NABOKV-L post 0019520, Fri, 26 Feb 2010 10:39:22 +1300

Re: zesty skaters
“Retake . . . skaters” is a great find, Matt (and a great hide, Vlad).

Let’s look at these lines in context:

And suddenly a festive blaze was flung
Across five cedar trunks, snowpatches showed,
And a patrol car on our bumpy road
Came to a crunching stop. Retake, retake!

People have thought she tried to cross the lake
At Lochan Neck where zesty skaters crossed
490 From Exe to Wye on days of special frost.

What amplifies the word-reversals here are the echoes of the context of the first occurrence of “Retake”:

As to make chair and bed exactly stand
Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

Retake the falling snow: each drifting flake
Shapeless and slow, unsteady and opaque,
A dull dark white against the day’s pale white
And abstract larches in the neutral light.
And then the gradual and dual blue
As night unites the viewer and the view,
And in the morning, diamonds of frost
20 Express amazement: Whose spurred feet have crossed
From left to right the blank page of the road?
Reading from left to right in winter’s code:
A dot, an arrow pointing back; repeat:
Dot, arrow pointing back . . . A pheasant’s feet!
Torquated beauty, sublimated grouse,
Finding your China right behind my house.
Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose
Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes?

Again the snow seen outside from inside the house; again the word “Retake”; again the rhyme “frost”/”crossed”; and this leads straight into images of reversal, in the “Dot, arrow pointing back . . . A pheasant’s feet!” and the Holmes, “the fellow whose / Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes”: all now echoed in “Retake, retake . . . skaters.”
The echoes reverberate further when we think that it is Hazel who introduces the idea of reversed words explicitly into the poem (ll. 347-48), and who, via “grimpen,” not only brings in Sherlock Holmes (Grimpen Mire in The Hound of the Baskervilles, with another who drowns in a swamp) but also T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, with its central motif of “In my end is my beginning.”
Hazel drowns in Lake Omega, with its implication of the end of the Greek alphabet, and, given these numerous reversals, the hint of a possible reversal to Alpha, the beginning. “Zesty skaters crossed / From Exe to Wye” surely raises the possibility of a Z beyond. In some sense, Zembla, with the end of the Roman alphabet in its beginning, and vice versa?

Brian Boyd

On 25/02/2010, at 4:13 AM, Matthew Roth wrote:

We have, however, learned that Wilson's poem contributed something to "Pale Fire" (spider/redips, pot/top). Indeed, there are a number of amphisbaenic figures in the poem, even beyond those employed by Hazel. My favorite: how "Retake, retake" (487) turns round to become "skaters" in line 489. Almost as if JS is trying to rewind the scene.


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