Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025125, Wed, 26 Feb 2014 18:20:53 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] n-rereadings of PF: dualities...
Barrie Akin: I'm intrigued by Jansy Mello's comments.When I first read PF I
assumed that the opening ten or so lines were describing the actions of the
adult JS. I suspect Jansy has had the same experience, as he refers to JS 's
study. And the opening lines are so majestic and grown up that, with no
immediate frame of reference that would steer you towards childhood, you can
easily assume that what is being described is the experience of JS the adult
- after all, there is nothing that I can see in the poem that tells you that
there was a real waxwing that struck the windowpane - the opening lines
could, for all the new reader knows, be talking about a purely figurative
waxwing striking a purely figurative windowpane./ I confess to not
immediately noticing the steer towards childhood in CK's commentary to those
lines - Kinbote's reference to JS discovering the bird and to him as 'a
physically unattractive but otherwise perfectly developed lad' distracts you
because you concentrate on the monster that he appears to be, rather than on
JS./But Canto 1 is about JS's childhood anyway and the reference to his bed
in line 11 suggests to me that JS uncurtains the night from his childhood
bedroom rather than his adult study, so that the opening lines are
describing childhood actions and experiences. Whether that assists a Shadean
reading or not is not a question I feel able to answer./ And while I'm the
subject of the opening lines, I am puzzled by the coincidence that CK draws
to our attention in the commentary to lines 1-4. The resemblance between the
Zemblan 'Sampel' and the waxwing that CK mentions is, I think, pointing us
towards 'Bombycilla' which Wikipedia tells me was a ham fisted attempt by a
German naturalist to translate 'Seidenschwanz' (=silktail) into Latin.
Perhaps this is the 'interesting association belatedly realized' of the
index - that the sampel and the waxwing are perhaps the same bird, bringing
Shade and CK's identities closer together?

Jansy Mello: Barrie Akin is right. The events described in the first lines
belong to JS's childhood ( & we may conclude that without consulting CK's

Although I recognized that Shade is "establishing an analogy between his
actual emotions and his recollection of a shattered waxwing, to indicate
that at present he is also feeling shattered, hoping to avoid depression to
be able to "live on" by writing a poem," what I envisaged was the adult
poet (this is why my setting was his study and not his bedroom, although the
reference to an apple, a fruit that adult Shade fears to bite into -
probably because of his dentures- had puzzled me before: the apple may in
this context makes more sense). Thanks for indicating the bed and window
with the "uncurtained night" (nice!) reveal that we are reading about a
scene from Shade's childhood.

Didn't the adult V.Nabokov once find a dead bird like Shade's waxwing?

"Incidentally, it is curious to note that a crested bird called in Zemblan
sampel ("silktail"), closely resembling a waxwing in shape and shade, is the
model of one of the three heraldic creatures" and (Index) "Waxwings, birds
of the genus Bombycilla, 1-4, 131, 1000; Bombycilla shadei, 71; interesting
association belatedly realized." In the Brazilian and in the Portuguese
translations the two distinct waxwings (European and American) are
designated as "ampelis" (almost an anagram of the Zemblan "sampel").
Emphasizing the differences bt those bird's wax-wings and silk-tails helps
to mislead the reader, just like Kinbote's note and the entry in the Index
which are deliberately vague, for Shade's "waxwing" may be found in America
(Bombycilla cedrorum) and C.Kinbote's "silktail" is most certainly
spotted in Europe (Bombycilla garrulous)*.

There was an interesting debate about the "garrulous" (in French, "jaseur,"
if I remember it rightly) bird at the VN-List.

In SO there's one question addressed to V.Nabokov related to this talkative
quality (no time to check it now, does it bear any connection to T.S.Eliot
and fingernail parings?) I don't think that at the time the difference
between the Shadean cedar waxwing and the Kinbotean garrulous sampel was
taken into account (Shade's and those garrulous birds should not come
together, right?)

I must confess that I'm nicely confused all over again.


*-In the internet we get: "Bohemian waxwings are described as
starling-sized, having sleek crests, gray overall, with face washed in
chestnut. The tip of the tail has a yellow band. Adult males have a throat
patch that is larger than that of females and a broader yellow tip to the
tail. The common name, "waxwing," comes from the red waxy tips on their
secondary feathers. A similar species, cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum),
are smaller, having a pale yellow belly, and wings that are not as
colorful." Wings and tails are described separately by CK to add to the
suggestive distinction.

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