PALE FIRE

(A fragment from) Canto Three
(from the poem in Nabokov’s Pale Fire)

L’if, lifeless tree! Your great Maybe, Rabelais:
The grand potato.
                                      I.P.H., a lay
Institute (I) of Preparation (P)
For the Hereafter (H), or If, as we
Called it – big if! – engaged me for one term
To speak on death (“to lecture on the Worm,”
Wrote President McAber).
                                      You and I,
And she, then a mere tot, moved from New Wye
To Yewshade, in another, higher state.
I love great mountains. From the iron gate
Of the ramshackle house we rented there
One saw a snowy form, so far, so fair,
That one could only fetch a sigh, as if
It might assist assimilation.
                                        Iph
Was a larvorium and a violet:
A grave in Reason’s early spring. And yet
It missed the gist of the whole thing; it missed
What mostly interests the preterist;
For we die every day; oblivion thrives
Not on dry thighbones but on blood-ripe lives,
And our best yesterdays are now foul piles
Of crumpled names, phone numbers and foxed files.
I’m ready to become a floweret
Or a fat fly, but never, to forget.
And I’ll turn down eternity unless
The melancholy and the tenderness
Of mortal life; the passion and the pain;
The claret taillight of that dwindling plane
Off Hesperus; your gesture of dismay
On running out of cigarettes; the way
You smile at dogs; the trail of silver slime
Snails leave on flagstones; this good ink, this rhyme,
This index card, this slender rubber band
Which always forms, when dropped, an ampersand,
Are found in Heaven by the newlydead
Stored in its strongholds through the years.
                                                                Instead

The Institute assumed it might be wise
Not to expect too much of paradise:
What if there’s nobody to say hullo
To the newcomer, no reception, no
Indoctrination? What if you are tossed
Into a boundless void, your bearings lost,
Your spirit stripped and utterly alone,
Your task unfinished, your despair unknown,
Your body just beginning to putresce,
A non-undresssable in morning dress,
Your widow lying prone on a dim bed,
Herself a blur in your dissolving head!

While snubbing gods, including the big G,
Iph borrowed some peripheral debris
From mystic visions; and it offered tips
(The amber spectacles for life’s eclipse) –
How not to panic when you’re made a ghost:,
Sidle and slide, choose a smooth surd, and coast,
Meet solid bodies and glissade right through,
Or let a person circulate through you.
How to locate in blackness, with a gasp,
Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp.
How to keep sane in spiral types of space.
Precautions to be taken in the case
Of freak reincarnation: what to do
On suddenly discovering that you
Are now a young and vulnerable toad
Plump in the middle of a busy road,
Or a bear cub beneath a burning pine,
Or a book mite in a revived divine.

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