Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Kinbote on Waxwings

Vladimir Nabokov, 1899-1977

Charles Kinbote, the fictional narrator of Nabokov's novel Pale Fire and the editor of and commentator on Shade's poem in the novel, has this to say about waxwings and about the lines of Shade's verse quoted in the previous entry:

"The image of these opening lines evidently refers to a bird knocking itself out, in full flight, against the outer surface of a glass pane in which a mirrored sky, with its slightly darker tint and slightly slower cloud, presents the illusion of continued space. We can visualize John Shade in his early boyhood, a physically unattractive but otherwise beautifully developed lad, experiencing his first eschatological shock, as with incredulous fingers he picks up from the turf that compact ovoid body and gazes at the wax-red streaks ornamenting those grey-brown wings and at the graceful tail feathers tipped with yellow as bright as fresh paint. When in the last year of Shade's life I had the fortune of being his neighbor in the idyllic hills of New Wye, ... I often saw those particular birds most convivially feeding on the chalk-blue berries of junipers growing at the corner of his house" (Pale Fire, Kinbote's note to lines 1-4).


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