Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005278, Tue, 4 Jul 2000 08:53:13 -0700

Pale Fire & Heroic Couplets (fwd)
From: Arthur Glass <goliard@worldnet.att.net>

Kinbote's ignorance of English poets and their preferred forms stands out
like the proverbial sore thumb in the not to lines 47-48:
In seeming to suggest a midway situation [of Shade's home 'between
Goldsworth and Wordsmith'] , our poet is less concerned with spatial
exactitude than with a witty exchange of syllables invoking the the two
masters of the heroic couplet, between whom he embowers his own muse.

But Wordsworth, apart from juvenalia, wrote nothing in heroic couplets, or
couplets of any sort. The works that have assured him a place in the
Pantheon ,'Tintern Abbey,' 'Guilt and Sorrow,' 'The Excursion,' the
'Prelude,' are all written in blank verse.

----- Original Message -----
From: Galya Diment <galya@u.washington.edu>
Sent: Monday, July 03, 2000 5:44 PM
Subject: Pale Fire & Heroic Couplets

> From: Arthur Glass <goliard@worldnet.att.net>
> Is 'Pale Fire,' as Kinbote says it is, 'a poem in heroic couplets?'
> Surely it is a poem in consecutively rhymed lines, but is that sufficient
> call it a poem composed in heroic couplets? The adjective 'heroic' implies
> that there are couplets that are not so. A Shakespearean sonnet ends with
> couplet, after all. Would anyone say that the first two lines of Donne's
> Anatomie of the World' constitute a heroic couplet?
> When that rich Soule which to her heaven is gone
> Whom all do celebrate, who know they have one....
> As I remember my literary history, Edmund Waller is credited with being
> progenitor of the heroic couplet. The opening four lines of 'At Penshurst'
> will suffice:
> Had Sacharissa lived when mortals made
> Choice of their deities, this sacred shade
> Had held an altar to her power, that gave
> The peace and glory which these alleys have.
> Note that in lines one, two and four, the line-pause is near the middle
> (line three is irregular in this regard). But we still do not have the
> polished, closed couplet perfected by Dryden. Here is the beginning of
> 'Absalom and Achitophel:'
> In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin,
> Before polygamy was made a sin;
> When man on many multiplied his kind,
> Ere one to one was cursedly confined;
> Each line is end-stopped, the second line of each couplet stopped more
> heavily than the first. Line and the couplet each constitute a metrical
> unit.
> Now cosider the opening of 'Canto Two' of 'Pale Fire'
> There was a time in my demented youth
> When somehow I suspected that the truth
> About survival after death was known
> To every human being; I alone
> Knew nothing, and a great conspiracy
> Of books and people hid the truth from me.
> Line one is obviously end-stopped. one might argue for a slight pause at
> end of line two, but it can hardly be called heavily stopped, as befits
> second line of a closed couplet. Line three could be read as end-stopped
> with a heavy stress on 'alone.' It would be difficult to argue for an
> end-stop after line four.
> Let's end for now with the Popean glory of the closed couplet from the
> 'Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot:'
> What Walls can guard me, or what Shades can hide?
> They pierce my Thickets, thro' my Grot they glide,
> By land, by water, they renew the charge,
> They stop the Chariot, and they board the Barge.
> Notice that I have been looking for 'shade.' But then, it's July in New
> Jersey.
> In short, there is a certain swing to a genuine heroic couplet, which the
> attuned ear can pick up without analysis. There is also a cultural
> in which the form makes elegant sense, apart from which it is a tropical
> fish out of water. but more of that anon.
> :