[Musings] Pale Fire's verses out of context
When a line is taken out of its context a sea of different associations rushes in to carry me towards a different swell of rhyme and reason at an impossible distance from a platonic "real thing." Perhaps Nabokov, in "Pale Fire," has been deliberately turning his readers away from a "literary Real Thing," not only by bringing in an unreliable commentator to an unfinished poem: he is also creating reproductions extracted from copied copies in retranslation, rather like the very actual artist Thomas Demande building an iconic truth to substitute an historical fact.
Kinbote's variant lines have sun and moon acting like a pair of thieves who hold onto disparate items (stolen ice, random leaves). The cyclical succession of borrowings from Shakspeare's original lines is lost and a new dislodged word ("home") is introduced. I was reminded of Robert Louis Stevenson 's "Requiem" and Housman's homage to him but, after checking around, I see there's no real link to VN's novel
JS/CK: "...and home would haste my thieves "
RLS: "Home is the sailor, home from the sea"
Kinbote's famous equivocations concerning Shade's title begin in a note to lines 39-40 ["Was close my eyes to reproduce the leaves,/Or indoor scene, or trophies of the eaves."] when he notes that these "lines are represented in the drafts by a variant reading: 39 .............and home would haste my thieves,/40 The sun with stolen ice, the moon with leaves."* Kinbote links this variant to a passage in "Timon of Athens" before he explains that for a quick citation he must retranslate "this passage into English prose from a Zemblan poetical version of Timon..." Kinbote's citation is a paraphrasis and not a poor version of WS's Timon because he insists that it's been brought in English prose, inspite of its verse-format. (note the indirect reference to his childhood's German/Zemblan in his choice of "she" for the sun, "he" for the moon and "it" for the sea). The lines over which Kinbote muses also offer a repetition of words related to Shade's palpebral screens: "For whatever in my field of vision dwelt - /An indoor scene, hickory leaves, the.../... frozen stillicide -/Was printed on my eyelids' nether side/... all I had to do/ Was close my eyes to reproduce the leaves,/ Or indoor scene, or trophies of the eaves." which, I suppose, are related to the clear echoes against simplistic duplications found in every translation of a poem.
I remember that Nabokov and Edmund Wilson once discussed how familiar Pushkin had been with Byron's original poems. Here we find Kinbote saying that "no English author was available in Zemblan except Jane de Faun...and some fragments of Byron translated from French versions.[...]English being Conmal's prerogative, his Shakspere remained invulnerable...few dared question its fidelity... " Conmal reply to scholarly criticism states that "I am not slave! Let be my critic slave....I work with Master on the architrave!" and offers glimpses into PF creator's opinions about those who cannot become slaves to literalness or to rhyme).
*- * "The sun is a thief: she lures the sea
and robs it. The moon is a thief:
he steals his silvery light from the sun.
The sea is a thief: it dissolves the moon."
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