On Sun, Jan 17, 2010 at 7:56 AM, Gary Lipon <glipon@innerlea.com> wrote:
Pale Fire, the poem is an ironic piece, but the feelings of pathos and tragedy bleed through the irony.

I love you when you’re standing on the lawn
Peering at something in a tree: “It’s gone.
It was so small. It might come back” (all this
Voiced in a whisper softer than a kiss).
I love you when you call me to admire
A jet’s pink trail above the sunset fire.
I love you when you’re humming as you pack
A suitcase or the farcical car sack
With round-trip zipper. And I love you most
When with a pensive nod you greet her ghost
And hold her first toy on your palm, or look
At a postcard from her, found in a book.

This stanza begins with extraordinary insipidness; an adolescent-like use of parallelism,
and the common affectation of poetry as pretty language embodied in the line:
Voiced in a whisper softer than a kiss
But this is its ironic charm...

That's one of the few places in the poem that I think might be intentionally bad, indicating that Shade can't write well about his genuine or fake love for Sybil.  But on the other hand, when Nabokov was expressing himself in English verse, he wrote lines I consider flat or trite, as in "An Evening of Russian Poetry":

enormous clouds above an endless plain,"

And lovers meeting in a tangled garden,
dreaming of mankind, of untrammeled life,
mingling their longings in the moonlight garden,
where trees and hearts are larger than in life."

[snip some perceptive remarks]

And the hallucinogenic compounding of Hazel's last night with the television programming 
has to be considered daring. PF, as a poem, pretty much succeeds or fails based on 
the reader's reaction to that device.

I like the TV bits, but my favorite part is the end of Canto 3. 

[snip again]

(The hopelessly archaic  Ruy Lopes, the Spanish, 
was nevertheless Fischer's favorite opening. 
Long live the preterists!)

Not to get pedantic or off-topic--the Ruy Lopez is old but I don't think it's ever been archaic.  It was played over and over in world-championship matches after Fischer retired (Karpov, Korchnoi, Kasparov, Kramnik) and is still popular.


As you say there is a balancing going on through out all of Pale Fire, the poem,
between irony and parody on one side and pathos and authentic emotion on the other.
VN/Shade wants the reader to be moved by Hazel's suicide, but not too moved, not to tears,
and so the humorously unlikely place names, Exe to Wye, are mentioned right in the middle 
of the pathetic climax. Very Shakespearean I'd say. I pray you, remember the porter.

John Morris wrote:
Most signficant of all, the poem is, let's face it, Nabokovian in the highest degree!

As I hinted above, I agree completely (though I disagree with John Morris about much of Canto 3).  The alternation of prosaic and poetic language is just what Nabokov does in "An Evening of Russian Poetry".  (People have suggested here that I underestimate Nabokov's irony, and maybe I'm doing so again with that poem--but again I don't think so.)

Likewise, I think the Exe-Wye-zesty play is not only Shakespearean but Nabokovian.  In /Speak, Memory/ he relates a pathetic incident from his country's and his own great disaster, the Soviet revolution, and says the important thing for him is the recurrence of the match theme.  As Brian Boyd points out in another context, in the killing of Shade Nabokov makes "shambolic farce" out of the murder of his father.  So I'd say Shade can play with alphabetical coincidences while writing about his daughter's suicide, and Nabokov doesn't mean it to be bad poetry, however much some readers dislike it.

Furthermore, Shade is working toward the climax of the poem, the part of the book that justifies both his "combinational" method and Nabokov's: his coming to believe that just such coincidences are intimations of immortality.  We can see in retrospect that while he narrates Hazel's death, he hints at his hope that she "somewhere is alive."

Jerry Friedman

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