Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0021014, Wed, 1 Dec 2010 17:00:53 -0200

A "stillicide" (Hardy) and "dewdrops from the eaves" (Frost) ,
a clarification (sorry!).
Matthew Roth's link shows that Frost's poem about "eavesdropping" was published in the fifties#. However Matt notes that he doesn't see "anything here in terms of inspiration--just two poets latching onto the same metaphor."
However, my elaborate story about the repetitive appearances of "bright" in Kinbote's ramblings as indicative of "frost/eavesdropping" may end up showing an interesting element of Nabokov's style, after all, should we admit that it's possible that Nabokov had read Frost's 1950 Christmas Poem sometime before he made Kinbote pen his "eavesdropping" commentaries to Shade's "stillicide". Following Matt's initial argument I say that I can agree with him that we have no proof that the poet Shade ever considered the dropping goutlets as indicative of any "eavesdropping" interferences (also Hardy did not*). But that Frost and Nabokov (through Charles Kinbote) share a similar image (or metaphor) remains an open question and it indicates a particular misleading twist intended by the author...

Recapitulating: Shade's lines connect stilettos to stillicide. However, the suspended menace lies not in the latter - but in the fact that the sound and motion of falling drops is stopped by their having been congealed by...frost. Frost has turned a harmless stillicide into something as dangerous as "the organ-pipe-like system of huge icicles that hung from the eaves and gloriously burnt in the sun" ("Mademoiselle O")**.

Charles Kinbote is writing from his Cedarn Cave. He cannot quote Hardy (or Frost), but he must have carried a dictionary along. He informs us that he's read Thomas Hardy, as Shade must have***.

Suddenly his commentary veers off to suggest "the shadow of a regicide" (it's only a matter of rhyme, though, a question of trifling sounds...), and now he introduces the "bright eavesdrop" (the dripping murmur seems to have disappeared to give place to the dangerously frozen stilettos "gloriously burning in the sun").
Kinbote made explicit the possible multiple meanings of eavesdropping (stillicide and the gossipy snoop). He repeats the word "bright" perhaps immitating Frost's iteration of "eaves"****.(three times), "eavesdropping" (twice), "haze" (twice, counting in the poem's very last line).

It means that, if not Shade, at least Kinbote could have been familiar with Hardy's verses, which might have interest him because they point to him as the poet's constant and noisy eavesdropper, already listening in while the couple is isolated, in the back of their house, hazily pondering about their daughter's suicide.

# "Cabin in the Clearing,A, written about August 1950, was Frost's Christmas poem and was first published with a dedication to Frost's friend and publisher Alfred Edwards and appears in Frost's last collection, In the Clearing (1962), lending the collection its title. http://books.google.com/books?id=47NFEPDDBMgC&pg=PA48&dq=%22cabin+in+the+clearing%22+frost&hl=en&ei=YFH2TKPjJsGclgeqsfDLBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22cabin%20in%20the%20clearing%22%20frost&f=false

* "the svelte/Stilettos of a frozen stillicide" (Shade, lines 34/35)
and Hardy's: They've a way of whispering to me -
fellow-wight who yet abide -
In the muted, measured note
Of a ripple under archways,
or a lone cave's stillicide.
(Hardy is describing the sound of dripping water issuing from a stalactite that hangs inside a cave, not the stalactite itself, unlike Shade.)

** "Mademoiselle O":" She had not allowed us to walk under the organ-pipe-like system of huge icicles that hung from the eaves and gloriously burned in the low sun."

*** My dictionary defines it as "a succession of drops falling from the eaves, eavesdrop, cavesdrop." I remember having encountered it for the first time in a poem by Thomas Hardy. The bright frost has eternalized the bright eavesdrop. We should also note the cloak-and-dagger hint-glint in the "svelte stilettos" and the shadow of regicide in the rhyme." (Charles Kinbote, commentary to lines 34/35). Stillicide: "The word is not one of that melancholy collection ending in -cide that refers to an act of killing or something that kills (suicide, pesticide), since it comes from a different Latin verb, caedere, to fall. The first part is from Latin stilla, a drop; the English word is a reformulation of Latin stillicidium, falling drops. The Latin word could mean in particular the drip of rain from the eaves of a house, which is exactly equivalent to an ancient meaning of our eavesdrop." (Michael Quinion);"Water falling in drops, especially in a row from the eaves of a roof, or from icicles or stalactites." (Wikipedia)

**** Frost': "Let us pretend the dewdrops from the eaves
Are you and I eavesdropping on their unrest--
A mist and smoke eavesdropping on a haze--"


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