NABOKV-L post 0014130, Tue, 21 Nov 2006 01:57:17 -0200

Fw: a partial overview
Matthew Roth thanked Jim Twigg for pointing to the Monroe essay. He writes:" The essay has many merits, but its analysis of Shade's poem is, to me,
wrong-headed... Monroe is offended by the internal rhyme and the repetition of rhythm and grammar...He then attacks the final couplet for its "too-neat rhyme" and straight iambic rhythm, even suggesting that "fat" is introduced simply to rhyme with "bat"...There is so much bunk here, it's hard to know where to start... What's more, Monroe completely misses the allusion to Frost's "Birches"... Lastly, to castigate Shade for resolving into the iambic after so many caesurae in the previous lines is simply laughable...Shade's poem may not be great (though I sometimes think it is) ..."

Jerry Friedman wrote on the same: "That made me mad. Monroe criticizes Shade for calling Hazel, about to die, "a blurry shape"...Monroe also criticizes Shade's ending Canto 2 with a verb rhymed with a previous noun, which Monroe thinks isn't final enough. But "sank" is the exact word (contrary to his opinion) and such matters have to be judged in the specific poem, not according to general principles. Monroe says, "One does not joke about a daughter's suicide,"..." many great 20th-century poems combine playfulness with the worst pain.One example is Anthony Hecht's "Feast of Stephen", in all the anthologies. I can't convince anyone to like Shade's similar writing,but I feel certain it doesn't signify deliberate bad poetry. I'm more with J. Morris: Parts of the poem "Pale Fire" are very good (although I think the Botkin story is a lot more satisfactory than he does)."

Stan K_B added: "Most welcomed Bonnie Urls, Jim," before he observed that Monroe wrote about "Shade's personification and even deification of shaving cream ... may also be a swipe at Joyce's opening scene in Ulysses, where Stephen's razor and mirror metamorphose into sacred instruments of transfiguration." when, inf fact, " it's Buck Mulligan's (not Stephen's) razor & bowl that morph into the Black Mass parody."

CHW was more angelic when he dwelt on Monroe's critics "unseemly rush". He collected the comments that "lambast Monroe's essay.One says it contains so much bunk, and the other says it makes him mad.". In his opinion, the article "does draw attention to certain features of Shade's composition which I find bathetic, and for that reason I am, to an extent, in agreement with Monroe"since his taste "is not broad enough to accommodate Pale Fire into the canon of great poetry..." Later, CHW added: "The quality of PF the poem is absolutely central to a satisfactory understanding of the book...I grow more and more certain that VN was deliberately throwing dust into the reader's eyes... In the first place, the idea that Shade is in any way emulating Pope is a smokescreen...Pope was... a 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.
For him, Keats' opinion of Wordsworth as a self-aggrandizing "Egotist", "a poetic sensibility too enamored of itself." seemed " very apt as commentary on both Shade and Kinbote" ..."The paradox is that Shade is actually a far greater egotist than Kinbote" while "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."

JM: CHW agrees with Monroe on the "bathetic nature of Shade's verses" and that Pale Fire soggy verses do "not fit into the canon of great poetry". But he considers the failures in the Shade's poem a result of VN's deliberate strategy of red-herrings. He sees Kinbote's crazy "nobodyness" as more fitting in a poet than Shade's selfishness: he even praises CK for a Keatsian "negative capability" - inspite of Kinbote's desperate search after fact and reason in his ravings before he concludes that Kinbote, not Shade, is the poet. Charles, you sent us back to the question of what is poetry! Remembering Monroe's original text, I got the impression that your agreement with Monroe derives from a shared conviction that poets should speak of "universal things" (Monroe spoke about poetry's liberating effect by an "independent aestheticist imagination").
As I see it Monroe's text offered a literal, reductionist interpretation for specific Nabokovian strategies when, for example, he concluded that: "Gradus kills the poet and Kinbote takes his poem." and saw in this VN's denunciation of "the machinations of culture", represented by them. Monroe questioned "the costs of such brilliant aesthetic contraptions" because he attributed to Nabokov the intention to "ensure that the literary imagination will not be contaminated by the mundane", but I failed to grasp his point and, probably, CHW's too.

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