R.S. Gwynn said: "This may be possible, but I suspect that Edsel Ford sent him a book and that he admired some of the work. When I was a grad student at Arkansas, Edsel Ford was a "native son" who had gained some recognition, and I always thought he was a pretty good poet, despite his being from rural Arkansas and having that unfortunate name. It's just like VN to have championed, in a very small way, a poet from the hinterlands who would never be taken very seriously because of his cognomen."
MR: For the full story on how VN came across Edsel Ford, see my note in the Spring 2007 Nabokovian. To summarize, I too thought it might have been possible that Ford sent VN his book, since it says somewhere in SO that publishers and authors sometimes did so. It turns out, however, that this was not the case. "The Image of Desire" was first published in the New York Herald Tribune on February 18, 1961. At this time, VN was in Nice, where he daily walked to a newsstand and purchased a copy of the international edition of the NYHT. (He was working on Pale Fire at this time.) This fact alone makes it much more likely that VN saw the poem in the NYHT. Confirmation of this can be found in the Edsel Ford papers housed at that Univ. of Arkansas library. Here we find a letter, dated July 24, 1962, from Ford to the editor of the NYHT, Nicholas King.
Dear Mr. King,
It has come to my attention that Vladimir Nabokov in his latest novel, Pale Fire, has quoted two lines from my poem, "The Image of Desire", which first appeared in The Herald Tribune early last year. Since I am mentioned by name as the author of "the admirable image," I presume I am supposed to be pleased; but at the same time I would like to know if The Herald Tribune was asked for permission to use the lines. I was not.
If your going rate for poems has dropped to 5 dollars, as reflected by the latest check for a sonnet, then I've got to sue somebody, or else whittle slingshots for the gift shops.
I enclose two new poems, the longer one only because it might fit alongside Mrs Palmer's story.
Happy Homecoming. I hope it was a good rest for you.
MR: I trust you all will find that letter as humorous as I do. Especially the lament followed by the petition, a poet's prayer if I ever saw one. Anyway, this certainly proves that Ford did not send VN the book. Given that fact, combined with the fact that VN was in Europe and was a regular reader of the NYHT, we can only conclude that VN saw the poem in the newspaper, not in Ford's book, A Thicket of Sky. King, by the way, wrote back in August. In a completely unbelievable dodge, he told Ford that he had "not been able to get a copy of the book to see in what context your lines were used." But, he added, "I am interested in seeing them, and also in the fact that the author of Lolita reads our editorial page verse." Then he told Ford to take it up with VN's publisher. No word if he accepted the poems.