When I was teaching literature, I told my class that to have truly read a poem, one must read it three times. The first, to let the feeling and imagery of the text wash over the reader without stressing about meaning. The second, to look for meter and rhyme and to look up any words or references with which one is unfamiliar. And finally, for meaning, finding the source of feeling in that first read in the form and analysis of the second.
Now, to any former students who may have happened upon the “The Man of Tomorrow’s Lament,” a poem Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov tried and failed to sell to the New Yorker in 1942 which finally published in this week’s Times Literary Supplement, I must apologize. There is no reason anyone should read this poem more than once, as it is a straightforward rhyming couplet situation that is 100 percent just an early exploration of the harmful erection that would later become the theme of Lolita.
Thirteen years before publishing Lolita, when Nabokov had recently immigrated to New York City and was struggling to write in a new language and do the freelance hustle I know so well, he used his son’s newfound interest in Superman as inspiration for a poem about how the Man of Steel can’t do anything about that flinty boner. It is, and I know I will get shit for saying this, very fucking bad. But come on:
“I’m young and bursting with prodigious sap,
And I’m in love like any healthy chap—
And I must throttle my dynamic heart
for marriage would be murder on my part,
an earthquake wrecking on the night of nights
a woman’s life, some palmtrees, all the lights,
the big hotel, a smaller one next door
and half a dozen army trucks—or more.”
Sure sounds like someone else whose persistent, inappropriate sexual proclivities torment him, except in this early draft, Clark Humbert decides not to ruin lives with the power of his monstrous dick and simply wishes to be normal. The New Yorker passed. Really goes to show, kids, keep at it. Today’s embarrassing poetry about a murderous blast of semen could one day just become the novel that teaches generations of readers boners for girl children are maybe okay if the sentences describing them are written real good.