Friday, January 1, 2010

A Winter's Tale, Act 1

Today is the first day of a new decade, and it is snowing and snowing, and will be snowing for many hours to come. I think it's time to start reading Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. Act I contains two scenes: the first is short; the second is long. Shall we try to advance into the first half of Scene 2 by next weekend--say, up to line 108, just before the stage direction "Gives her hand to Polixenes"?

Meanwhile, here's a bit from Nabokov's memoir of growing up and becoming a writer. When Shakespeare starts scaring you, just remember that, as a reader of poetry, you must allow yourself to inhabit numberless spaces simultaneously. Don't hunt down the immediate, logical links that we are trained to expect in our everyday employments and formal interactions. That's not how poetry is written, nor can it be how poetry is understood. I plan to sit on the couch and read these speeches out loud, back and forth, with my son. The sound of the language in my ear, the feel of the language in my mouth, the gradual rise of personalities and grievances and confusions among the invented characters we'll slowly find ourselves inhabiting: this experience may itself be what this play is essentially "about."

from Speak, Memory

Vladimir Nabokov

In a sense, all poetry is positional: to try to express one’s position in regard to the universe embraced by consciousness, is an immemorial urge. The arms of consciousness reach out and grope, and the longer they are the better. Tentacles, not wings, are Apollo’s natural members. Vivian Bloodmark, a philosophical friend of mine, in later years, used to say that while the scientist sees everything that happens in one point of space, the poet feels everything that happens in one point of time. Lost in thought, he taps his knee with his wandlike pencil, and at the same instant a car (New York license plate) passes along the road, a child bangs the screen door of a neighboring porch, and old man yawns in a misty Turkestan orchard, a granule of cinder-gray sand is rolled by the wind on Venus, a Docteur Jacques Hirsch in Grenoble puts on his reading glasses, and trillions of other such trifles occur—all forming an instantaneous and transparent organism of events, of which the poet (sitting in a lawn chair, at Ithaca, N.Y.) is the nucleus.

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