FROM: Don Johnson
Jansy's comment on ill-understood reminded me that a few days ago I, albeit belatedly, got to wondering about that "sublimated grouse" in the lines below:
Whose spurred feet have crossed
From left to right the blank page of the road?
Reading from left to right in winter’s code:
A dot, an arrow pointing back; repeat:
Dot, arrow pointing back... A pheasant’s feet!
Torquated beauty, sublimated grouse,
Finding your China right behind my house.
"Torquated," I knew because the common English name for the pheasant is "ring-necked ---"torquated" meaning "collared." I was puzzled, however, by that "SUBLIMATED grouse." In my, Freud-saturated society, "sublimated" =repressed, pushed down into the subconscious". WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!
"Sublimated" means "made 'sublime,'' i.e. the rather plain-looking grouse (almost certainly the "Ruffed grouse" --the usual grouse of Appalachia) is viewed here as a grouse made SUBLIME, i.e., the elegant, showy pheasant.
If one adopts Brian Boyd's theory of the mousey Hazel being postmortally transformed into a glamorous Wood duck (Aix sponsa-"a bride", perhaps the mousey grouse's transformation into a splendid pheasant is a foreshadowing thereof.
Don: you seem to rule out the real possibility that VN chose ‘sublimated’ precisely because it has several meanings/resonances? Isn’t deliberate ambiguity one of the ‘tricks’ that distinguishes poetry and poetic-prose from, say, carefully drafting a legal or technical document to be as free from misunderstandings as natural language allows. The latter demands comparable (some may argue superior!) skills and command of language’s quirks to those of the poet! Writers of VN’s genius can switch between these ‘modes’ or ‘genres’ ON DEMAND, as it were. In Pale Fire he has invented Shade as a rather strange wannabe-poet Popeian-scholar (with echoes of the staff he encountered in real colleges, and, as many listers have noted, some self-mocking hints in Kinbote of his own Annotated Pushkin), hence the wonderful mix of ‘heroic’ verse and bathetic doggerel.
Back to ‘sublimated’: others more versed [sic] in Freud and Chemistry [!] may point out that the FORMAL meaning is NOT ‘repressed’ but rather the OPPOSITE**: ‘[of a desire/impulse] RAISED, diverted or transferred from the primitive or instinctual level to one socially or culturally preferable.’ The chemical context is similar: a substance made ‘finer.’ BTW: I also read GROUSE as ‘annoying COMPLAINT. Prove me wrong.
** Your three WRONGS make a WRONG? But I agree: some people (including you) do take ‘sublimated’ as ‘repressed.’ Which goes to show that words SELDOM have ONE CORRECT MEANING — and that MUST be the meaning intended by the author.
Search the Nabokv-L archive at UCSB
Contact the Editors
All private editorial communications, without exception, are read by both co-editors.
View Nabokv-L Policies