Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015498, Tue, 25 Sep 2007 13:14:49 -0400

Re: THOUGHTS: stillicide
Funny that this stillicide conversation should arise again at the same time
I am teaching Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight" to my Intro to Poetry classes.
That coincidence drew me to the final passage:

whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or whether the secret ministry of cold
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet moon--
Like those, my babe, which, ere tomorrow's warmth
Have capped their sharp keen points with pendulous drops,
Will catch thy little soul, then make thee shout
And stretch and flutter from thy mother's arms
As thou wouldst fly for very eagerness.

eave-drops] Kinbote glosses stillicide as "eavesdrop."
icicles] the frozen stillicide
shining to the quiet moon] a mirror image, the icicles stealing (and giving
back) the pale fire of the moon

I think "Pale Fire" continues and perhaps even (via this passage)
acknowledges a tradition of father-to-sleeping/dead-daughter poems that runs
through Ben Jonson's "On My First Daughter," Coleridge's "Frost at
Midnight," and Yeats's "A Prayer For My Daughter." (Weldon Kees's wonderful,
horrifying sonnet "For My Daughter" also plays with this tradition, but I
doubt VN knew that poem). That's not to say that Coleridge's unstated
stillicides replace Hardy's stated ones, just that there may be a secondary
resonance here--just as "pale fire" finds a secondary association in

Matt Roth

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