Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023428, Wed, 24 Oct 2012 01:51:19 -0200

[IDLE THOUGHTS] drops and shadows
The joyfulness and innocent mischief in Kinbote's rendering of the flaming Red Admirable seemed to be closer to Nabokov in style and image than to his character: " It took off, and we saw it next moment sporting in an ecstasy of frivolous haste around a laurel shrub, every now and then perching on a lacquered leaf and sliding down its grooved middle like a boy down the banisters on his birthday."

I was stimulated to search for a similar luminous gliding which can be encountered not only in RLSK, where it introduces a sad note that is so unlike the celebratory butterfly announcing a poet's imminent death:
"she left husband and child as suddenly as a raindrop starts to slide tipwards down a syringa leaf. That upward jerk of the forsaken leaf, which had been heavy with its bright burden, must have caused my father fierce pain..."

It's also in RLSK that Vladimir steps in the shoes of both Sebastian and his half-brother to mention a drop, a heavy dew-drop, and to write about the transience of things and an unforgettable singular swift..
'There, he would sit on a fence l[ ] and think about things. What things? [ ] The form of a particular cloud? Some misty sunset beyond a black Russian fir-wood (oh, how much I would give for such a memory coming to him!)? The inner meaning of grass blade and star? The unknown language of silence? The terrific weight of a dew-drop? The heartbreaking beauty of a pebble among millions and millions of pebbles, all making sense, but what sense? The old, old question of Who are you? [ ]."

In RLSK drops are clearly related to Sebastian's particular grief: " 'Attraction of death: physical growth considered upside down as the lengthening of a suspended drop; at last falling into nothing.' [ ]

In "The Vane Sisters," the butterfly or the raindrop that slides down a leaf are absent, but there are half-frozen drip-dripping icicles and transparent stalactites (PF's radiantly dangerous stillicides). The shadows they cast are too fast to be discerned, but they should have been perceived if the conditions were right, as might be the case with ghosts?
"I had stopped to watch a family of brilliant icicles drip-dripping from the eaves of a frame house. So clear-cut were their pointed shadows on the white boards behind them that I was sure the shadows of the falling drops should be visible too. But they were not. The roof jutted too far out, perhaps, or the angle of vision was faulty, or, again, I did not chance to be watching the right icicle when the right drop fell. There was a rhythm, an alternation in the dripping that I found as teasing as a coin trick..."

Must we also look for some almost invisible butterfly shadows in PF ? There is a visible one, Sybil's, near the shagbark tree (line 990), just before Shade mentions the Red Admirable (lines 993-94): " A dark Vanessa with a crimson band/ Wheels in the low sun..." The poet is employing, but almost indifferently (?), the same words he'd used before, to make love to Sybil: (lines 270-271)" Come and be worshiped, come and be caressed,/ My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest/ My Admirable butterfly!"

The joyful note about the butterfly derives from Kinbote's annotations, only. It is also he who suggests that the 'missing' line in Pale Fire should be "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain."
(on second thoughts,that particular shadow must have remained unseen! Visible, only, were the ashen fluffs that substituted the living bird caught by a reflected sky...)

Jansy Mello

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