NABOKV-L post 0017593, Thu, 15 Jan 2009 12:39:14 -0200

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[NABOKOV-L] [Verses and Versions] Fyodor Tyutchev
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Dear List,

Nabokov must have valued Fyodor Tyutchev's poetry more than one may surmise from the poet's biographical sketch VN wrote.
One poem in particular deserved three versions (but only two are acknowledged, in the Index, under the translated title "The Journey", although all three were selected for printing). It struck a familiar chord that led me to Borges and Umberto Eco.

Fyodor Tyutchev's poem ( written in 1830) describes a bleak neighborhood at dusk, when all the shadows merge into one and riders are sunk knee-deep in powdery sand.
The lines that interested me were (following VN's three versions):
(a) "Moody night peers like a hundred-eyed beast/ out of every bush in the wood" ( 1941-44);
(b) "Grim night like a beast with a hundred eyes/ peers out of the underwood" (41-44);
(c) "Grim night like a hundred-eyed beast/ looks out of every bush." (1951-57)

Umberto Eco, writing about artistic representation of distance, time and space, mentioned a technique which he relates to ancient texts that deal with the "sublime": the hard to define "hipotiposis." The zoomorphization of natural events also gives rise to several examples in this category. In one of them he describes Walt Disney's Snow-White's flight into a dark forest, while, in her terror, she feels the shadows merge and, from every bush, a hundred shining eyes that are watching her.

Nabokov, in his early novels, often resorts to the anthropomorfization and personification of inanimate things. This brings out an alarmingly, or amusingly observant world - and it often endows his style with a vertiginous cinematic quality.
In his translation of Tyutchev's verses there are emphatic substitutions (moody/grim; peers out/looks out; every bush in the wood/underwood/ every bush; beast with a hundred eyes/ a hundred-eyed beast), as if he were still striving after a special audio-visual volume.

J.L.Borges, in his lecture on metaphors, examines how shared images serve to express different moods. When he departs from metaphors that associate "eyes" and "stars", he mentions a poem, which he supposes was authored by Plato himself :
"I would like to be the night because I would then be able to shield your sleep with a thousand eyes."
His second example offers a common image: " Stars are watching us from on-high".
The third comes from Chesterton's "A second childhood":
"But I shall not grow too old to see enormous night arise,/A cloud that is larger than the world/And a monster made of eyes."
According to Borges, in the first instance the poet is expressing protective tenderness, in the second, we encounter the divine indiference towards human worries. In the third, a once familiar night is turned into a nightmare.
Tyutchev's night is similarly haunting. There is no reference in it to stars nor skies. Darkness lies low like a multi-eyed beast that is ready to jump on a prey. There is a metaphor indicating a kind of opposite operation, found in G.M. Hopkins' poem "As dragonflies draw fire" ( it is the godhead that shines through a thousand eyes and in the "features of man's faces")




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PS: In another posting [ why gentlement prefer blondes], while describing the gibbous moon on the wane I could see (whereas Paris remained unreachable), I was referring to what are currently called "blonde jokes".

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