[NABOKV-L] Nabokov, Terza Rima and Shade
Jansy <>
Sat, 18 Feb 2012 00:18:01 -0200

R.S.Gwynn [ to JM's post on Nabokov's entomologic epiphanies] - I've always wondered about Frost's "one luminary clock against the sky" in "Acquainted with the Night," and wondered about VN's own clock, obviously heard when he was in residence in Cambridge 20 or so years later than RF. I can''t imagine that VN would have disliked the RF poem.

JM: Robert Frost's 'Acquainted With The Night,' "is written in strict iambic pentameter, with 14 lines like a sonnet, and with a terza rima rhyme scheme [  ] Because of its difficulty in English, very few American writers have attempted to write in the form [...] Some of the poets who used terza rima rhyme patterns in English were G.Chaucer, Percy B.Shelley, Robert Browning and Thomas Hardy. Among the 20th-century poets we find Archibald MacLeish, W. H. Auden, Andrew Cannon, William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, Derek Walcott, Clark Ashton Smith, James Merrill, Robert Frost and Richard Wilbur (still according to several wikipedia entries).
As I see it there's a striking link between Frost's poem and John Shade's Pale Fire, through Thomas Hardy and Charles Kinbote.
Shade's lines about "the svelte/ Stilettos of a frozen stillicide,"* indicate  Thomas Hardy's "Friend Beyond'  and here's what Kinbote reveals about lines 34-35:"How persistently our poet evokes images of winter in the beginning of a poem which he started composing on a balmy summer night!...but the prompter behind it retains his incognito...In the lovely line heading this comment the reader should note the last word. My dictionary defines it as "a succession of drops falling from the eaves, eavesdrop, cavesdrop." I remember having encountered it for the first time in a poem by Thomas Hardy. The bright frost has eternalized the bright eavesdrop,"  thereby linking the two poets (Hardy and Frost) Although Kinbote names Hardy (so he is not the incognito prompter) it seems that the reference to "frost" (where  I underlined Kinbote's notes) is as subdued as it is full of praise to his achievement.** 
* Brian Boyd in "Nabokov's Pale Fire, the Magic of Artistic Discovery" (notes  to pages  213-224) mentions that  "Shade and Nabokov, so sensitive to rhymes, may draw attention to the rhyme-word here in tribute to Hardy's poem, where "stillicide" is also a rhyme-word and where the whole poem is in the difficult terza rima, in appropriate homage to the form Dante used in the Divine Comedy." 
** -According to  Paul D. Morris in "Vladimir Nabokov, Poetry and the Lyric Voice" "Nabokov's preference for iambic meters is revealed to have been shared with his fellow émigré poets [...] On the few occasions when Nabokov departed from exactitude in rhyme, he did so in the achievement of specific effects. With regard to the stanza, Nabokov is demonstrated to have been an exceptionally stanzaic poet with a marked preference for the rhyming AbAb quatrain, although other categories from couplets to terza rima were also employed"
Google Search the archive Contact the Editors Visit "Nabokov Online Journal" Visit Zembla View Nabokv-L Policies Manage subscription options Visit AdaOnline View NSJ Ada Annotations Temporary L-Soft Search the archive

All private editorial communications are read by both co-editors.