Monday, January 22, 2018
Pale File online reading group, Week Two
Two Cedar waxwings, very much alive, pass a berry during courtship. Creative Commons photo by Minette Layne of Seattle, Washington.
This week. let's read "Pale Fire: A Poem in Four Cantos." It's a few more pages than we're ordinarily going to do, but it makes no sense to me to break up John Shade's autobiographical poem. Then we can get into the heart of the book, Charles Kinbote's analysis of the poem.
The poem begins with two well known lines:
I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure of the windowpane;
Did you see Supergee's post parodying those lines? “I was the fookin shadow of the waxwing slain. I only said Shade was the shadow of the waxwing slain to be nice.”
The poem begins with vivid images of the death of a bird, and as we read the poem, says Brian Boyd in his book about Pale Fire, "we learn more about Shade's lifelong attempt to understand a world where life is surrounded by death."
Andrea Pitzer in the book The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov calls Shade a "very decent poet" and says Nabokov created "a quintessential American writer whose work lives in the shadow of Robert Frost." Frost is mentioned on page 426 of the post. Nabokov did readings with Frost, once opening for Frost at an event in Boston, Pitzer says.
Boyd identifies where the words "pale fire" come from: Shakespeare, in the play Timon of Athens.
The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea: the moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun:
The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
The moon into salt tears: the earth's a thief,
That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen
From general excrement: each thing's a thief:
The laws, your curb and whip, in their rough power
Have uncheque'd theft.
(From Act IV, Scene III, lines 472-480)
As Boyd notes, Nabokov tells you the source of the name is Shakespeare: Line 960.
Anybody up for a coincidence? As I was working on this post, about a poem that describes a young woman who dies walking on the surface of a thawing, icy lake (Canto Two), I was interrupted by a work phone call. I had to stop working on this blog post, so I could do a quick newspaper story about ice fishermen being rescued after they fell into the water.
I read the poem again Sunday. Let's read the poem together and discuss in the comments. By the way, comments are still being posted for last week's initial post.