Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0014132, Tue, 21 Nov 2006 09:02:14 EST

Re: Keats & VN & other thoughts

Keats: By consulting the index to Brian Boyd’s indispensable VN, The
American Years I was relieved to discover that Keats was that rarity, a poet and
critic of poetry who had enjoyed what seems like VN’s unqualified affection.
There are four index references to Keats, four to Coleridge, two to
Wordsworth, fifteen to Shakespeare in general, plus 20 comments on specific plays.
The significant excerpts appear to be, p.166: “he had avidly read English
verse, and Shakespeare, Keats, Browning always remained favo(u)rites”; and,
p.317: “Suggestion: Read: Milton, Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth.” Of interest,
naturally, are also BB’s comments on VN’s Eugene Onegin, p.331: “His
examples … from Collop, Fletcher, Pope, Beattie, Barbauld, Cornwall, and Keats,
are impressive in their range.”
The inclusion of Keats, the high Romantic, in this catalogue of “
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century” poets seems to me to be stretching it slightly.
VN would of course have been very familiar with Keats’s sonnet: If by dull
rhymes our English must be chained. His decision to have John Shade fetter
his narrative with rhyme, in the light of this sonnet, seems deeply deliberate.
Wordsworth’s output has always been disconcerting. Intimations of
Immortality, and several other works, are indubitably very great poems. Wordsworth's
two voices comprise one which “is of the deep”, the other is of “an old,
half-witted sheep”.
Other snippets.
Andrew Brown writes:
Let me just say for the last time, that the many errors and offenses of the
PF “poem” are the result of its having been written in haste, and as a
narrative in verse. Not as a poem. It is a miserable poem. It is an almost okay
verse narrative. Of course important poetic considerations have been sacrificed
to the two ends of speed of composition and use of a form that few have
practiced successfully since the death of Byron. (The key to success is, first,
to have something exciting to say. Few poets do.

Agreed, 100%. BB notes, p.418, that PF the poem was finished on February 11,
1961: “nine hundred and ninety-nine superbly shaped lines in ten weeks”.
This is, by any calculation, rapid.
Andrew Brown also writes:
In addition, the poem is not written in English and is not an example of
English poetry. The Saga of Pale Fire is written in American, as well it should
be. After all, its author was part American. I have explained the linguistic
differences between English and American poetry and it would bore me to do it
again. Besides, the N-List academics could not give the idea a moment’s
thought since they had never heard a fellow academic say it before. So they
ignored it.
Agree totally with the first two sentences. I would never call VN part
American, though. Perhaps it depends on what is meant by “American”. I don’t
suppose AB can be calling John Shade “part American”, however. VN was obliged to
America for giving him house-room, and patrician good manners would have
effectively prevented him from the boorish ingratitude of biting the hand that
fed him. I must believe, though, that privately he looked askance at American
academe, and shook his internal head. The comment, n.691, about “one of the
very few American college presidents who know Latin”, seems rather pointed.
In my day I would not even have been allowed entry to my university, if I hadn’
t been able to demonstrate at least a rudimentary understanding of Latin,
for which I had been tediously prepared by having to translate innumerable Latin
The linguistic differences between English and American poetry are indeed
profound. I would, in an effort to simplify, call English poetry elitist, and
American poetry democratic. By and large. There are notable exceptions, both
ways, naturally. It is sad that AB feels ignored. “Speak the truth, and a
base man will ignore you” was an observation made by a somewhat greater poet
than John Shade, and he was duly ignored and considered mad by most people for
most of his life.
A.Bouazza forwarded:
Eine Poetik aus dem OEuvre Vladimir Nabokovs herauszulesen, scheint wegen
der Vielschichtigkeit der narrativen Strukturen schwierig, wenn nicht gar
How true! As I have copies of Fahles Feuer, t. Uwe Friesel, 1968; as well
as his Marginalien, also 1968; Feu Pâle, t. Raymond Girard & Maurice Edgar
Coindreau, 1965; and Fuoco Pallido, t. Bruno Oddera, 1965; I had at the back
of my mind the insane intention of some day comparing the manner which these
translators set about tackling their impossible tasks, but it will never be. I
had also dearly hoped to be able to include the fragments, if any, of
Filippa Rolf’s aborted attempt. Particularly as I suspect that she can’t have
helped relating some of the text to herself, which can hardly have helped her own
drift into terminal distress.
Shade’s lines 128-130 have repeatedly been mentioned. On receiving my signed
copy of Edsel’s A Thicket of Sky, 1961, this morning, I opened it at random
at p.44, and was instantly struck by: “Where once the willow bough/Dipped …
You couldn’t guess what worlds there were/A twisted stump leans on the air”.
Perhaps this poem, Return to Sunday Creek, had been published before 1961.
(Has MR already mentioned it? Memory fails me.) Edsel is elsewhere treading,
surely but softly, in Frost’s footsteps.
I could go on, but this is more than enough. I’m being sorely distracted
from cultivating my garden, but it is exhilarating to be able to converse with
some who seem to understand what I am trying to say. Had I not known more than
I can express, I would not even have expressed the little that I have in fact
expressed. But I have a strong feeling that I ought to desist.

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