Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0015699, Tue, 27 Nov 2007 11:54:06 -0500

Thoughts Re: [NABOKV-L] Brian Boyd on Apples in PF
I can't agree with some of Brian Boyd's comments below. First,
I think the opening verse paragraph is set in Shade's childhood.
The past tense continues (except for "Retake", with which the
writer indicates that he's going to look again at an image from
the past) to the first half of line 43, set in Shade's school
years. Nothing suggests a shift in temporal setting between the
first line and that point.

Also, Shade's repetition of the waxwing line is clearly set in
his childhood, as the past tense continues with his dreams of
playing with other boys and his esthetic envy of the

In addition, I don't think his imagination is unusual for that
kind of person. I recall playing similar games with reflections
in the windows of the inside of a room, visible at night, with
what was visible outside--noting, for instance, when a
reflection seemed to be on the same surface with something

What is childish, though, is identifying himself with the
waxwing. I think children are said not to see clear
boundaries between themselves and external things (though
I don't remember such a stage). Still in childhood,
Shade feels "nature glued to" him, which may be a weaker
version of that identification, but as an adult he's a
separate observer and actor, and his external-internal
confusions (shoe outside and inside, ament and noun) are
about objects, not himself.

My other disagreement is I don't think Shade's boyhood
described in the second half of the canto is normal--indeed
he was stranger than I was, and other kids let me know that
I was strange indeed. Shade mentions no interest in anything
but nature (except the detail from history about ounces of
sand), and in lines 105-106 he strongly implies that he had
no other interests. His picture book was all around him;
other boys would have been looking at books about horses
(like Tonio Kroeger's normal friend), radios, ships, cars,
airplanes, guns, battles, cowboys and Indians, hunting and
fishing, college athletes. And an adult describing a normal
childhood would probably make at least one mention of
friends and enemies.

(I trust no one is thinking I mean "strange" as an insult
or "normal" as praise. Or vice-versa.)

I enjoyed the connection among "lamp, an apple", /Ampelis/,
and /sampel/. However, I don't see the "pl" repetitions as
pyrotechnic. "Gradual and dual" is spectacular, but in
my experience of writing poetry, the sound repetitions
happen by themselves (English has only 35 or 40 phonemes)
and you can learn to hear them and add to them without
much trouble.

In regard to Sergei's question, Shade says "/my/ apple on
a plate". This can't be an apple in a decorative fruit
bowl such as you've observed; it has to be one that he has
or (in my opinion) has been given as a child, for the
purpose of eating. I agree with others that the adult Shade's
difficulty in starting an apple seems to be relevant here.
When, as a child, I was given an apple on a saucer, it
didn't last long enough for me to look at its reflection in
a window.

Jerry Friedman

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