Sunday, July 31, 2005

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

a waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum

During our visit to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior, and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Molly and I spotted some waxwings with the help of a copy of a Peterson Field Guide. If I'd ever seen these birds before, I had never been aware of what I was looking at because until our Michigan trip I never knew their distinctive markings. I was delighted to have learned what these birds look like because, as a name at least, I had known about waxwings from (fictional American poet) John Shade's verse from Nabokov's novel Pale Fire:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane;
I was the smudge of ashen fluff -- and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.

In his autobiographical poem, Shade frequently refers to birds by species. Both of his parents, he explains, were ornithologists.

I may not have picked up on it when I first read Pale Fire as an undergraduate, but these lines now present me with an allegory: even after death, the artist lives on -- achieves a kind of immortality -- within the mirror of art. But this allegorical interpretation can't exhaust the vividness and sensual appeal of the waxwing's markings and the subtle gradations of its colors.


Blogger Molly said...

Isn't it interesting how Nabokov and the wax wing have played a part in my life... both relating to you.

Mon Aug 01, 10:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Dawdler said...

Je suis l'oiseau de chanson.

Tue Aug 02, 01:55:00 AM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home