Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026464, Mon, 21 Sep 2015 12:10:35 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] Lines 1000-1001 ( John Shade's in Pale Fire )

Alexey Sklyarenko: On second thought, the lines 1000-1001 of Shade's poem
must be:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By its own double in the window pane.

Dvoynik ("The Double," 1848) is a short novel by Dostoevski and a poem
(1909) by Blok from the cycle Strashnyi mir ("The Terrible World," 1907-16)
[snip]. Shade, Kinbote and Gradus seem to represent three different aspects
of V. Botkin, the American scholar of Russian descent whose name hints at
Hamlet's "bare bodkin." Yakob Gradus (Shade's murderer) is a namesake of
Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, the main character in Dostoevski's Dvoynik. At
the beginning of his story Ka (1915) Khlebnikov (the author of a poem about
waxwings) says that Ka is ten' dushi, eyo dvoynik (the soul's shadow, her

Jansy Mello: I enjoyed very much Sklyarenko's poetic vision and his
literary associations to Shade's last lines. Beautiful!

They made me ponder about the bird itself and if, like it happens with
mammals, the reflection of their bodies is soon ignored and ceases to be a
visual stimulus. In this instance the animal would only react to a false
promise of an azure space in a reflected sky . However, Shade soul's shadow
might have perceived scenes differently and then he'd have been fatally
attracted by his specular image rising towards him, to suffer a fate similar
to Narcissus, who drowned while trying to embrace his reflection.

The theme of Narcissus is no stranger to VN. I remember it particularly in
RLSK* and in Despair and their different rendering of the original legend -
although in both there's a "smashing" that produces prismatic deflections
and different visions and distortions...


"But as I look at the portrait Roy Carswell painted I seem to see a slight
twinkle in Sebastian's eyes [ ] These eyes and the face itself are
painted in such a manner as to convey the impression that they are mirrored
Narcissus-like in clear water - with a very slight ripple on the hollow
cheek, owing to the presence of a water-spider which has just stopped and is
floating backward. A withered leaf has settled on the reflected brow, which
is creased as that of a man peering intently. The crumpled dark hair over it
is partly suffused by another ripple, but one strand on the temple has
caught a glint of humid sunshine. There is a deep furrow between the
straight eyebrows, and another down from the nose to the tightly shut dusky
lips. There is nothing much more than this head. A dark opalescent shade
clouds the neck, as if the upper part of the body were receding. The general
background is a mysterious blueness with a delicate trellis of twigs in one
corner. Thus Sebastian peers into a pool at himself.
'I wanted to hint at a woman somewhere behind him or over him - the
shadow of a hand, perhaps... something.... But then I was afraid of
story-telling instead of painting.' [ ]
'She smashed his life, that sums her up, doesn't it?'
'No, I want to know more. I want to know all. Otherwise he will remain
as incomplete as your picture. Oh, it is very good, the likeness is
excellent, and I love that floating spider immensely. Especially its
club-footed shadow at the bottom. But the face is only a chance reflection.
Any man can look into water.'

'But don't you think that he did it particularly well?'

'Yes, I can see your point. But all the same I must find that woman. She is
the missing link in his evolution, and I must obtain her - it's a scientific

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