nabokov





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   





Museum curators traditionally affix red labels only to “holotype” specimens -- that is, to individuals chosen as official recipients of the name given to a new species. The necessity for such a rule arises from a common situation in taxonomic research. A later scientist may discover that the original “namer” of a species defined the group too broadly by including specimens from more than one genuine species.... By official rules, the species of the designated holotype specimen keeps the original name, and members of the newly recognized species must receive a new name. Thus, Nabokov tells us that no product of human cultural construction can match the immortality of the permanent name-bearer for a genuine species in nature. The species may become extinct, of course, but the name continues forever to designate a genuine natural population that once inhabited the earth.










in honor of nabokov, man of pale fire, lolita, pnin, most of all, for me at least: speak memory, his version of his life...

but today nabokov's theory on butterflies is vindicated:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/science/01butterfly.html?emc=eta1



A male Acmon blue butterfly (Icaricia acmon).
Vladimir Nabokov described the Icaricia genus in 1944.