathering of her armpits.

‘Come with me, hm?’ she suggested, rising from the mat.

He shook his head, looking up at her: ‘You rise,’ he said, ‘like Aurora.’

‘His first compliment,’ observed Lucette with a little cock of her head as if speaking to an invisible confidant.

He put on his tinted glasses and watched her stand on the diving board, her ribs framing the hollow of her intake as she prepared to ardis into the amber. He wondered, in a mental footnote that might come handy some day, if sunglasses or any other varieties of vision, which certainly twist our concept of ‘space,’ do not also influence our style of speech. The two well-formed lassies, the nurse, the prurient merman, the natatorium master, all looked on with Van.

‘Second compliment ready,’ he said as she returned to his side. ‘You’re a divine diver. I go in with a messy plop.’

‘But you swim faster,’ she complained, slipping off her shoulder straps and turning into a prone position; ‘Mezhdu prochim (by the way), is it true that a sailor in Tobakoff’s day was not taught to swim so he wouldn’t die a nervous wreck if the ship went down?’

‘A common sailor, perhaps,’ said Van. ‘When michman Tobakoff himself got shipwrecked off Gavaille, he swam around comfortably for hours, frightening away sharks with snatches of old songs and that sort of thing, until a fishing boat rescued him — one of those miracles that require a minimum of cooperation from all concerned, I imagine.’ (ibid.)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Obst: Germ., fruit.


Professor Tupper in Franny Glass’ nightmare brings to mind Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, with whom Van Veen fights a pistol duel near Kalugano (1.42). Proffesor Tupper is on lend-lease or something from Oxford. In his Commentary Kinbote mentions a visiting German lecturer from Oxford:


Pictures of the King had not infrequently appeared in America during the first months of the Zemblan Revolution. Every now and then some busybody on the campus with a retentive memory, or one of the clubwomen who were always after Shade and his eccentric friend, used to ask me with the inane meaningfulness adopted in such cases if anybody had told me how much I resembled that unfortunate monarch. I would counter with something on the lines of "all Chinese look alike" and change the subject. One day, however, in the lounge of the Faculty Club where I lolled surrounded by a number of my colleagues, I had to put up with a particularly embarrassing onset. A visiting German lecturer from Oxford kept exclaiming, aloud and under his breath, that the resemblance was "absolutely unheard of," and when I negligently observed that all bearded Zemblans resembled one another - and that, in fact, the name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya, but of Semblerland, a land of reflections, of "resemblers" - my tormentor said: "Ah, yes, but King Charles wore no beard, and yet it is his very face! I had [he added] the honor of being seated within a few yards of the royal box at a Sport Festival in Onhava which I visited with my wife, who is Swedish, in 1956. We have a photograph of him at home, and her sister knew very well the mother of one of his pages, an interesting woman. Don't you see [almost tugging at Shade's lapel] the astounding similarity of features - of the upper part of the face, and the eyes, yes, the eyes, and the nose bridge?"

"Nay, sir" [said Shade, refolding a leg and slightly rolling in his armchair as wont to do when about to deliver a pronouncement] "there is no resemblance at all. I have seen the King in newsreels, and there is no resemblance. Resemblances are the shadows of differences. Different people see different similarities and similar differences."

Good Netochka, who had been looking singularly uncomfortable during this exchange, remarked in his gentle voice how sad it was to think that such a "sympathetic ruler" had probably perished in prison.

A professor of physics now joined in. He was a so-called Pink, who believed in what so-called Pinks believe in (Progressive Education, the Integrity of anyone spying for Russia, Fall-outs occasioned solely by US-made bombs, the existence in the near past of a McCarthy Era, Soviet achievements including Dr. Zhivago, and so forth): "Your regrets are groundless" [said he]. "That sorry ruler is known to have escaped disguised as a nun; but whatever happens, or has happened to him, cannot interest the Zemblan people. History has denounced him, and that is his epitaph."

Shade: "True, sir. In due time history will have denounced everybody. The King may be dead, or he may be as much alive as you and Kinbote, but let us respect facts. I have it from him [pointing to me] that the widely circulated stuff about the nun is a vulgar pro-Extremist fabrication. The Extremists and their friends invented a lot of nonsense to conceal their discomfiture; but the truth is that the King walked out of the palace, and crossed the mountains, and left the country, not in the black garb of a pale spinster but dressed as an athlete in scarlet wool."

"Strange, strange," said the German visitor, who by some quirk of alderwood ancestry had been alone to catch the eerie note that had throbbed by and was gone.

Shade [smiling and massaging my knee]: "Kings do not die - they only disappear, eh, Charles?"

"Who said that?" asked sharply, as if coming out of a trance, the ignorant, and always suspicious, Head of the English Department.

"Take my own case," continued my dear friend ignoring Mr. H. "I have been said to resemble at least four people: Samuel Johnson; the lovingly reconstructed ancestor of man in the Exton Museum; and two local characters, one being the slapdash disheveled hag who ladles out the mash in the Levin Hall cafeteria."

"The third in the witch row," I precised quaintly, and everybody laughed.

"I would rather say," remarked Mr. Pardon - American History - "that she looks like Judge Goldsworth" ("One of us," interposed Shade inclining his head), "especially when he is real mad at the whole world after a good dinner."

"I hear," hastily began Netochka, "that the Goldsworths are having a wonderful time -"

"What a pity I cannot prove my point," muttered the tenacious German visitor. "If only there was a picture here. Couldn't there be somewhere -"

"Sure," said young Emerald and left his seat.

Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla" [sarcastically stressing the "Nova'"].

"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.

"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).

Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"

"Oxford, 1956," I replied.

"You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other day, talking to - what's his name - oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing his lips].

Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].

Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for 'tire': punoo."

Shade: "Why, Sir, I am afraid you have only punctured the difficulty" [laughing uproariously].

"Flatman," quipped I. "Yes," I went on, turning to Pardon, "I certainly do speak Russian. You see, it was the fashionable language par excellence, much more so than French, among the nobles of Zembla at least, and at its court. Today, of course, all this has changed. It is now the lower classes who are forcibly taught to speak Russian."

"Aren't we, too, trying to teach Russian in our schools?" said Pink.

In the meantime, at the other end of the room, young Emerald had been communing with the bookshelves. At this point he returned with the T-Z volume of an illustrated encyclopedia.

"Well, said he, "here he is, that king. But look, he is young and handsome" ("Oh, that won't do," wailed the German visitor). "Young, handsome, and wearing a fancy uniform," continued Emerald. "Quite the fancy pansy, in fact."

"And you," I said quietly, "are a foul-minded pup in a cheap green jacket."

"But what have I said?" the young instructor inquired of the company, spreading out his palms like a disciple in Leonardo's Last Supper.

"Now, now," said Shade. "I'm sure, Charles, our young friend never intended to insult your sovereign and namesake."

"He could not, even if he had wished," I observed placidly, turning it all into a joke.

Gerald Emerald extended his hand - which at the moment of writing still remains in that position. (note to Line 894)


Kinbote’s book on surnames was printed in Oxford. Logan (cf. Stephanie Logan in Franny Glass’ nightmare) is a Scottish name that comes from the Gaelic word “lagan” or “lag,” which means “hollow” (although the name itself means “little hollow”). It brings to mind Lochanhead (Lochan means in Scottish “small lake”), a place where Hazel Shade (the poet’s daughter) got off on the fatal night of her death:


"Are we quite sure she's acting right?" you asked.

"It's technically a blind date, of course.

Well, shall we try the preview of Remorse?"

And we allowed, in all tranquillity,

The famous film to spread its charmed marquee;

The famous face flowed in, fair and inane:

The parted lips, the swimming eyes, the grain

Of beauty on the cheek, odd gallicism,

And the soft form dissolving in the prism

Of corporate desire. "I think," she said,

"I'll get off here." "It's only Lochanhead."

"Yes, that's okay." Gripping the stang, she peered

At ghostly trees. Bus stopped. Bus disappeared. (ll. 448-460)


Describing his journey with Lucette on Admiral Tobakoff, Van mentions Mr and Mrs Dairs or Sardi (anagrams of Ardis):


She was not on the Promenade Deck where blanket-swathed old people were reading the number-one best seller Salzman and awaiting with borborygmic forebubbles the eleven o’clock bouillon. He betook himself to the Grill, where he reserved a table for two. He walked over to the bar and warmly greeted bald fat Toby who had served on the Queen Guinevere in 1889, and 1890, and 1891, when she was still unmarried and he a resentful fool. They could have eloped to Lopadusa as Mr and Mrs Dairs or Sardi! (3.5)


In Salinger's Franny and Zooey the narrator mentions Sardi's theatrical restaurant:


The Glasses' living room was about as unready to have its walls repainted as a room can be. Franny Glass lay asleep on the couch, with an afghan over her; the "wall-to-wall" carpet had been neither taken up nor folded in at the borders; and the furniture-seemingly, a small warehouse of it-was in its usual static-dynamic distribution. The room was not impressively large, even by Manhattan apartment-house standards, but its accumulated furnishings might have lent a snug appearance to a banquet hall in Valhalla. There was a Steinway grand piano (invariably kept open), three radios (a 1927 Freshman, a 1932 Stromberg-Carlson, and a 1941 R.G.A.), a twenty-one-inch-screen television set, four table-model phonographs (including a 1920 Victrola, with its speaker still mounted intact, topside), cigarette and magazine tables galore, a regulation-size ping-pong table (mercifully collapsed and stored behind the piano), four comfortable chairs, eight uncomfortable chairs, a twelve-gallon tropical-fish tank (filled to capacity, in every sense of the word, and illuminated by two forty-watt bulbs), a love seat, the couch Franny was occupying, two empty bird cages, a cherry-wood writing table, and an assortment of floor lamps, table lamps and "bridge" lamps that sprang up all over the congested inscape like sumac. A cordon of waist-high bookcases lined three walls, their shelves cram-jammed and literally sagging with books-children's books, textbooks, second-hand books, Book Club books, plus an even more heterogeneous overflow from less communal "annexes" of the apartment. ("Dracula" now stood next to "Elementary Pali," "The Boy Allies at the Somme" stood next to "Bolts of Melody," "The Scarab Murder Case" and "The Idiot" were together, "Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase" lay on top of "Fear and Trembling.") Even if a resolute and unusually stout-hearted team of painters had been able to deal with the bookcases, the walls themselves, directly behind them, might well have made any self-respecting artisan turn in his union card. From the top of the bookcases to within less than a foot of the ceiling, the plaster-a blistery Wedgwood blue, where visible-was almost completely covered with what may very loosely be called "hangings," meaning a collection of framed photographs, yellowing personal and Presidential correspondence, bronze and silver plaques, and sprawling miscellany of vaguely citational-looking documents and trophylike objects of various shapes and sizes, all attesting, one way or another, to the redoubtable fact that from 1927 through most of 1943 the network radio program called "It's a Wise Child" had very rarely gone on the air without one (and, more often, two) of the seven Glass children among its panelists. (Buddy Glass, who, at thirty-six, was the program's oldest living expanelist, not infrequently referred to the walls of his parents' apartment as being a kind of visual hymn to commerical American childhood and early puberty. He often expressed regret that his visits in from the country were so few and far between, and pointed out, usually at enormous length, how much luckier his brothers and sisters were, most of whom still lived in or around New York City.) The decoration scheme for the walls was, in fact, the brain child-with Mrs. Glass's unreserved spiritual sanction and everlastingly withheld formal consent-of Mr. Les Glass, the children's father, a former international vaudevillian and, no doubt, an inveterate and wistful admirer of the wall decor at Sardi's theatrical restaurant. Mr. Glass's perhaps most inspired coup as a decorator was manifest just behind and above the couch where young Franny Glass was now sleeping. There, in almost incestuously close juxtaposition, seven scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine clippings had been bracketed, at the bindings, directly into the plaster. Year after year, plainly, all seven scrapbooks stood ready to be perused or pored over by old close friends of the family and casual visitors alike, as well as, presumably, the odd part-time cleaning woman.


"A banquet hall in Valhalla" brings to mind "The Hally Vally" mentioned by Kinbote in his Foreword to Shade's poem:


Oh, there were many such incidents. In a skit performed by a group of drama students I was pictured as a pompous woman hater with a German accent, constantly quoting Housman and nibbling raw carrots; and a week before Shade's death, a certain ferocious lady at whose club I had refused to speak on the subject of "The Hally Vally" (as she put it, confusing Odin's Hall with the title of a Finnish epic), said to me in the middle of a grocery store, "You are a remarkably disagreeable person. I fail to see how John and Sybil can stand you," and, exasperated by my polite smile, she added: "What's more, you are insane." But let me not pursue the tabulation of nonsense. Whatever was thought, whatever was said, I had my full reward in John's friendship. This friendship was the more precious for its tenderness being intentionally concealed, especially when we were not alone, by that gruffness which stems from what can be termed the dignity of the heart. His whole being constituted a mask. John Shade's physical appearance was so little in keeping with the harmonies hiving in the man, that one felt inclined to dismiss it as a coarse disguise or passing fashion; for if the fashions of the Romantic Age subtilized a poet's manliness by baring his attractive neck, pruning his profile and reflecting a mountain lake in his oval gaze, present-day bards, owing perhaps to better opportunities of aging, look like gorillas or vultures. My sublime neighbor's face had something about it that might have appealed to the eye, had it been only leonine or only Iroquoian; but unfortunately, by combining the two it merely reminded one of a fleshy Hogarthian tippler of indeterminate sex. His misshapen body, that gray mop of abundant hair, the yellow nails of his pudgy fingers, the bags under his lusterless eyes, were only intelligible if regarded as the waste products eliminated from his intrinsic self by the same forces of perfection which purifed and chiseled his verse. He was his own cancellation.