Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023363, Mon, 8 Oct 2012 09:33:05 -0400

"My husband...has not read much Frost."
Wondering about the evidence for
VN's intentions in writing Pale Fire, the poem,
and his own estimate of its worth,
I remembered some mention of VN's attempt
to sell the poem to a magazine,
the New Yorker I think it was that turned him down;
and so eventually I floundered upon
Brian Boyd's post to the list from
december two thousand, five (12/15/05).

Here Boyd is arguing that VN felt pleased with the poem [overall]:

In reply to some questions Andrew Field sent while preparing Nabokov: His Life in Art, Véra Nabokov answered on 11 December 1965, quoting VN directly:

" 'To be quite frank, Shade's poem is a rather good Nabokov poem, and the allusion to Frost is incidental and meant only to give local color.' We read somewhere in a review that the poem was mediocre, obscure and a parody of something or other. Sources: 'A pinch of Pope perhaps, as form goes.' My husband admits that apart from the poem about the little horse in the wintry woods, he has not read much Frost."

It is the last statement that surprises. My husband...has not read much Frost.

That VN had not read much Frost strikes me as rather odd.
Nabokov loved verse, especially Eugene Onegin,
and wrote verse himself usually in a traditional metric form.
That Nabokov was a traditionalist and formalist
vis-a-vis verse should seem self-evident.
And yet he has hardly read the similarly oriented Frost,
renowned for his skill in strong forms.

Perhaps, as they say, the operant word here is much;
and open to wide interpretation.

It's possible though that Nabokov who studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1919?-1923?
Frost may not have been officially read, even though he was promoted by Pound.

A Boy's Will (1913)
North of Boston (1914)
Mountain Interval (1916)
New Hampshire (1923) [Includes: Stopping by Woods...]

Frost's early books met with considerable success, I believe.
[and allowed him to pursue versification full-time?]
Frost may not have been the poet of choice for the literati in the early sixties
but his reputation was, in its own populous way, roughly equaled to Eliot.

And VN was obviously familiar with Eliot.

Prufrock and Other Observations (1917)
Poems (1919)
The Waste Land (1922)
Ash Wednesday (1930)
East Coker (1940)

So I find My husband...has not read much Frost difficult to believe.

Clearly he was discouraging readers
from unduly identifying Shade with Frost,
but would he lie about his awareness of Frost to his biographer towards that end?

Should the reader just laugh and say,
"Of course he read Frost..."?

Did VN expect the reader to see an obvious, therefore ironic, lie here?

Kinbote note for line 426 gives:
Frost is the author of one of the greatest short poems in the English language, a poem that every American boy knows by heart, about the wintry woods, and the dreary dusk, and the little horsebells of gentle remonstration in the dull darkening air, and that prodigious and poignant end—two closing lines identical in every syllable, but one personal and physical, and the other metaphysical and universal. I dare not quote from memory lest I displace one small precious word.
With all his excellent gifts, John Shade could never make his snowflakes settle that way.

Is this then not to be read as a tribute to Frost,
with Shade as a stand-in for VN?
Would VN place such a tribute in Kinbote's note
if it wasn't based upon some degree of familiarity with Frost's work.

Curious about anyone else's thoughts or observations.


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