Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002563, Tue, 18 Nov 1997 15:21:40 -0800

Re: Nabokov's Phantom Verse (fwd)
From: Earl Sampson <esampson@cu.campus.mci.net>

On 11/17 you wrote:

>EDITOR's NOTE. I wonder if this isn't a prankish attribution by David
>Thompson. All of VN's poetry is rhymed and metered. Nice, none the less.
>From: Bill Blackwell <wblackwe@erols.com>
>Film critic David Thomson's Introduction to _Beneath Mulholland_,
>his recently published collection of essays, begins:
> How does the poem go . . . . ?
> Beneath Mulholland there are bodies buried:
> Ghosts, spooks, those flaming images so pale and filmy,
> The intimates we never met. O how they stir,
> Fretful, sleepless, and how steadily fond parents
> School their young---it's only an earthquake, dearest,
> 5.0 or 5.1.
> I quote from unreliable memory---Nabokov's unfinished Los Angeles
> rhapsody (going back to his brief Stanley Kubrick period) was, as
> far as I know, never committed to paper or index cards. Truly,
> a phantom verse. I wish I could remember more.

Regarding the editor's note: the fragment could be said to have meter,
though rather irregular. The first three lines scan as iambs, the fourth as
trochees, and the fifth would also scan as trochees, but for an extra
syllable (|_ |_ |_ _ |_ |_). The last line, if it's a complete line, could
be scanned as amphibrachs (stressed on "0" and "1"). Given that Thomson
admits that his memory is unreliable and incomplete, the "original" might
have displayed more regular metrical tendencies. And the ghosts of rhymes
lurk in the fragment: the assonance parents/dearest; the internal slant
rhyme young/one. It's interesting to compare "Sneg" (Snow") in POEMS AND
PROBLEMS, in which there is no regular rhyming pattern, and most of the
lines do not rhyme at all, but there is one regular rhyme (idyot/lyod), and
several kinds of irregular rhymes: blestiashch/tashchat'sia, zvuk/b'iut,
rovnomu/veryovochku, udosuzhitsia/neukliuzhee. As for all of VN's poetry
being rhymed, a hasty and incomplete check suggests this is true of his
English-language poems, at least of all those in POEMS AND PROBLEMS (Are
there others written in English, other than a few occasional pieces such as
the "gawk of the heron" verses that were discussed on the list recently?).
As for the Russian poetry, I didn't scan all of the poems in the 1979 Ardis
STIKHI, but a partial check turned up a few that while metered are unrhymed
- because they are forms that are traditionally unrhymed: blank verse (the
1918 "Otryvok" ["Fragment"]), and hexameters, e.g. "Babochka"
("Butterfly"), from AERIAL WAY, or the 1923 "Pamiati Gumileva" ("In Memory
of Gumilev").

All this is not to argue one way or the other as to the authorship of the lines.

Earl Sampson
Boulder, CO