Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023383, Thu, 11 Oct 2012 09:52:19 -0400

Re: VN's Knowledge of Frost
First let me say I appreciate the responses and especially B. Boyd's quote of VN on the subject.
I've combined and arranged some excerpts from the responses with some of my thoughts & conclusions.

On Oct 8, 2012, at 11:16 PM, Brian Boyd wrote:

> ...on the question of Nabokov’s knowledge of Robert Frost. In an interview in the National Observer, June 30, 1964, VN said:

> “Not everything he wrote was good. There is lots of trash. But I believe that rather obvious little poem on the woods . . . is one of the greatest ever written.”

> Since he reverts to the same Frost example as in Pale Fire, and since he damns with “lots of trash . . . rather obvious” even when he praises, he seems to have read only enough Frost to find him mostly not much to his taste.
I do not read VNs comments here nearly as negatively.
But, Not everything he wrote was good can be read as meaning that Frost was generally at least a good poet.
(There is lots of trash, is ambiguous, 10% to what, 50%.)
A poet is probably measured and remembered more
for the number of good poems that he's written
than the number of bad.
(may have been said before)

The whole sentence actually implies at the very least a modest survey of Frost's verse.
> He certainly does not engage with different Frost poems again and again as he does with poets he cares for, like Ronsard, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Shakespeare, Keats, Housman, Pushkin and half a dozen other Russians, or even a poet he finds so inexplicably acclaimed, like Eliot, that he felt obliged to read and rebuff his work.

I agree he doesn't seem to do much with Frost, but I'm not sure how much can be read into that.
Frost still is to be seen as a prominent member of VN's court of allusions.

On Oct 8, 2012, at 7:30 PM, Samuel Schuman wrote:

> I wonder if Vera Nabokov's "much Frost" might not be a bit like Jonson's description of Shakespeare's learning -- "little latin:" ...
I like & agree i.e. ironic,
> In the Nabokov household, I suspect, to read "much" of an author would mean reading most of that writer.

On Oct 8, 2012, at 5:37 PM, Mary H. Efremov wrote:

> I would suppose that a widely read man asVN was, was widely read in American poetry and that he had read Frost. Disclaimers from Vera via Field somehow do not convince me heavily.

My conclusion: VN probably had a credible knowledge of Frost's works,
borne of some anthology of modern poetry that he would presumedly have had access-to,
that included Frost. Also that, see below, he's says he had a passion for modern verse up to 1940,
which might have included FRost.

Surely he had access, and he had a predisposition towards poetry, as evidenced by the Eugene Onegin study.
But we also have this well-known passage from Nabokov's Interview with BBC-2 ,1969.

You refer somewhere to your father's study teaching you
to appreciate authentic poetry. Is any living poet authentic to
you now?

I used to have a veritable passion for poetry, English,
Russian, and French. That passion started to dwindle around
1940 when I stopped gorging myself on contemporary verse. I
know as little about today's poetry as about new music.

Are too many people writing novels?

I read quite a number of them every year. For some odd
reason what authors and publishers keep sending me is the
pseudo-picaresque stuff of clichй characters and the enlarged
pores of dirty words.

You parody the poet W. H. Auden in your novel Ada,
I think. Why do you think so little of him?

I do not parody Mr. Auden anywhere in Ada. I'm not
sufficiently familiar with his poetry for that. I do know,
however, a few of his translations-- and deplore the blunders
he so lightheartedly permits himself. Robert Lowell, of course,
is the greater offender.

One notes the year 1940, I believe the year of VN's passage from Europe.
Since coming to America VN lost interest in verse.
Note how the interest is restricted to verse-translation.
VN doesn't seem to have greatly admired, or championed, any modern poet, I think.

VN's passion for poetry ... started to dwindle around 1940 seems to accurately portray
VN's relationship to poetry throughout his later years.

This questionhas also been posed about Stevens:
Jansy quoted recently(September 17, 2012 1:31:14 PM EDT):

Subject:Re: Did Nabokov like Wallace Stevens?
Reply-To:Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Date:Mon, 1 Sep 1997 13:48:05 -0700
From: Galya Diment

This is a message which is a month old but now, I think, I can answer the question to some degree. There is a letter in the VN archive in Berg with precisely the same question, addressed to Nabokov by Stanley Edgar Hyman in 1969. Vera Nabokov responded to Hyman three days later saying that VN had no opinion of Stevens because he knew his work only "faintly." There was something in the brevity of the note which made me think that VN was not sufficiently impressed with what he read to desire to get better
acquainted with the poet's other works.

Galya Diment

I think there may be a tendency to project our own tastes upon old VN.
If Nabokov kept up on current events, recent novels, lepidopteran studies, teaching, novel writing...
there's only so much time.
And poetry, while often small, demands its own kind of time and attention based upon repetition & recursion.

But coming back to this question:

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?

I would say that it is a tribute, but not to derive too much familiarity with Frost's work from that interpretation.


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