Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001349, Sun, 13 Oct 1996 13:56:10 -0700

Double Dactyls & VN
As the wife of the coinventor of the double dactyl (see Anthony Hecht's
Introduction in _Jiggery Pokery_), and in the interests of scholarship, I
feel compelled to respond to item #1 in the message below.

First, this was not "a short-lived fad of the sixties." Several examples
of double dactyls (including one on "Marcus Antonius" by my husband, Paul
Pascal, Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Washington)
continue to be anthologized in collections of light verse; from time to
time we learn of double-dactyl contests being sponsored by newspapers or
other media; and the form itself, which has very strict rules of
composition, has been enshrined in textbooks as an established form of
light verse along with the limerick, the clerihew, etc. (I can supply
references on request.)

The example given, aside from the implied mispronunciation of VN's name,
is misquoted, since as Johnson gives it doesn't scan. The actual text is as


Fiddlesky diddlesky
Vladimir Nabokov
Pared his perceptions down
Beautifully fine,

Firmly insisting on
Flickers of color and
Tremors of line.

It's still not very good, but at least it is dactylic. Incidentally, I
don't see how there could be a DD incorporating the correct pronunciation
of VN, since the name properly pronounced does not consist of two dactyls,
as required.

Naomi B. Pascal
Associate Director and Editor-in-Chief
University of Washington Press
> Editor's Note: Double Dactyls were a short-lived craze of the sixties.
> Somewhere in my files, there is a "Nabokov" dd that, unlike the above,
> makes a point of stressing his name correctly, i.e., _ / _.
> ------------------

One of the hazards of contributing to a "specialist" E-mail list
is is that you really never know who is out there and what they know. You
are always at risk of displaying your own incompetence, carelessness
and/or ignorance. I sometimes wonder whether this lurking fear constrains
NABOKV-L contributions to their modest level.
In the case at hand I confess that I had no idea that subscriber
Naomi Pascal, former student of Nabokov at Wellsley, as well as Associate
Director & Editor-in-Chief of the University of Washington University
Press, was, by birthright, an authority on Double Dactyls. She is quite
right that I carelessly omitted the "on" in line five which should read
"Firmly insisting on". Without the "on," the line is not a DD.
I must also confess that she caught me out in an unlikely
lapse--not having read Anthony Hecht's and John Hollander's amusing and
informative "Introduction" to their _Jiggery-Pokery_. I say "lapse"
because as an academic I am more prone to reading "Introductions" than the
contents of books. (It saves so much bother and you can write the review
in a fraction of the time.) Had I read the "Introduction" I would have
discovered that Ms. Pascal greatly understates her role in the creation of
the DD. Anthony Hecht tells of proudly displaying to Dr.and Mrs. Pascal
his unpublished poem "Japan." Its high point was the word
"Schistosomiasis" which occupies its own full line. Paul Pascal pointed
out that while the poem was basically iambic, "Schistosomiasis" consisted
instead of two dactyls. Mr. Hecht offered a weak defense falling back on
poetic license. I now quote from page 18:

"Now, Naomi Pascal is a sensitive woman, and...she detected
something crestfallen in my aspect. As she later said, 'I detected
something crestfallen in your aspect.' Diffidently and with unusual
kindness, she suggested that if Schistosomiasis did not properly fit this
poem, perhaps a new form could be devised to which it would be better
suited. Her motives were of the purest, most compassionate sort. She
wanted to salvage that word for me and for poetry. And while her generous
nature was apparent, the force and importance of her suggestion did not
sink in until lunch."

I do not know whether Anthony Hecht ever did use
"schIstosomIasis" (/--/--) in a DD but Nabokov, no mean creator of poetical
oddities himself, would have been delighted to see his name so used and
even more so to see that in the deep structure of "his" DD,
Wallace-Crabbe metrically echoed "schistosomiasis" (a disease
caused by infection with flukes) with :(Un)Dostoevskian."

As for my hazy recollection of yet another Nabokovian DD with the
"correct," i.e. Russian, stress.i.e., "vladImir nabOkov" Naomi Pascal's
observation that that this just wouldn't work in a DD is undoubtedly
correct. Maybe it just alluded to the incorrect stress while using it. I
recall it also involved a mispronunciation of Proust as "Prowst." Perhaps
someone out there knows it.

Having enjoyed a large crow sandwich, I shall strand by my comment
that the heyday of the DD has, alas, past. If any of you out there feel
brave, you might try your hand and send it to NABOKV-L. It must have
double dactyls for all lines except 4 & 8 which rhyme. The 2nd line must
be "Vladimir Nabokov." Any two dactyllic nonsense words will do for line
1, e.g., jigery-pokery, higgledy-piggledy, higamus-hogamus, etc.

Don Johnson, Editor

P.S. NABOKV-L suscribers will remember Naomi Pascal's brief memoir of her
classes with Nabokov. It appeared on NABOKV-L and later in THE NABOKOVIAN.