Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0014508, Tue, 26 Dec 2006 15:04:05 EST

Re: brocken reflections; chessboards
In a message dated 26/12/2006 17:26:51 GMT Standard Time, jansy@AETERN.US

Nice photographs!

Thanks for the comment, Jansy. I was extremely mystified by this sight,
which was unique in my experience, but I now understand that for such as
Shackleton visions of this kind were an almost everyday occurrence, and, as DN has
stressed, for mountaineers as well.

What surprised me while reading the Shackleton report about the "third man"
was how often, before his lines in Chapter X, he various optical effects
without finding in them any kind of supernatural "sign".

Well, both he and Eliot are clearly suggesting a supernatural presence of
some sort, helping them along, or guiding perhaps, in Eliot's case. It's funny
how survivors will attribute their survival to God: non-survivors are unable
to give their account either of how God failed them, or what it's like
wherever they are now.

I still find it difficult to visualize exactly what Shade is describing in
the opening lines of his Pale Fire. Presumably, "from the inside", the shadows
of the room's furniture (bed as well as chair? --- from where precisely is
the light source coming?) are being projected out on the lawn, outside. Or is
it that the interior of the room is being reflected on the inside of the
windowpane, but by letting his eye pass through the glass, the man who is looking
upon it can simultaneously see the lawn outside, sometimes covered with snow?

On another point. A.Bouazza's recommendation of John Payne's Omar Kheyyam
led me to examine this tome (1898) more closely than I had previously. At first
glance the translations of the quatrains struck me as execrable, far worse
than VN's Onegin, but by reading with much greater concentration I began to
appreciate what the man was doing, and what an extraordinary effort he had made
to reproduce in English the exact verse structure and wording of the Persian
originals; all 845 of the ones he offers. It still isn't fully recognizable
as English poetry, of course, but taken all in all it is an impressive

Again, I was moved to wonder if VN had known about this heroic feat, and
whether it had played any part in inspiring him to tackle Onegin.

In his very first note on Pale Fire, to lines 1-4, Kinbote mentions that
Shade's poem was begun "while I played chess with a young Iranian enrolled in
our summer school". It is generally agreed that FitzGerald was homosexual, that
he entered into a more or less forced and short-lived marriage, and that the
"thou" referred to in his paraphrases is a young Persian male. This does not
appear to be so in Payne's Kheyyam, however.

FitzGerald's "Chequerboard of Nights and Days", No 49 in the 1st edition, is
too well-known to repeat; but here is Payne's more literal rendering, No 480:

We're the pieces Heaven moves on the chessboard of space
(No metaphor this, but the truth of the case);
Each awhile on Life's board plays his game and returns
In the box of nonentity back to his place.

To be perfectly blunt, I still prefer FitzGerald.


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