Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0020017, Wed, 12 May 2010 09:26:27 -0400

Re: THOUGHTS: the need for climax in Canto 4
Jerry wrote:
"He [Shade] would have liked some kind of certainty, but what he found instead was a faint hope, described as such in a very deliberate anticlimax."

The overall thrust of Shade's poem--its concerns regarding the afterlife, the ecstatic moment of clarity, and the doubtful, though serene denouement--reminds me of Stevens' "Sunday Morning." Shade's objection to forgetting the small joys and sorrows of life sounds similar to Stevens' view of a sterile afterlife that can't admit decay or a satisfying, human range of emotions.

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?

Jerry mentioned Shade's "deliberate anticlimax," and I agree that this is Shade's intent. The equivalence of all the particles making up the world is a nice way of thinking about it. (Btw, if you like this idea, go read the contemporary American poet Albert Goldbarth, who treats this same image variously in many of his poems.) Stevens does something similar in the final stanza of "Sunday Morning," but unlike Shade he manages to communicate that settling feeling without descending into utter artlessness. In the previous stanza he has imagined his supreme fiction, an anti-deity men worship "Not as a god, but as a god might be." But the final stanza brings us back to the reality of the old Christian doubts concerning meaning, beauty, and eternal design.

We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.'
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

Like Shade, the speaker here wants to see some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind of art in the arrangement of things, but all he can maintain is a faint hope. Yet Stevens' artful ending affirms the power of human design (the poem itself) even as it expresses doubts about the eternal. Shade, on the other hand, is more optimistic about eternal design while his own art seems to be descending in ambiguous undulations, unsponsored and casual as Stevens' pigeons (or the Red Admirable).


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