Wednesday, June 4, 2014
On Discovering a Butterfly
I found it and I named it, being versed
in taxonomic Latin; thus became
godfather to an insect and its first
describer – and I want no other fame.
Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep),
and safe from creeping relatives and rust,
in the secluded stronghold where we keep
type specimens it will transcend its dust.
Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss,
poems that take a thousand years to die
but ape the immortality of this
red label on a little butterfly.
- Vladimir Nabokov
“A Discovery” (December 1941); published as “On Discovering a Butterfly” in The New Yorker (15 May 1943)
A little while ago, I re-read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I found it unspeakably beautiful, where my previous reading had left me only despondent dregs. Why would this be so? I had not noticed the words on my first reading, decades ago. I thought, in this second reading, that no one who was brought up speaking English could write like this- no one could use words with such joy and innovation if they were introduced to the language by being told, over and over, as a toddler:
"no-no." Native speakers are stuck with familiarity breeding contempt, and they are burdened by the conventions of their community.*
Which reminds me of another writer, whose native tongue was not English: Vladimir Nabokov. Can I induce you to read Lolita? May I implore you to? The words, the words! A fabulous carnival of phrases and words and sounds. It is wild and untamed language, its goal is not mere communication. It sings and flies, and it runs stops lights. Don't you want to be there with it?
You will find this more convincing: The author in an interview, part one, and two. Please also enjoy this link to an audio recording of Nabokov reading his own poem: An Evening of Russian Poetry.
Oh yes, and you will want to learn more about some of our smaller compadres, the invertebrates- by joining The Xerces Society.
Here is a little musical finale, and an encore of sorts.
*Is this a mandate? Gentle advice? Perhaps... Stay away from people who talk regular.