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Thread: Nabokov in Oregon

  1. #1
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Nabokov in Oregon

    Vladimir Nabokov taught at Cornell for most of the 1950s. He lived in Ashland, Oregon (my current home state) briefly while he was finishing "Lolita" (1953) and chasing butterflies during his summer break..

    Today, I came across his poem "Lines Written in Oregon," which he wrote around the same time.

    Esmeralda! now we rest
    Here, in the bewitched and blest
    Mountain forests of the West.
    Here the very air is stranger.
    Damzel, anchoret, and ranger
    Share the woodland’s dream and danger.
    And to think I deemed you dead!
    (In a dungeon, it was said;
    Tortured, strangled); but instead –
    Blue birds from the bluest fable,
    Bear and hare in coats of sable,
    Peacock moth on picnic table.
    Huddled roadsigns softly speak
    Of Lake Merlin, Castle Creek,
    And (obliterated) Peak.
    Do you recognize that clover?
    Dandelions, l’or du pauvre?
    (Europe, nonetheless, is over).
    Up the turf, along the burn
    Latin lilies climb and turn
    Into Gothic fir and fern.
    Cornfields have befouled the prairies
    But these canyons laugh! And there is
    Still the forest with its fairies.
    And I rest where I awoke
    In the sea shade – l’ombre glauque –
    Of a legendary oak;
    Where the woods get ever dimmer,
    Where the Phantom Orchids glimmer –
    Esmeralda, immer, immer
    .

    We Oregonians know just what you mean, Vlad. Immer, immer indeed.

  2. #2
    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    Quite an impressive and interesting piece
    I see quite a couple of french words/expressions.
    Not sure of:

    immer,immer
    ?

    Thank you for posting this.
    it may never try
    but when it does it sigh
    it is just that
    good
    it fly

  3. #3
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Nabokov grew up speaking three languages at home: Russian, French, and English. He wrote elegantly in all three.

    He also lived in Berlin for 15 years during the 20s and 30s (his sister died in a Nazi concentration camp, and Vladimir was a lifelong liberal, opposing totalitarianism both in its Nazi and Communist forms).

    "Immer" is German, and means "always".

  4. #4
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    Somebody showed me the location Nabokov's digs in downtown Ithaca. Apparently a modest second-floor apartment in a nondescript building. Big contrast with the opulent manse once occupied by Carl Sagan, though they were at Cornell at different times, I guess.

    I wonder if this is an example of Nabokov's impish humor, parodying the overwrought Romantic poets, at play here. (Remember what Igor Stravinsky said about sincerity. I think it was Stravinsky.)

    BTW, do you pronounce his name Na-BOK-ov or NA-bo-kov?

  5. #5
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I'm no Nabokov expert, but I think he WAS a romantic, like Humbert and Kinbote, his most famous creations. He had a sense of humor about it, and a bit of modern cynicism. He also liked to show off his massive linguistic skill and expertise (he was an intellectual snob, and despite my claim to know nothing about him, I once read a book about his feud with Edmund Wilson, the famous critic.). He wasn't a great poet (although I like parts of the poem in "Pale Fire"). Perhaps one can weave a romance WHILE finding humor in one's manipulation of the threads. Life is a funny proposition, after all.

    p.s. I pronounce it Na BOK ov, but have no idea which is "correct". I always thought NAB o kov sounded like the British pronunciation, and any nation that can pronounce "Livorno" as "Leghorn" is not to be trusted.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 09-29-2019 at 09:57 PM.

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    Either pronunciation is fine with me, as long as folks remember that the "t" in "often" is silent.

  7. #7
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Despite objecting to "Leghorn", in general I think different languages are free to use their own pronunciations and words. American who say, "May he co" or "Chee lay" seem affected. After all, we don't say "Deutschland" or "Espana"; we use the English words for those nations.

    When traveling in India, I noticed that all of the Indians I encountered said, "Bombay" instead of "Mumbai". When I asked about it, they explained that "Bombay" was the standard pronunciation in English and Hindi, and Mumbai was derived from on one of India's 13 other official languages.

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