Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025539, Sun, 13 Jul 2014 13:17:39 -0300

azure-barred: death and beauty
In “Lolita” we find the neon-bars marking an object in close association to limpness and death (big or “little”). Unimpeded azure, though, unexpectedly recurs in association to “tenderness” in “Lolita,”* but not in “Pale Fire,” where the menacing element persists. In Ada, the link between tenderness and pity may lie subjacent to “ transparency of death and ardent beauty.”

Below, a listing to elicit thoughts, or more quotes, from the Nablers

Lolita: “I recall certain moments, let us call them icebergs in paradise, when after having had my fill of her –after fabulous, insane exertions that left me limp and azure-barred–I would gather her in my arms with, at last, a mute moan of human tenderness (her skin glistening in the neon light coming from the paved court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black lashes matted, her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever–for all the world a little patient still in the confusion of a drug after a major operation)–and the tenderness would deepen to shame and despair, and I would lull and rock my lone light Lolita in my marble arms, and moan in her warm hair, and caress her at random and mutely ask her blessing, and at the peak of this human agonized selfless tenderness (with my soul actually hanging around her naked body and ready to repent), all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell again–and 'oh, no,' Lolita would say with a sigh to heaven, and the next moment the tenderness and the azure–all would be shattered.” ( A.Lolita, p.285)
Alfred Appel's note: "azure-barred: the motel's neon lights reaching their bed from the window"

Pale Fire:
1. I was the shadow of the waxwing slain/ By the false azure in the windowpane;

2.After he’d gone the three young people stood/Before the azure entrance for awhile./Puddles were neon-barred

3.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 (the other two being respectively a reindeer proper and a merman azure, crined or) in the armorial bearings of the Zemblan King, Charles the Beloved (born 1915)

4.The poor poet had now been turned over and lay with open dead eyes directed up at the sunny evening azure. The armed gardener and the battered killer were smoking side by side on the step


The song of a Tuscan Firecrest or a Sitka Kinglet in a cemetery cypress; a minty whiff of Summer Savory or Yerba Buena on a coastal slope; the dancing flitter of a Holly Blue or an Echo Azure — combined with other birds, flowers and butterflies: that has to be heard, smelled and seen through the transparency of death and ardent beauty.(I,12)


In a message dated 4/7/2007 6:26:19 PM Central Daylight Time,…writes:

“Did VN frequently use the word 'azure' outside Pale Fire, where it appears quite frequently? The occurrence I can find is in The Gift: "She was rosy, this Venice, and the water of her lagoon was azure". I thought it might shed light on VN's attitude toward the word's use in the poem's first line. Also, "the water of her lagoon" strikes me as unusual syntax and could support a reading of all occurrences of the word as melodramatic.

See the fifth paragraph of chapter 32 of Lolita. He uses it twice: "azure-barred" is especially compelling. ". . . Lolita would say with a sigh to heaven, and the next moment the tenderness and the azure--all would be shattered." (my italics)

Wiki: In heraldry, azure is the tincture with the colour blue, and belongs to the class of tinctures called "colours". In engraving, it is sometimes depicted as a region of horizontal lines or else is marked with either az. or b. as an abbreviation.

The term azure derives from the name of the deep blue stone now called lapis lazuli (stone of Lazhward). The word was adopted into Old French by the 12th century, after which the word passed into use in the blazon of coats of arms.

As an heraldic colour, the word azure simply means "blue".

Azure is said to represent the following:

∙ Of jewels, the sapphire

∙ Of heavenly bodies, Jupiter (the planet Jupiter is further associated with the metal tin in traditional alchemical/occultistic lore)


In Russian, "голубой" (goluboj, azure or cyan) and "синий" (sinij, blue or navy blue) are not two shades of the same color, but distinguished in the way red and pink are distinct colors in English. The use of the term spread through the practice of heraldry, where “azure” represents a blue color in the system of tinctures.#
In engravings, it is represented as a region of parallel horizontal lines, or by the abbreviation az. or b. In practice, azure has been represented by any number of shades of blue. In later heraldic practice a lighter blue, called bleu celeste (“sky blue”), is sometimes specified.

Cf. also http://www.heraldsnet.org/saitou/parker/Jpglossa.htm


# While reading about heraldic tinctures, various elements of the wiki listing appear in VN’s novels, in contexts that seem to be unrelated to heraldry (except in Pale Fire, when the Red Admiral is described as an heraldic butterfly) Sable, Vert, Ermine, Vair, Gules, Azure, Copper, Cendrée, Argent, Or…

Heraldic tinctures

• Rule of tincture

• Tricking system

• Hatching system


• Argent

• Or


• Azure

• Gules

• Purpure

• Sable

• Vert


• Ermine

• Vair


• Murrey

• Sanguine

• Tenné



• Copper


• Bleu celeste

• Carnation

• Cendrée

• Orange

• Rose

If memory’s playfulness doesn’t misguide me, the critic Georg Steiner, as a child, was a specialist in heraldry…(G.Steiner is mentioned in the first chapter of ADA, if not also in other chapters)

*- azure and tenderness, in relation to art, has been studied by Leland de La Durantaye (“Style is Matter”),q.v.

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