Tag Archives: Elisabeth van der Meer

“What is the grass?”

 

 

 

1 Finland.jpg

photograph by Elisabeth van der Meer

 

 

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.

 

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

 

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

 

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

 

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

 

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

 

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.

 

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

 

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

 

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

 

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and
children?

 

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

 

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

 

 

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I wish to thank Elisabeth van der Meer for sharing the above photograph with me, and for giving me permission to post it.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 6, 2018

 

a colloquy regarding Vladimir Nabokov

 

 

 

At Elisabeth van der Meer’s awesome site on Russian literature,

https://arussianaffair.wordpress.com/

there was a post the other day about Dostoevsky.

The following is an exchange between myself and another respondent to the post, based on an observation I made about Vladimir Nabokov.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2016

 

 

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Roger W. Smith:

This is a typical post for this site. Which is to say that it is extremely well — I should say, beautifully — written and very informative. And, it makes one want to go back and read an author one hasn’t read for a long while. It seems that everything essential has been said about Dostoevsky, with nothing superfluous. Critics write whole books and never get as close as this to the heart of the matter.

A couple of thoughts re Dostoevsky. I am wondering, is he not — as regards style — somewhat like a writer such as Balzac, in that he didn’t give a hoot about style, basically. it was the story and the characters that mattered?

An opinion that I have formed, not based on an extensive acquaintance with his works, is that Nabokov is overrated. Brilliant, but nonetheless, overrated. I recall reading critical writings of Nabokov in which he refers slightingly to Dostoevsky and seems to rank him much lower than contemporaries such as Tolstoy.

A final comment. The illustrations on this site are always chosen, one can see, with great care, and they enhance appreciation and understanding.

 

 

Benn Bell:

I would like to say that I agree with him that your article is an excellent piece. You already know that I love Dostoevsky and have read him extensively. But I must disagree with Roger’s comment on Nabokov and cannot let it go unchallenged. I have also read Nabokov extensively and I find the notion that he is over rated as a writer quite absurd. Between the two of them I would rather read Nabokov any day.

 

 

Roger W. Smith:

I have taken note of your comment and see why you might differ with me.

In response, I would be inclined to say the following.

I don’t know Nabokov that well, having read some of his stuff, e.g., “Speak, Memory,” “Despair,” “Pnin,” and “Lolita” (in part).

“Lolita,” frankly, left me feeling wanting, impoverished. I could not get into it.

I have also read, in whole or part, the following critical works of Nabokov: “Nikolai Gogol” and “Lectures on Russian Literature” (parts)

Does this make me an authority? No.

But, I got the feeling that Nabokov is:

— undoubtedly brilliant;

— somewhat superficial or arid in terms of the emotional depth of his works.

Regarding the second comment – so called superficiality – I feel that Nabokov does not have or achieve in his writings the emotional depth of a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, that his works do not strike the same deep chords. It seems to me, from my personal experience as a reader, that often one, while being impressed if not amazed by the pyrotechnics of Nabokov auteur and his ingenuity and linguistic ability, finds oneself left wanting more emotional nourishment from his works.