NABOKV-L post 0019742, Thu, 1 Apr 2010 16:30:42 -0600

Re: THOUGHTS: Poor old man Swift
On Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 4:38 PM, Jansy <> wrote:

> *Jerry Friedman* [to JM's "*I'd always thought that the squat and
> frog-eyed emerald case (line 238) had been a cicada's but the empty hulk
> was found in cold March, on the day Hazel died. This suggested to me that
> this insect had recently emerged from it: is it possible?*] I doubt it.
> The "case" would have lasted from the previous year, which I think is
> possible.
> JM: There are two notes ( to lines 181-182 with the birthday July-cicada
> singing, and to line 238) where Kinbote employs a curious "present
> tense," in both cases. In the first one, he emphasizes the closeness
> of Shade's "waxwing/cicada,": "The bird of lines 1-4 and 131 is again with
> us. It will reappear in the ultimate line of the poem; and *another
> cicada, leaving its envelope behind, will sing triumphantly at lines 236-244
> *." For line 238, he'll describe the envelope left on a tree trunk by an
> adult cicada and, while he mentions Lafontaine he adds: "The *cig**ale’*scompanion piece, the ant,
> *is about to be embalmed* in amber."
> From Kinbote's point of view, the cicada (in 238) has just emerged, inspite
> of the sleety March day and, somehow, it also sings!

Okay, I see. The cicada is probably dead, so Shade's "alive the song" was
probably not true even when he saw the molted integument. Thanks! I hadn't
noticed that.

However, when animals are used as images of survival after death (snakes
shedding their skin, butterfly metamorphosis), the animal's eventual death
usually isn't taken as weakening the image. Both the ant and the cicada's
shell are stuck to the tree; the ant died there and the cicada flew away and
sang (for a while). There might be some enjoyable irony in the fact that
the cicada is just as dead as the ant now.

For more literalism, only the male cicadas sing, so there's at least a 50
percent chance that the cicada that left its shell on the tree never sang
anyway (assuming cicadas have equal numbers of males and females).

Kinbote's present tense strikes (there's an example) me as normal in talking
about literature. If I can see any importance in it, it's that he could be
revitalizing the moribund trope of the poet immortalizing his subject. Not
only did the cicada sing after molting, it's still alive and singing in
Shade's poem in some sense. Maybe.

The Wikiparticle has a primitive but evocative photographic animation of a *
Tibicen* cicada (the most common genus in North America) molting and flying

It doesn't seem to me that he is considering the "cigale-fourmi" of the
> fable ( or "fabulating"), but finding himself in agreement with Shade that "dead
> is the mandible, alive the song."* (whose restauration is it? Hazel's?
> Shade's own?)

> * Somehow I see a link with this line and CK's two variants, set down in
> a note to line 596: "Should the dead murderer try to embrace/ His outraged
> victim whom he now must face?" and, later, line 895: "In nature’s strife
> when fortitude prevails/The victim falters and the victor fails." Yes,
> reader, Pope."

Also Kinbote's "anti-Darwinian aphorism: The one who kills is always his
victim's inferior."? Because they all challenge commonsense?

Jerry Friedman

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