Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003394, Fri, 25 Sep 1998 09:52:15 -0700

Re: VN & Sentiment (fwd)
From: <jfriedman@nnm.cc.nm.us>

At 11:46 AM 9/23/98 -0700, Christopher Berg wrote:
>In a message dated 9/22/98 11:32:02 AM EST, Jerry Friedman
><jfriedman@nnm.cc.nm.us> writes:
>> Though I shouldn't give an opinion, since I haven't read many
>> of Nabokov's poems and I don't read Russian, I think that kind of poetic
>> greatness was denied him, just as Frost-y settling of snowflakes was
>> to Shade.
>I don't know that this is true. Clearly, VN's metier was prose, but if the
>Nabokovian "shiver" criterion has any relation to "greatness," certainly such
>a poem as "The Room" qualifies -- although this may be more the mixed
>aesthetic/emotional shiver of Poe than solely that of "beauty plus pity"
-- of
>which that poem has plenty. "The Ballad of Longwood Glen" rates very high for
>me as well, as does, in the non-comic, non-narrative category, "Restoration."
>And "Shade"'s poem, "Pale Fire," is, despite its parodic nature, perhaps a
>great poem, no? Again, plenty of beauty, plenty of pity.

Please note that I said (or guessed) that a *particular kind* of greatness
was denied to Nabokov. That kind is the ability to write a poem that will
be greatly enjoyable and moving to a reader who, before reading, didn't
care about the subject matter.

I haven't read any of the poems you and Tim Henderson mentioned (so I
shouldn't have said anything at all about Nabokov's poetry as a whole).
Let me just discuss "Pale Fire". Whether that's a great poem is a matter
of taste. I like it a lot, though I would mention amazing cleverness
before either beauty or pity. (The only places that come to mind in
connection with pity are the death of Hazel, of course, and maybe the
lemniscate and Shade's shaving.) But I agree completely with Shade and
Kinbote that almost nowhere does it achieve "perfect crystallization", as
Frost's poems do again and again. Almost nowhere, for me, does it "come
right with a click like the closing of a box", to quote Yeats, who knew.
If a poem does manage that feat, I won't hesitate to call it great.

Jerry Friedman