Ballad of Longwood Glen

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 08/21/2020 - 05:58

In VN’s poem The Ballad of Longwood Glen (1957) Art Longwood, a local florist, climbs a tree and gets lost in it:


That Sunday morning, at half past ten,
Two cars crossed the creek and entered the glen.

In the first was Art Longwood, a local florist,
With his children and wife (now Mrs. Deforest).

In the one that followed, a ranger saw
Art's father, stepfather and father-in-law.

The three old men walked off to the cove.
Through tinkling weeds Art slowly drove.

Fair was the morning, with bright clouds afar.
Children and comics emerged from the car.

Silent Art, who could stare at a thing all day,
Watched a bug climb a stalk and fly away.

Pauline had asthma, Paul used a crutch.
They were cute little rascals but could not run much.

"I wish," said his mother to crippled Paul,
"Some man would teach you to pitch that ball."

Silent Art took the ball and tossed it high.
It stuck in a tree that was passing by.

And the grave green pilgrim turned and stopped,
The children waited, but no ball dropped.

"I never climbed trees in my timid prime,"
Thought Art; and forthwith started to climb.

Now and then his elbow or knee could be seen
In a jigsaw puzzle of blue and green.

Up and up Art Longwood swarmed and shinned,
And the leaves said yes to the questioning wind.

What tiaras of gardens! What torrents of light!
How accessible ether! How easy flight!

His family circled the tree all day.
Pauline concluded: "Dad climbed away."

None saw the delirious celestial crowds
Greet the hero from earth in the snow of the clouds.

Mrs. Longwood was getting a little concerned.
He never came down. He never returned.

She found some change at the foot of the tree.
The children grew bored. Paul was stung by a bee.

The old men walked over and stood looking up,
Each holding five cards and a paper cup.

Cars on the highway stopped, backed, and then
Up a rutted road waddled into the glen.

And the tree was suddenly full of noise,
Conventioners, fishermen, freckled -boys.

Anacondas and pumas were mentioned by some,
And all kinds of humans continued to come:

Tree surgeons, detectives, the fire brigade.
An ambulance parked in the dancing shade.

A drunken rogue with a rope and a gun
Arrived on the scene to see justice done.

Explorers, dendrologists – all were there;
And a strange pale girl with gypsy hair.

And from Cape Fear to Cape Flattery
Every paper had: Man Lost in Tree.

And the sky-bound oak (where owls had perched
And the moon dripped gold) was felled and searched.

They discovered some inchworms, a red-cheeked gall,
And an ancient nest with a new-laid ball.

They varnished the stump, put up railings and signs.
Restrooms nestled in roses and vines.

Mrs. Longwood, retouched, when the children died,
Became a photographer's dreamy bride.

And now the Deforests, with four old men,
Like regular tourists visit the glen;

Munch their lunches, look up and down,
Wash their hands, and drive back to town.


Before climbing the tree, silent Art (who can stare at a thing all day) watches a bug climb a stalk and fly away. Having climbed the oak tree, Art Longwood turns into a butterfly and flies away ("How accessible ether! How easy flight!"). To a Butterfly ("I've watched you now a full half-hour") and Glen-Almain; Or, the Narrow Glen are poems by William Wordsworth, the author of "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood."


None saw the delirious celestial crowds

Greet the hero from earth in the snow of the clouds.


The delirious celestial crowds who greet the hero from earth in the snow of the clouds are the angels (or, more likely, the gods from VN's story Gods, see below my post "grave green pilgrim"). In his poem Net, bytie – ne zybkaya zagadka… (“No, life isn’t an unresolvable riddle,” 1923) VN says that we are gusenitsy angelov (the caterpillars of angels):


Нет, бытие - не зыбкая загадка!

Подлунный дол и ясен, и росист.

Мы - гусеницы ангелов; и сладко

въедаться с краю в нежный лист.


Рядись в шипы, ползи, сгибайся, крепни,

и чем жадней твой ход зеленый был,

тем бархатистей и великолепней

хвосты освобожденных крыл.


In the last line of his poem Sam treugol'nyi, dvukrylyi, beznogiy... ("Himself triangular, two-winged, legless..." 1932) VN calls a night moth that flew into the room angelochek nochnoy ("the nocturnal little angel"):


Сам треугольный, двукрылый, безногий,
но с округлённым, прелестным лицом,
ижицей быстрой в безумной тревоге
комнату всю облетая кругом,

страшный малютка, небесный калека,
гость, по ошибке влетевший ко мне,
дико метался, боясь человека,
а человек прижимался к стене,

всё ещё в свадебном галстуке белом,
выставив руку, лицо отклоня,
с ужасом тем же, но оцепенелым:
только бы он не коснулся меня,

только бы вылетел, только нашёл бы
это окно и опять, в неземной
лаборатории, в синюю колбу
сел бы, сложась, ангелочек ночной.


In his poem Vecher dymchat i dolog... ("The Evening is hazy and long...") from Sem' stikhotvoreniy ("Seven Poems," 1956) VN calls rayskiy sumerechnik (a heavenly hawkmoth, Sphinx Caput mortuum) "an angel" and, when the insect is netted, "the demon:"


Вечер дымчат и долог:
я с мольбою стою,
молодой энтомолог,
перед жимолостью.

О, как хочется, чтобы
там, в цветах, вдруг возник,
запуская в них хобот,
райский сумеречник.

Содроганье – и вот он.
Я по ангелу бью,
и уж демон замотан
в сетку дымчатую.


The name Art Longwood seems to hint at the Latin proverb ars longa, vita brevis. Quercus being Latin for “oak-tree,” the sky-bound oak in VN’s poem brings to mind Quercus, the novel that Cincinnatus reads in the fortress in VN’s novel Priglashenie na kazn’ (“Invitation to a Beheading,” 1935). In VN’s novel there is a butterfly that the jailer Rodion brings to feed the spider (official friend of the jailed) and that manages to escape. In the fortress Cincinnatus is visited by his wife Marthe and her entire family, including her old grandparents and two children: lame Diomedon and obese little Pauline. M’sieur Pierre (the executioner in The Invitation to a Beheading), no doubt, helped to fell and search the oak tree in VN’s ballad. M’sieur Pierre’s hobbies are photography and fishing. Mr. Deforest (who married Mrs. Longwood after the death of her children) is a photographer. Art’s retouched widow brings to mind ein bisschen retouchiert, in VN’s autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) the words of disappointed Dietrich (whose hobby was collecting snapshots of execution) about a purchased series of photographs that depicted the successive series of a routine execution in China.


The Ballad of Longwood Glen seems to be VN's reply to Franz Kafka, the author of Die Verwandlung ("The Metamorphosis," 1915). Unlike Kafka's story (whose hero wakes up and finds himself transformed into a beetle), VN's poem has a happy ending.

Art Longwood + florist + tail = artist + wrong + flood + Lolita


A strange pale girl with gypsy hair in The Ballad of Longwood Glen seems to be a nod at Lolita.

Had my English vocabulary been richer, I would have played wordgolf and transformed Longwood into Deforest. Would anyone try?

Wasn't the 'lep' that escaped Rodion (Beheading) a moth? I seem to recall a really big moth. I was unaware of this aphorism: Ars longa, vita brevis - but I think it fits well. To be honest, even though VN himself held Longwood Glen in high regard (re: "underwater patterns and interesting shades"); I'm somewhat puzzled by it (for years now). I do not understand what it's so haunting or striking in it apart from being a quaint and colourful piece.

Any help?

Longwood -> Deforest? Really? Seems pretty ugly.

Yes, in the English version of IB (as far as I remember) the 'lep' is a moth, but in the Russian original it is nochnaya babochka. Hence my misatake ("moth" is motylyok).


I see another great joke in The Ballad:


Pauline had asthma, Paul used a crutch.
They were cute little rascals but could not run much.

"I wish," said his mother to crippled Paul,
"Some man would teach you to pitch that ball."


Baseball is an American game. In Speak, Memory VN says that Dietrich hoped some day to go to the States so as to witness a couple of electrocutions; from this word, in his innocence, he derived the adjective “cute,” which he had learned from a cousin of his who had been to America:


Somehow, during my secluded years in Germany, I never came across those gentle musicians of yore who, in Turgenev’s novels, played their rhapsodies far into the summer night; or those happy old hunters with their captures pinned to the crown of their hats, of whom the Age of Reason made such fun: La Bruyère’s gentleman who sheds tears over a parasitized caterpillar, Gay’s “philosophers more grave than wise” who, if you please, “hunt science down in butterflies,” and, less insultingly, Pope’s “curious Germans,” who “hold so rare” those “insects fair”; or simply the so-called wholesome and kindly folks that during the last war homesick soldiers from the Middle West seem to have preferred so much to the cagey French farmer and to brisk Madelon II. On the contrary, the most vivid figure I find when sorting out in memory the meager stack of my non-Russian and non-Jewish acquaintances in the years between the two wars is the image of a young German university student, well-bred, quiet, bespectacled, whose hobby was capital punishment. At our second meeting he showed me a collection of photographs among which was a purchased series (“Ein bischen retouchiert,” he said wrinkling his freckled nose) that depicted the successive stages of a routine execution in China; he commented, very expertly, on the splendor of the lethal sword and on the spirit of perfect cooperation between headsman and victim, which culminated in a veritable geyser of mist-gray blood spouting from the very clearly photographed neck of the decapitated party. Being pretty well off, this young collector could afford to travel, and travel he did, in between the humanities he studied for his Ph.D. He complained, however, of continuous ill luck and added that if he did not see something really good soon, he might not stand the strain. He had attended a few passable hangings in the Balkans and a well-advertised, although rather bleak and mechanical guillotinade (he liked to use what he thought was colloquial French) on the Boulevard Arago in Paris; but somehow he never was sufficiently close to observe everything in detail, and the highly expensive teeny-weeny camera in the sleeve of his raincoat did not work as well as he had hoped. Despite a bad cold, he had journeyed to Regensburg where beheading was violently performed with an axe; he had expected great things from that spectacle but, to his intense disappointment, the subject had apparently been drugged and had hardly reacted at all, beyond feebly flopping about on the ground while the masked executioner and his clumsy mate fell all over him. Dietrich (my acquaintance’s first name) hoped some day to go to the States so as to witness a couple of electrocutions; from this word, in his innocence, he derived the adjective “cute,” which he had learned from a cousin of his who had been to America, and with a little frown of wistful worry Dietrich wondered if it were really true that, during the performance, sensational puffs of smoke issued from the natural orifices of the body. At our third and last encounter (there still remained bits of him I wanted to file for possible use) he related to me, more in sorrow than in anger, that he had once spent a whole night patiently watching a good friend of his who had decided to shoot himself and had agreed to do so, in the roof of the mouth, facing the hobbyist in a good light, but having no ambition or sense of honor, had got hopelessly tight instead. Although I have lost track of Dietrich long ago, I can well imagine the look of calm satisfaction in his fish-blue eyes as he shows, nowadays (perhaps at the very minute I am writing this), a never-expected profusion of treasures to his thigh-clapping, guffawing co-veterans—the absolutely wunderbar pictures he took during Hitler’s reign. (Chapter Fourteen, 1)


Incidentally, Kafka's unfinished novel Amerika (1927) is also known as The Man who Disappeared.


Rascals suggest "Rascalnikov" (as in "Despair" Hermann calls Raskolnikov).

Art watched "a bug climb a stalk and fly away". Art's metamorphosis into a butterfly? Don't know. That's what I mean, this poem "shies away" too much. I thought "Cape Fear to Cape Flattery" was a covert play (like say using acronyms, in a sentence CF. "MAN LOST IN A TREE"). 

Cute from Electrocutions? Not nearly as neat 'axe' from 'anxiety', by removing 'tiny', huh?

PS - The photographer from the beginning of Ch. 2 in IB.

In the Russian original Cincinnatus's brother-in-law suggests that Cincinnatus reads the word ropot (murmur) backward (topor means "axe"). Do you mean that "cute from electrocution" was invented by VN? This is not unlikely.


There is no indefinite article in the article title ("Man Lost in Tree"), a bad pun. Cape Fear and Cape Flattery are real places on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the USA. Don't see what you mean by "acronyms." VN's poem never shied away me. It always reminded me of Daniil Kharms's poem Iz doma vyshel chelovek ("A man left home," 1937) whose hero disappears in the woods:


Из дома вышел человек
С дубинкой и мешком
И в дальний путь,
И в дальний путь
Отправился пешком.

Он шел все прямо и вперед
И все вперед глядел.
Не спал, не пил,
Не пил, не спал,
Не спал, не пил, не ел.

И вот однажды на заре
Вошел он в темный лес.
И с той поры,
И с той поры,
И с той поры исчез.

Но если как-нибудь его
Случится встретить вам,
Тогда скорей,
Тогда скорей,
Скорей скажите нам.

In general, I do not pun. Near anagrams and half puns are definitely not in my line because they leave too many possibilities open. I'm well aware that Cape Fear and Cape Flattery are actual places, I meant the C of Cape and F of Fear and then cf. man lost in tree (where's the pun here, with or without an "a"?). It was a casual thought - not worth following up. Do you really think I would not verify this (whether they are real places or not) before typing it out?

I did not mean VN would invent the cute from electrocution, I seriously believe in Speak, Memory, VN stuck to the strength of facts. Nabokov has written enough fictions, we don't need inventions in his autobiography. Mistakes are a different matter.

The unintentional pun is on "article" (and it is mine). In SM the anecdote about Chukovski was invented by VN in toto.


In solving The Ballad of Longwood Glen I have followed VN's advice to Katherine A. White to look closer at the poem and very soon began to see "all kinds of interesting shades and underwater patterns."

The action in VN's ballad begins on Sunday morning, at half past ten. Russian for "Sunday," voskresenie also means "resurrection" (because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday). Voskresenie (1899) is a novel by Leo Tolstoy. The opening sentence of VN's novel Ada (1969) turns inside out the beginning of Tolstoy's Anna Karenin (1877):


‘All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,’ says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R.G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858).


The Deforests who "wash their hands and drive back to town" bring to mind Pontius Pilate who washed his hands before the crowd. 


The picnickers (a dozen elderly townsmen) in the adjacent glade in "Ardis the Second" (on Ada's sixteenth birthday) seem to be the apostles:


After reverently inspecting the Silentium, a dozen elderly townsmen, in dark clothes, shabby and uncouth, walked into the forest across the road and sat down there to a modest colazione of cheese, buns, salami, sardines and Chianti. They were quite sufficiently far from our picnickers not to bother them in any way. They had no mechanical music boxes with them. Their voices were subdued, their movements could not have been more discreet. The predominant gesture seemed to be ritually limited to this or that fist crumpling brown paper or coarse gazette paper or baker’s paper (the very lightweight and inefficient sort), and discarding the crumpled bit in quiet, abstract fashion, while other sad apostolic hands unwrapped the victuals or for some reason or other wrapped them up again, in the noble shade of the pines, in the humble shade of the false acacias. (1.39)


One of their comrades whom they might have dispatched and buried is Judas:


He called for wine — but the remaining bottles had been given to the mysterious pastors whose patronage the adjacent clearing had already lost: they might have dispatched and buried one of their comrades, if the stiff collar and reptilian tie left hanging from a locust branch were his. Gone also was the bouquet of roses which Ada had ordered to be put back into the boot of the Count’s car — better than waste them on her, let him give them, she said, to Blanche’s lovely sister. (ibid.)


In a letter of March 6, 1957, to Katherine A. White VN says that at first blush his ballad may look like a weird hybrid between Shagall and Grandmother Moses. In Shagall's paintings people are flying in the sky above Vitebsk (Shagall's home town). Describing the conversation about religions in "Ardis the First," Van mentions Moses:


Now Lucette demanded her mother’s attention.

‘What are Jews?’ she asked.

‘Dissident Christians,’ answered Marina.

‘Why is Greg a Jew?’ asked Lucette.

‘Why-why!’ said Marina; ‘because his parents are Jews.’

‘And his grandparents? His arrière grandparents?’

‘I really wouldn’t know, my dear. Were your ancestors Jews, Greg?’

‘Well, I’m not sure,’ said Greg. ‘Hebrews, yes — but not Jews in quotes — I mean, not comic characters or Christian businessmen. They came from Tartary to England five centuries ago. My mother’s grandfather, though, was a French marquis who, I know, belonged to the Roman faith and was crazy about banks and stocks and jewels, so I imagine people may have called him un juif.’

‘It’s not a very old religion, anyway, as religions go, is it?’ said Marina (turning to Van and vaguely planning to steer the chat to India where she had been a dancing girl long before Moses or anybody was born in the lotus swamp).

‘Who cares —’ said Van.

‘And Belle’ (Lucette’s name for her governess), ‘is she also a dizzy Christian?’

‘Who cares,’ cried Van, ‘who cares about all those stale myths, what does it matter — Jove or Jehovah, spire or cupola, mosques in Moscow, or bronzes and bonzes, and clerics, and relics, and deserts with bleached camel ribs? They are merely the dust and mirages of the communal mind.’

‘How did this idiotic conversation start in the first place?’ Ada wished to be told, cocking her head at the partly ornamented dackel or taksik.

‘Mea culpa,’ Mlle Larivière explained with offended dignity. ‘All I said, at the picnic, was that Greg might not care for ham sandwiches, because Jews and Tartars do not eat pork.’

‘The Romans,’ said Greg, ‘the Roman colonists, who crucified Christian Jews and Barabbits, and other unfortunate people in the old days, did not touch pork either, but I certainly do and so did my grandparents.’

Lucette was puzzled by a verb Greg had used. To illustrate it for her, Van joined his ankles, spread both his arms horizontally, and rolled up his eyes.

‘When I was a little girl,’ said Marina crossly, ‘Mesopotamian history was taught practically in the nursery.’

‘Not all little girls can learn what they are taught,’ observed Ada.

‘Are we Mesopotamians?’ asked Lucette.

‘We are Hippopotamians,’ said Van. ‘Come,’ he added, ‘we have not yet ploughed today.’ (1.14)


In the next chapter of Ada Van and Ada climb the Shattal Tree:


One afternoon they were climbing the glossy-limbed shattal tree at the bottom of the garden. Mlle Larivière and little Lucette, screened by a caprice of the coppice but just within earshot, were playing grace hoops. One glimpsed now and then, above or through the foliage, the skimming hoop passing from one unseen sending stick to another. The first cicada of the season kept trying out its instrument. A silver-and-sable skybab squirrel sat sampling a cone on the back of a bench.

Van, in blue gym suit, having worked his way up to a fork just under his agile playmate (who naturally was better acquainted with the tree’s intricate map) but not being able to see her face, betokened mute communication by taking her ankle between finger and thumb as she would have a closed butterfly. Her bare foot slipped, and the two panting youngsters tangled ignominiously among the branches, in a shower of drupes and leaves, clutching at each other, and the next moment, as they regained a semblance of balance, his expressionless face and cropped head were between her legs and a last fruit fell with a thud — the dropped dot of an inverted exclamation point. She was wearing his wristwatch and a cotton frock.


‘Yes, of course, I remember: you kissed me here, on the inside —’

‘And you started to strangle me with those devilish knees of yours —’

‘I was seeking some sort of support.’)

That might have been true, but according to a later (considerably later!) version they were still in the tree, and still glowing, when Van removed a silk thread of larva web from his lip and remarked that such negligence of attire was a form of hysteria.

‘Well,’ answered Ada, straddling her favorite limb, ‘as we all know by now, Mlle La Rivière de Diamants has nothing against a hysterical little girl’s not wearing pantalets during l’ardeur de la canicule.’

‘I refuse to share the ardor of your little canicule with an apple tree.’

‘It is really the Tree of Knowledge — this specimen was imported last summer wrapped up in brocade from the Eden National Park where Dr Krolik’s son is a ranger and breeder.’

‘Let him range and breed by all means,’ said Van (her natural history had long begun to get on his nerves), ‘but I swear no apple trees grow in Iraq.’

‘Right, but that’s not a true apple tree.’

(‘Right and wrong,’ commented Ada, again much later: ‘We did discuss the matter, but you could not have permitted yourself such vulgar repartees then. At a time when the chastest of chances allowed you to snatch, as they say, a first shy kiss! Oh, for shame. And besides, there was no National Park in Iraq eighty years ago.’ ‘True,’ said Van. ‘And no caterpillars bred on that tree in our orchard.’ ‘True, my lovely and larveless.’ Natural history was past history by that time.) (1.15)


The Shattal Tree seems to hint at Shatt al-Arab, a river of some 200 km in length formed by the confluence of the Euphrates and the Tigris in southern Iraq. On the other hand, it brings to mind Mark Shagall (Marc Chagall). Btw., "a red-cheeked gall" in The Ballad of Longwood Glen also may hint at Shagall.


Shattal + glen = Shagall + tent


Describing Uncle Dan's death, Van mentions Tent, the moonlit white town in northern Florida (Art Longwood is a florist): 


At the airport of the moonlit white town we call Tent, and Tobakov’s sailors, who built it, called Palatka, in northern Florida, where owing to engine trouble he had to change planes, Demon made a long-distance call and received a full account of Dan’s death from the inordinately circumstantial Dr Nikulin (grandson of the great rodentiologist Kunikulinov — we can’t get rid of the lettuce). Daniel Veen’s life had been a mixture of the ready-made and the grotesque; but his death had shown an artistic streak because of its reflecting (as his cousin, not his doctor, instantly perceived) the man’s latterly conceived passion for the paintings, and faked paintings, associated with the name of Hieronymus Bosch. (2.10)


The next day after the Night of the Burning Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time) is Sunday:


But she was not down yet. In the bright dining room, full of yellow flowers in drooping clusters of sunshine, Uncle Dan was feeding. He wore suitable clothes for a suitably hot day in the country — namely, a candy-striped suit over a mauve flannel shirt and piqué waistcoat, with a blue-and-red club tie and a safety-goldpinned very high soft collar (all his trim stripes and colors were a little displaced, though, in the process of comic strip printing, because it was Sunday). He had just finished his first buttered toast, with a dab of ye-old Orange Marmalade and was making turkey sounds as he rinsed his dentures orally with a mouthful of coffee prior to swallowing it and the flavorous flotsam. Being, as I had reason to believe, plucky, I could make myself suffer a direct view of the man’s pink face with its (rotating) red ‘tashy’, but I was not obliged (mused Van, in 1922, when he saw those baguenaudier flowers again) to stand his chinless profile with its curly red sideburn. So Van considered, not without appetite, the blue jugs of hot chocolate and baton-segments of bread prepared for the hungry children. Marina had her breakfast in bed, the butler and Price ate in a recess of the pantry (a pleasing thought, somehow) and Mlle Larivière did not touch any food till noon, being a doom-fearing ‘midinette’ (the sect, not the shop) and had actually made her father confessor join her group.

....On Sunday mornings the mail came late, because of the voluminous Sunday supplements of the papers from Balticomore, and Kaluga, and Luga, which Robin Sherwood, the old postman, in his bright green uniform, distributed on horseback throughout the somnolent countryside. As Van, humming his school song — the only tune he could ever carry — skipped down the terrace steps, he saw Robin on his old bay holding the livelier black stallion of his Sunday helper, a handsome English lad whom, it was rumored behind the rose hedges, the old man loved more vigorously than his office required. (1.20)


Describing the suicide of Marina's twin sister Aqua, Van mentions the abrupt, mysterious, never explained demise of a comic strip in a Sunday paper one had been taking for years:


Sly Aqua twitched, simulated a yawn, opened her light-blue eyes (with those startlingly contrasty jet-black pupils that Dolly, her mother, also had), put on yellow slacks and a black bolero, walked through a little pinewood, thumbed a ride with a Mexican truck, found a suitable gulch in the chaparral and there, after writing a short note, began placidly eating from her cupped palm the multicolored contents of her handbag, like any Russian country girl lakomyashchayasya yagodami (feasting on berries) that she had just picked in the woods. She smiled, dreamily enjoying the thought (rather ‘Kareninian’ in tone) that her extinction would affect people about ‘as deeply as the abrupt, mysterious, never explained demise of a comic strip in a Sunday paper one had been taking for years. It was her last smile. She was discovered much sooner, but had also died much faster than expected, and the observant Siggy, still in his baggy khaki shorts, reported that Sister Aqua (as for some reason they all called her) lay, as if buried prehistorically, in a fetus-in-utero position, a comment that seemed relevant to his students, as it may be to mine. (1.3)

Oh my mistake then! Btw, your Sunday Morning reminds me of a famous modern poem by an American.

PS - Invention about Chukovsky in SM? Perhaps it was a mistake. A misremembering. Oh now I see - you mean the one that Gavriel Shapiro points out? It's right above your annotations to the scrabble game, I see.

I mean a funny interview with George V whom Chukovski insisted on asking if he liked the works of Oscar Wilde—“dze ooarks of OOald.”


Do you mean Wallace Stevens (never heard of him before)? 

Silent Art took the ball and tossed it high.
It stuck in a tree that was passing by.

And the grave green pilgrim turned and stopped,
The children waited, but no ball dropped.


In his story Gods (1923) VN says that all trees are pilgrims:


All trees are pilgrims. They have their Messiah, whom they seek. Their Messiah is a regal Lebanese cedar, or perhaps he is quite small, some totally inconspicuous little shrub in the tundra. . . .

Today some lindens are passing through town. There was an attempt to restrain them. Circular fencing was erected around their trunks. But they move all the same. . . .


In his story VN mentions a passerby and a butterfly:


I bump a passerby with my shoulder. . . . Momentary collision of two giants. Merrily, magnificently, he swings at me with his lacquered cane. The tip, on the backswing, breaks a shopwindow behind him. Zigzags shoot across the shiny glass. No--it's only the splash of mirrored sunlight in my eyes. Butterfly, butterfly! Black with scarlet bands. . . . A scrap of velvet. . . . It swoops above the asphalt, soars over a speeding car and a tall building, into the humid azure of the April sky. Another, identical butterfly once settled on the white border of an arena; Lesbia, senator's daughter, gracile, dark-eyed, with a gold ribbon on her forehead, entranced by the palpitating wings, missed the split second, the whirlwind of blinding dust, in which the bull-like neck of one combatant crunched under the other's naked knee.


A passerby in Gods brings to mind a tree that was passing by in The Ballad of Longwood Glen. VN's story ends as follows:


And I want to rise up, throw my arms open for a vast embrace, address an ample, luminous discourse to the invisible crowds. I would start like this: "O rainbow-colored gods . . ."


The invisible crowds remind one of the delirious celestial crowds in VN's ballad:


None saw the delirious celestial crowds
Greet the hero from earth in the snow of the clouds.


On the other hand, the grave green pilgrim in The Ballad of Longwood Glen makes one think of Pilgram, the title character of VN's story translated into English as The Aurelian (1930). On the eve of his departure to Spain where he hopes to hunt butterflies Paul Pilgram dies from a stroke while bending low to pick up the coins from the broken money pot:


But, as it was his first journey, he still kept worrying nervously whether there was anything he might have forgotten; then it occurred to him that he had no small change, and he remembered the clay money pot where there might be a few coins. Groaning and knocking the heavy suitcase against corners, he returned to his counter. In the twilight of the strangely still shop, eyed wings stared at him from all sides, and Pilgram perceived something almost appalling in the richness of the huge happiness that was leaning towards him like a mountain. Trying to avoid the knowing looks of those numberless eyes, he drew a deep breath and, catching sight of the hazy money pot, which seemed to hang in mid-air, reached quickly for it. The pot slipped from his moist grasp and broke on the floor with a dizzy spinning of twinkling coins; and Pilgram bent low to pick them up. (3)


In VN's ballad Mrs. Longwood finds some change at the foot of the tree:


Mrs. Longwood was getting a little concerned.
He never came down. He never returned.

She found some change at the foot of the tree.
The children grew bored. Paul was stung by a bee.


Btw., "The Pilgrim's Dream" is a poem by Wordsworth.

Pauline had asthma, Paul used a crutch.
They were cute little rascals but could not run much.


In Kafka's Metamorphosis Gregor's and Grete's mother has asthma. One morning Gregor wakes up and finds himself transformed into a beetle. Before climbing the tree, silent Art watched the bug climb a stalk and fly away. Having climbed the tree, Art Longwood turns into a butterfly and flies away.


Mrs. Longwood, retouched, when the children died,
Became a photographer's dreamy bride.


After Gregor's death, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa think that they should find Grete a good fiancé.


Like Kafka's story, VN's ballad strikes one as something more than an entomological fantasy. In his lecture on Kafka's Metamorphosis VN mentions the humdrum tourist:


Let us take three types of men walking through the same landscape. Number One is a city man on a well-deserved vacation. Number Two is a professional botanist. Number Three is a local farmer. Number One, the city man, is what is called a realistic, commonsensical, matter-of-fact type: he sees trees as trees and knows from his map that the road he is following is a nice new road leading to Newton, where there is a nice eating place recommended to him by a friend in his office. The botanist looks around and sees his environment in the very exact terms of plant life, precise biological and classified units such as specific trees and grasses, flowers and ferns, and for him, this is reality; to him the world of the stolid tourist (who cannot distinguish an oak from an elm) seems a fantastic, vague, dreamy, never-never world. Finally the world of the local farmer differs from the two others in that his world is intensely emotional and personal since he has been born and bred there, and knows every trail and individual tree, and every shadow from every tree across every trail, all in warm connection with his everyday work, and his childhood, and a thousand small things and patterns which the other two—the humdrum tourist and the botanical taxonomist—simply cannot know in the given place at the given time. Our farmer will not know the relation of the surrounding vegetation to a botanical conception of the world, and the botanist will know nothing of any importance to him about that barn or that old field or that old house under its cottonwoods, which are afloat, as it were, in a medium of personal memories for one who was born there.


VN's ballad ends as follows:


And now the Deforests, with four old men,
Like regular tourists visit the glen;

Munch their lunches, look up and down,
Wash their hands, and drive back to town.

None saw the delirious celestial crowds
Greet the hero from earth in the snow of the clouds.


Mrs. Longwood was getting a little concerned.
He never came down. He never returned.


She found some change at the foot of the tree.
The children grew bored. Paul was stung by a bee.


There is bee in 'beetle' and in Beethoven, the author of Heroic Symphony. In his lecture on "The Metamorphosis" VN speaks of music:


Part Three, Scene VI: In this great music scene the lodgers have heard Grete playing the violin in the kitchen, and in automatic reaction to the entertainment value of music they suggest that she play for them. The three roomers and the three Samsas gather in the living room.

Without wishing to antagonize lovers of music, I do wish to point out that taken in a general sense music, as perceived by its consumers, belongs to a more primitive, more animal form in the scale of arts than literature or painting. I am taking music as a whole, not in terms of individual creation, imagination, and composition, all of which of course rival the art of literature and painting, but in terms of the impact music has on the average listener. A great composer, a great writer, a great painter are brothers. But I think that the impact music in a generalized and primitive form has on the listener is of a more lowly quality than the impact of an average book or an average picture. What I especially have in mind is the soothing, lulling, dulling influence of music on some people such as of the radio or records.

In Kafka's tale it is merely a girl pitifully scraping on a fiddle and this corresponds in the piece to the canned music or plugged-in music of today. What Kafka felt about music in general is what I have just described: its stupefying, numbing, animallike quality. This attitude must be kept in mind in interpreting an important sentence that has been misunderstood by some translators. Literally, it reads “Was Gregor an animal to be so affected by music?” That is, in his human form he had cared little for it but in this scene, in his beetlehood, he succumbs: “He felt as if the way were opening before him to the unknown nourishment he craved.” The scene goes as follows. Gregor’s sister begins to play for the lodgers. Gregor is attracted by the playing and actually puts his head into the living room. “He felt hardly any surprise at his growing lack of consideration for the others; there had been a time when he prided himself on being considerate. And yet just on this occasion he had more reason than ever to hide himself since owing to the amount of dust which lay thick in his room and rose into the air at the slightest movement he too was covered with dust; fluff and hair and remnants of food trailed with him, caught on his back and along his sides; his indifference to everything was much too great for him to turn on his back and scrape himself clean on the carpet as once he had done several times a day. And in sprite of his condition no shame deterred him from advancing a little over the spotless floor of the living room.”

At first no one was aware of him. The lodgers, disappointed in their expectation of hearing good violin playing, were clustered near the window whispering among themselves and waiting for the music to stop. And yet, to Gregor his sister was playing beautifully. He “crawled a little farther forward and lowered his head to the ground so that it might be possible for his eyes to meet hers. Was he an animal that music had such an effect upon him? He felt as if the way were opening before him to the unknown nourishment he craved. He was determined to push forward till he reached his sister, to pull at her skirt and so let her know that she was to come into his room with her violin for no one here appreciated her playing as he would appreciate it. He would never let her out of his room, at least not so long as he lived; his frightful appearance would become for the first time useful to him; he would watch all the doors of his room at once and spit at intruders; but his sister should need no constraint, she should stay with him of her own free will; she should sit beside him on the couch, bend down her ear to him and hear him confide that he had had the firm intention of sending her to the School of Music, and that, but for his mishap, last Christmas—surely Christmas was long past?—he would have announced it to everybody without allowing a single objection. After this confession his sister would be so touched that she would burst into tears, and Gregor would then raise himself to her shoulder and kiss her on the neck, which, now that she went to business, she kept free of any ribbon or collar."

Suddenly the middle lodger sees Gregor, but instead of driving Gregor out the father tries to soothe the lodgers and (in a reversal of his actions) "spreading out his arms, tried to urge them back into their own room and at the same time to block their view of Gregor. They now began to be really a little angry, one could not tell whether because of the old man's behavior or because it had just dawned on them that all unwittingly they had such a neighbor as Gregor next door. They demanded explanations of his father, they waved their arms like him, tugged uneasily at their beards and only with reluctance backed towards their room." The sister rushes into the lodgers' room and quickly makes up their beds, but "The old man seemed once more to be so possessed by his mulish self-assertiveness that he was forgetting all the respect he should show to his lodgers. He kept driving them on and driving them on until in the very door of the bedroom the middle lodger stamped his foot loudly on the floor and so brought him to a halt. 'I beg to announce,' said the lodger, lifting one hand and looking also at Gregor's mother and sister, ‘that because of the disgusting conditions prevailing in this household and family'—here he spat on the floor with emphatic brevity—'I give you notice on the spot. Naturally I won't pay you a penny for the days I have lived here; on the contrary I shall consider bringing an action for damages against you based on claims—believe me—that will be easily susceptible of proof.' He ceased and stared straight in front of him, as if he expected something. In fact his two friends at once rushed into the breach with these words: 'And we too give notice on the spot.’ On that he seized the door-handle and shut the door with a slam."


Muzyka ("Music," 1932) is a story by VN.

That Gregor's mother has asthma is a very sneaky detail that you observe.

But don't you think that for Art to turn into a butterfly would really be a step-back? And I don't think the text supports this - how can the hero be from "the snow of clouds" then? Moreover, Art (since he was a florist) should have been more precise when he watched "a bug climb a stalk and fly away".

Thanks for the details from the story, Gods, I've yet to read it. As for "pilgrim" the most famous instance of this for me would be from Transparent Things:

". . .but then we all are pilgrims, and all dreams are anagrams of diurnal reality."

It would be a step-back for Art if he turned into an ape. The hero from earth is greeted by gods from the snow of the clouds.


In a letter of Apr. 23, 1890, to his sister Chekhov (who was on his way to Sakhalin) describes his journey on a Volga steamer:


Очень красивы буксирные пароходы, тащущие за собой по 4—5 барж; похоже на то, как будто молодой, изящный интеллигент хочет бежать, а его за фалды держат жена-кувалда, теща, свояченица и бабушка жены.


Very beautiful are the steam-tugs, dragging after them four or five barges each; they look like some fine young intellectual trying to run away while a plebeian wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and wife’s grandmother hold on to his coat-tails.


In the name Chekhov there is chekh (Czech). The action in "The Metamorphosis" takes place in Prague. Kafka is the author of In der Strafkolonie ("In the Penal Colony," 1919). In Chekhov's time Sakhalin was a site of penal colony (painstakingly described by Chekhov in "Sakhalin Island," 1893).

Yes, according to Nabokov, in Charlotte Street, Prague, 1912. Although I do not know if the text actually supports this, specifically.

PS - I would rather be an ape than a "lep". Mammals all the way.

That Sunday morning, at half past ten,
Two cars crossed the creek and entered the glen.

In the first was Art Longwood, a local florist,
With his children and wife (now Mrs. Deforest).

In the one that followed, a ranger saw
Art's father, stepfather and father-in-law.


In Chekhov's play Dyadya Vanya (1897) Dr. Astrov makes a fuss with his concern for the destruction of Russian forests:


Соня. Нет, это чрезвычайно интересно. Михаил Львович каждый год сажает новые леса, и ему уже прислали бронзовую медаль и диплом. Он хлопочет, чтобы не истребляли старых. Если вы выслушаете его, то согласитесь с ним вполне. Он говорит, что леса украшают землю, что они учат человека понимать прекрасное и внушают ему величавое настроение. Леса смягчают суровый климат. В странах, где мягкий климат, меньше тратится сил на борьбу с природой, и потому там мягче и нежнее человек; там люди красивы, гибки, легко возбудимы, речь их изящна, движения грациозны. У них процветают науки и искусства, философия их не мрачна, отношения к женщине полны изящного благородства...
Войницкий (смеясь). Браво, браво!.. Все это мило, но не убедительно, так что (Астрову) позволь мне, мой друг, продолжать топить печи дровами и строить сараи из дерева.
Астров. Ты можешь топить печи торфом, а сараи строить из камня. Ну, я допускаю, руби леса из нужды, но зачем истреблять их? Русские леса трещат под топором, гибнут миллиарды деревьев, опустошаются жилища зверей и птиц, мелеют и сохнут реки, исчезают безвозвратно чудные пейзажи, и все оттого, что у ленивого человека не хватает смысла нагнуться и поднять с земли топливо. (Елене Андреевне.) Не правда ли, сударыня? Надо быть безрассудным варваром, чтобы жечь в своей печке эту красоту, разрушать то, чего мы не можем создать. Человек одарен разумом и творческою силой, чтобы преумножать то, что ему дано, но до сих пор он не творил, а разрушал. Лесов все меньше и меньше, реки сохнут, дичь перевелась, климат испорчен, и с каждым днем земля становится все беднее и безобразнее. (Войницкому.) Вот ты глядишь на меня с иронией, и все, что я говорю, тебе кажется несерьезным и... и, быть может, это в самом деле чудачество, но когда я прохожу мимо крестьянских лесов, которые я спас от порубки, или когда я слышу, как шумит мой молодой лес, посаженный моими руками, я сознаю, что климат немножко и в моей власти, и что если через тысячу лет человек будет счастлив, то в этом немножко буду виноват и я. Когда я сажаю березку и потом вижу, как она зеленеет и качается от ветра, душа моя наполняется гордостью, и я... (Увидев работника, который принес на подносе рюмку водки.) Однако... (пьет) мне пора. Все это, вероятно, чудачество в конце концов. Честь имею кланяться! (Идет к дому.)


SONYA Oh no, it’s extremely interesting! Mikhail Lvovich plants new woodland every year. He’s already been awarded a bronze medal and a diploma. He takes great care to see that they don’t remove old forest. If you heard him speak on it, you’d be fully convinced. He tells us that forests add beauty to the earth, that they teach mankind how to understand beauty and they inspire us with majestic thoughts. Forests soften a harsh climate. In countries where the climate is soft less effort is spent on the struggle with nature, and for that reason humanity there is softer and more gentle. There people are handsome, supple, easily stimulated, their speech is refined, their movements elegant. Science and the arts flourish with them, their philosophy is enlightened, their treatment of women is full of gracious nobility.

UNCLE VANYA (laughing.) Bravo, bravo!  All that is pleasant, but not convincing, so (to Astrov) allow me to continue to burn wood in my stove and to build my barn with timber.

ASTROV You could burn turf in your stove and build your barn out of stone. In any case, I’ll let you cut timber for your needs, but why destroy the forests? The Rjussian forests are groaning under the axe, millions of trees are perishing, the dens of beasts and birds are being laid waste, the rivers are dwindling and drying, wonderful landscapes are disappearing forever, and all because we lazy humans haven’t the good sense to bend down and pick up the fuel from the ground. (To Elena Andreevna.) Isn’t that so, Madame? One needs to be a mindless vandal to burn all that beauty in one’s stove, to destroy that which we cannot recreate. Mankind is gifted with reason and creative energy, in order to increase the wealth all around us, but up till now he has not created but only destroyed. The woods are growing less and less, the rivers are drying, the game is disappearing, the climate is getting worse, and with every day that passes the earth becomes poorer and more ugly. (To Uncle Vanya.)I see you are looking at me with irony, and everything I say seems to you not to be serious, and... and, well perhaps it’s mere freakishness, but when I walk past one of the peasant forests that I saved from the axe, or when I hear how the plantation which I planted with my own hands is rustling, than I realise that the climate is partly under my control, and that if in a thousand years time mankind will be happy, then I will have been partly responsible for it. When I plant a young birch and then see how it is turning green and swaying in the wind, then my heart fills with pride, and I... (Seeing the workman who returns bringing a glass of vodka on a tray.) However... (He drinks.) Time for me to go. It’s all probably nonsense, when all’s said and done. I bid you farewell. (Goes into the house.) (Act One)


In Chekhov's story Uchitel' slovesnosti ("The Teacher of Literature," 1894) the action ends on Sunday:


На другой день, в воскресенье, он был в гимназической церкви и виделся там с директором и товарищами. Ему казалось, что все они были заняты только тем, что тщательно скрывали свое невежество и недовольство жизнью, и сам он, чтобы не выдать им своего беспокойства, приятно улыбался и говорил о пустяках. Потом он ходил на вокзал и видел там, как пришел и ушел почтовый поезд, и ему приятно было, что он один и что ему не нужно ни с кем разговаривать.

Дома застал он тестя и Варю, которые пришли к нему обедать. Варя была с заплаканными глазами и жаловалась на головную боль, а Шелестов ел очень много и говорил о том, как теперешние молодые люди ненадежны и как мало в них джентльменства.

— Это хамство! — говорил он. — Так я ему прямо и скажу: это хамство, милостивый государь!

Никитин приятно улыбался и помогал Мане угощать гостей, но после обеда пошел к себе в кабинет и заперся.

Мартовское солнце светило ярко, и сквозь оконные стекла падали на стол горячие лучи. Было еще только двадцатое число, но уже ездили на колесах, и в саду шумели скворцы. Похоже было на то, что сейчас вот войдет Манюся, обнимет одною рукой за шею и скажет, что подали к крыльцу верховых лошадей или шарабан, и спросит, что ей надеть, чтобы не озябнуть. Начиналась весна такая же чудесная, как и в прошлом году, и обещала те же радости... Но Никитин думал о том, что хорошо бы взять теперь отпуск и уехать в Москву и остановиться там на Неглинном в знакомых номерах. В соседней комнате пили кофе и говорили о штабс-капитане Полянском, а он старался не слушать и писал в своем дневнике: «Где я, боже мой?! Меня окружает пошлость и пошлость. Скучные, ничтожные люди, горшочки со сметаной, кувшины с молоком, тараканы, глупые женщины... Нет ничего страшнее, оскорбительнее, тоскливее пошлости. Бежать отсюда, бежать сегодня же, иначе я сойду с ума!»


Next day, which was Sunday, he was at the school chapel, and there met his colleagues and the director. It seemed to him that they were entirely preoccupied with concealing their ignorance and discontent with life, and he, too, to conceal his uneasiness, smiled affably and talked of trivialities. Then he went to the station and saw the mail train come in and go out, and it was agreeable to him to be alone and not to have to talk to any one.
At home he found Varya and his father-in-law, who had come to dinner. Varya's eyes were red with crying, and she complained of a headache, while Shelestov ate a great deal, saying that young men nowadays were unreliable, and that there was very little gentlemanly feeling among them.
"It's loutishness!" he said. "I shall tell him so to his face: 'It's loutishness, sir,' I shall say."
Nikitin smiled affably and helped Masha to look after their guests, but after dinner he went to his study and shut the door.
The March sun was shining brightly in at the windows and shedding its warm rays on the table. It was only the twentieth of the month, but already the cabmen were driving with wheels, and the starlings were noisy in the garden. It was just the weather in which Masha would come in, put one arm round his neck, tell him the horses were saddled or the chaise was at the door, and ask him what she should put on to keep warm. Spring was beginning as exquisitely as last spring, and it promised the same joys. . . . But Nikitin was thinking that it would be nice to take a holiday and go to Moscow, and stay at his old lodgings there. In the next room they were drinking coffee and talking of Captain Polyansky, while he tried not to listen and wrote in his diary: "Where am I, my God? I am surrounded by vulgarity and vulgarity. Wearisome, insignificant people, pots of sour cream, jugs of milk, cockroaches, stupid women. . . . There is nothing more terrible, mortifying, and distressing than vulgarity. I must escape from here, I must escape today, or I shall go out of my mind!"


In VN's ballad Art Longwood escapes from the American poshlost' (vulgarity). He manages to do it in a very neat and elegant way.


In his Zapisnye knizhki (Notebooks) Chekhov writes: 


У насекомых из гусеницы получается бабочка, а у людей наоборот: из бабочки гусеница.


In nature a repulsive caterpillar turns into a lovely butterfly. But with human beings it is the other way round: a lovely butterfly turns into a repulsive caterpillar.


By turning into a beautiful butterfly Art Longwood (a slow and ugly caterpillar) inverts, as it were, Chekhov's aphorism.