Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015970, Mon, 11 Feb 2008 14:18:10 -0500

THOUGHTS: More on Shelley
Dear list,

A few days ago I advanced a guess that VN may have found Shelley's "sunset fire" and "Hesperus" in Yeats's essay "The Philosophy of Shelley's Poetry," in a section subtitled "His Ruling Symbols." This leap becomes less daunting when we consider Kinbote's note to line 172, in which we find Shade's comments about his grading practices. Shade gives three examples of the kind of comments he cannot forgive: the student who finds vague symbols everywhere, the student who say that Shelley is "simple and good," and the one who says Yeats is "always sincere." It seems to me that this constellation of symbolism, Shelley, and Yeats may indeed point us directly to what Yeats had to say about Shelley's symbols, no?

Having read Yeats's essay more closely now, I was also struck by his attention to the importance of fountains in Shelley's work, which could certainly be seen as relating to John Shade's vision. I also found a few other possible associations, as follow:

1. In lines 221-230, Shade bemoans our inability to see the hereafter as anything but a sham copy of life on Earth. In doing so, he could be seen as responding to this same lack of imagination as expressed in Shelley (quoted in the Yeats):

In this life
Of error, ignorance and strife,
Where nothing is, but all things seem,
And we the shadows of the dream,

It is a modest creed, and yet
Pleasant, if one considers it,
To own that death itself must be,
Like all the rest, a mockery.

That garden sweet, that lady fair,
And all sweet shapes and odours there,
In truth have never past away;
’Tis we, ’tis ours, are changed, not they.
2. Shelley's "Adonais," mentioned by VN in his EO commentary, also contains a few passages that seem to resonate with elements of Shade's poems. I have already noted Shelley's "The desire of the moth for the star" and Shade's "Shelley's incandescent soul / Lures the pale moths of starless nights." But I also should add these lines from "Adonais":

And many more whose names on Earth are dark
But whose transmitted effluence cannot die
So long as fire outlives the parent spark
Rose, rob'd in dazzling immortality.
Is this not a similar metaphor and sentiment to what we find in "The Nature of Electricity"? I realize that the fountain as a marker of immortality is rather banal and doesn't originate with Shelley, but we might also notice this from "Adonais":

He wakes or sleeps with the enduring dead;
Thou canst not soar where he is sitting now.
Dust to the dust! but the pure spirit shall flow
Back to the burning fountain whence it came,
Finally, in lines 609-616 we get the scene with the old exile dying in the hotel, "And from outside, bits of colored light / Reaching his bed like dark hands from the past / Offering gems; and death is coming fast." In "Adonais" we have an image which seems allied by its opposite perspective:

Life, like a dome of many-colour'd glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments. -- Die,
If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!
Whereas in Shade's lines, the colored light of Eternity is filtered onto the bed of the dying man, in Shelley's poem the colored light of Life "stains" Eternity. The source and destination of the light is simply reversed.

Matt Roth

Search the archive: http://listserv.ucsb.edu/archives/nabokv-l.html
Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Visit Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
View Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm