NABOKV-L post 0014111, Sun, 19 Nov 2006 17:45:00 EST

Re: "Pale Fire" Quality of?
Although aware that I'm sending too many letters to the list, now that the
bit is between the teeth, it's too tempting to strike while the iron is hot.
Here's hoping someone, at least, will find these comments not entirely

The quality of PF the poem is absolutely central to a satisfactory
understanding of the book. Thinking about it further, I grow more and more certain
that VN was deliberately throwing dust into the reader's eyes, in much more than
the obviously misleading ways.

In the first place, the idea that Shade is in any way emulating Pope is a
smokescreen, a red herring and a wicked misdirection. Pope was a supremely
sharp, elegant and polished satirist, who wielded a poetic scalpel. Shade's verse
is soggy, if tireless, and the only resemblance to Pope in his lines is that
the couplets rhyme, and, often, they do not rhyme smoothly. The poem is
immeasurably more reminiscent of the compositions of Wordsworth.

I'm not sure whether VN refers to Keats in his various remarks, but Keats's
ideas about poetry seem to me more germane here than others.

Here is a quote from a website:


'John Keats writes that "A Poet . . . has no Identity — he is continually in
for — and filling some other Body" (2.895). In his letters, Keats attacks
Wordsworth as a self-aggrandizing "Egotist" (2.890), and he coins the memorable
phrase "the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime" (2.894) to describe a
poetic sensibility too enamored of itself.'

Several list members have recently remarked on the self-centred character of
Shade's poem: he is not truly identifying with his unhappy daughter, but
considers her ugliness, unpopularity, etc, mainly as his own misfortune, not
hers. This transition, from apparently selfless contemplation of beauty or
suffering, into "sublime" self-absorption, as the website points out, occurs again
and again in Wordsworth's verse.

I have to assume that VN was perfectly familiar with this famous passage
from Keats, but, to my knowledge, he doesn't refer to it. Nevertheless, it seems
to me very apt as commentary on both Shade and Kinbote. The paradox is that
Shade is actually a far greater egotist than Kinbote, and in a much more
reprehensible way. Kinbote's apparently self-centred fantasies are the airy
nothings of a nobody. He has no real identity, and has negative capability. He is
the poet, not Shade.

Perhaps someone better versed in VN's works can point out his comments, if
any, on Keats.

All above assertions automatically imply imho.

Charles Harrison-Wallace

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