NABOKV-L post 0027158, Mon, 22 Aug 2016 21:56:01 +0300

Subject
The Untamed Seahorse & Hebe's Cup in Pale Fire
Date
Body
Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on Oct. 19,
1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum). Hazel Shade (the poet’s
daughter who died in March of 1957) was born in 1934, twenty-five years
earlier. Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. In his
poem Byla pora: nash prazdnik molodoy… (“The was a time: our young
celebration…” 1836) that appeared in The Contemporary No. V (1837), the
first issue that came out after Pushkin’s death, under the title (given to
the poem by Zhukovski) Litseyskaya godovshchina (“The Lyceum Anniversary”)
Pushkin mentions nadezhda (hope), sud’by zakon (the law of Fate) and says
that a quarter of century has passed since the day when the Lyceum was
founded:



Была пора: наш праздник молодой
Сиял, шумел и розами венчался,
И с песнями бокалов звон мешался,
И тесною сидели мы толпой.
Тогда, душой беспечные невежды,
Мы жили все и легче и смелей,
Мы пили все за здравие надежды
И юности и всех её затей.



Теперь не то: разгульный праздник наш
С приходом лет, как мы, перебесился,
Он присмирел, утих, остепенился,
Стал глуше звон его заздравных чаш;
Меж нами речь не так игриво льётся,
Просторнее, грустнее мы сидим,
И реже смех средь песен раздаётся,
И чаще мы вздыхаем и молчим.



Всему пора: уж двадцать пятый раз
Мы празднуем лицея день заветный.
Прошли года чредою незаметной,
И как они переменили нас!
Недаром ― нет! ― промчалась четверть века!
Не сетуйте: таков судьбы закон;
Вращается весь мир вкруг человека, ―
Ужель один недвижим будет он?



The poem’s third stanza ends in the lines:



The whole world turns around man.

Can he alone remain immobile?



The word nedvizhim (immobile; stirless) was used by Pushkin earlier in
Chapter Six (XXXII: 1-2) of Eugene Onegin, in the description of Lenski’s
death:



Nedvizhim on lezhal, i stranen

Byl tomnyi mir ego chela.



Stirless he lay, and strange

Was his brow’s languid peace.



Note tomnyi mir (the languid peace) of dead Lenski’s brow.



In lines 6-7 of the same stanza of EO Pushkin mentions vdokhnovenie
(inspiration), vrazhda (enmity), nadezhda and lyubov’ (love):



Тому назад одно мгновенье
В сём сердце билось вдохновенье,
Вражда, надежда и любовь…



One moment earlier

In this heart had throbbed inspiration,

Enmity, hope, and love...



In lines 9-14 Pushkin compares Lenski’s heart that has become forever
silent to an abandoned house in which the window boards are shut and the
windowpanes are whitened over with chalk:



Теперь, как в доме опустелом,
Всё в нём и тихо и темно;
Замолкло навсегда оно.
Закрыты ставни, окны мелом
Забелены. Хозяйки нет.
А где, бог весть. Пропал и след.



Now, as in a deserted house,

all in it is both still and dark,

it has become forever silent.

The window boards are shut. The panes with chalk

are whitened over. The chatelaine is gone.

But where, God wot. All trace is lost.



According to VN (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 45), the description of the
Lenski-Onegin duel is, in regard to its issue, a personal prediction on the
poet’s part. In his note to Six: XXXII (EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 53) VN
quotes Browning’s poem After (1855), the soliloquy of a duelist who has
killed his adversary. Browning is the author of My Last Duchess (1842), a
dramatic monologue that ends as follows:



‘Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!’



Shade’s collection of essays The Untamed Seahorse appeared shortly before
(or soon after) his daughter’s death:



Later came minutes, hours, whole days at last,
When she'd be absent from our thoughts, so fast
Did life, the wooly caterpillar run.
We went to Italy. Sprawled in the sun
On a white beach with other pink or brown
Americans. Flew back to our small town.
Found that my bunch of essay The Untamed
Seahorse was "universally acclaimed"
(It sold three hundred copies in one year). (ll. 665-673)



As Kinbote points out in his Commentary, the title of Shade’s book was
taken from Browning’s poem:



See Browning's My Last Duchess.

See it and condemn the fashionable device of entitling a collection of
essays or a volume of poetry--or a long poem, alas--with a phrase lifted
from a more or less celebrated poetical work of the past. Such titles
possess a specious glamor acceptable maybe in the names of vintage wines and
plump courtesans but only degrading in regard to the talent that substitutes
the easy allusiveness of literacy for original fancy and shifts onto a
bust's shoulders the responsibility for ornateness since anybody can flip
through a Midsummer-Night's Dream or Romeo and Juliet, or, perhaps, the
Sonnets and take his pick. (note to Lines 671-672)



In his Sonet (“The Sonnet,” 1830), with the epigraph from Wordsworth
(“Scorn not the sonnet, critic.”), Pushkin mentions, among other famous
sonneteers, Shakespeare (“the author of Macbeth” who loved a sonnet’s
play). The title of Shade’s Pale Fire was taken from Shakespeare’s Timon
of Athens. In his essay Sud’ba Pushkina (“The Fate of Pushkin,” 1897) V.
Solovyov mentions vera (faith), tvorcheskoe vdokhnovenie (the creative
inspiration) and Shakespeare’s Timon Afinskiy (Timon of Athens):



Действительность, данная в житейском опы
те, несомненно находится в глубоком проти
воречии с тем идеалом жизни, который откр
ывается вере, философскому умозрению и тв
орческому вдохновению. Из этого противор
ечия возможны три определённые исхода. Мо
жно прямо отречься от идеала как от пусто
го вымысла и обмана и признать факт, проти
воречащий идеальным требованиям как окон
чательную и единственную действительнос
ть. Это есть исход нравственного скептиц
изма и мизантропии - взгляд, который может
быть почтенным, когда искренен, как, напри
мер, у Шекспирова Тимона Афинского, но кот
орый не выдерживает логической критики.
(IV)



In his poem January 29, 1837 (1837) Tyutchev calls d’Anthès (Pushkin’s
adversary in his fatal duel) tsareubitsa (a regicide), summons mir (peace)
onto the Poet’s shade, mentions the poet’s vrazhda (enmity) and says that
Russia’s heart, like first love, will never forget Pushkin:



Из чьей руки свинец смертельный
Поэту сердце растерзал?
Кто сей божественный фиал
Разрушил, как сосуд скудельный?

Будь прав или виновен он
Пред нашей правдою земною,
Навек он высшею рукою
В ?цареубийцы? заклеймён.



Но ты, в безвременную тьму
Вдруг поглощенная со света,
Мир, мир тебе, о тень поэта,
Мир светлый праху твоему!..

Назло людскому суесловью
Велик и свят был жребий твой!..
Ты был богов орган живой,
Но с кровью в жилах... знойной кровью.



И сею кровью благородной
Ты жажду чести утолил \xa8C
И осенённый опочил
Хоругвью горести народной.

Вражду твою пусть Тот рассудит,
Кто слышит пролитую кровь...
Тебя ж, как первую любовь,
России сердце не забудет!..



One of Shade’s collections is entitled Hebe’s Cup:



Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote
Came next; then Hebe's Cup, my final float
in that damp carnival, for now I term
Everything "Poems," and no longer squirm.
(But this transparent thingum does require
Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.) (ll. 957-962)



In the last stanza of his famous poem Vesennyaya groza (“The Spring
Thunderstorm,” 1828) Tyutchev mentions capricious Hebe who spilled on Earth
a thunder-boiling goblet:



Ты скажешь: ветреная Геба,
Кормя Зевесова орла,
Громокипящий кубок с неба,
Смеясь, на землю пролила.



You’d say: capricious Hebe,

feeding Zeus’ eagle,

had spilled on Earth, laughing,

a thunder-boiling goblet.



The title of Tyutchev’s poem brings to mind groza dvenadtsatogo goda (the
thunderstorm of year twelve) mentioned by Pushkin in the fifth stanza of
Byla pora: nash prazdnik molodoy…:



Вы помните: когда возник лицей,
Как царь для нас открыл чертог царицын,
И мы пришли. И встретил нас Куницын

Приветствием меж царственных гостей.
Тогда гроза двенадцатого года
Ещё спала. Ещё Наполеон
Не испытал великого народа ―
Ещё грозил и колебался он.



Gromokipyashchiy kubok (“A Thunder-Boiling Goblet,” 1913) is a collection
of poetry by Igor Severyanin. The penname of Igor Lotaryov* (1887-1941)
comes from sever (North) and means “northerner.” In One: II: 14 of EO
Pushkin says that sever (the North) is harmful to him. In Epistle II of
Essay on Man (1733-34) Pope asks “where's the North?” and mentions Zembla:



But where th' extreme of vice, was ne'er agreed:

Ask where's the North? at York, 'tis on the Tweed;

In Scotland, at the Orcades; and there,

At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where:

No creature owns it in the first degree,

But thinks his neighbour farther gone than he!



Shade’s mad commentator, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved,
the last self-exiled king of Zembla.



Kon’ morskoy (“The Seahorse,” 1830) is a poem by Tyutchev. In Pushkin’s
poem Mednyi vsadnik (“The Bronze Horseman,” 1833) ogon’ (fire) rhymes
with kon’ (horse):



А в сём коне какой огонь!
Куда ты скачешь, гордый конь,
И где опустишь ты копыта?
О мощный властелин судьбы!
Не так ли ты над самой бездной
На высоте, уздой железной
Россию поднял на дыбы?



Pushkin compares Russia to the horse in Falconet’s equestrian statue of
Peter I and calls the tsar moshchnyi vlastelin sud’by (the mighty sovereign
of Fate).



At the end of Browning’s poem My Last Duchess the Duke of Ferrara mentions
Neptune taming a sea-horse which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for him.
In his poem K Vyazemskomu (“To Vyazemski,” 1826) Pushkin says that in our
vile age gray Neptune is zemli soyuznik (the Earth’s ally):



Так море, древний душегубец,
Воспламеняет гений твой?
Ты славишь лирой золотой
Нептуна грозного трезубец.



Не славь его. В наш гнусный век
Седой Нептун земли союзник.
На всех стихиях человек ―
Тиран, предатель или узник.



So ’tis the sea, the ancient assassin

that kindles into flame your genius?

You glorify with golden lyre

Neptune's dread trident?

No, praise him not! In our vile age

gray Neptune is the Earth's ally.

Upon all elements man is a tyrant,

a traitor or a prisoner.



(VN’s translation; see EO Commentary, vol. III, p. 358)



Note the rhyme vek-chelovek (age/century-man) that also occurs (in Gen.:
veka-cheloveka) in the third stanza of Pushkin’s poem Byla pora: nash
prazdnik molodoy…



As VN points out, Pushkin’s “epigram on Neptune” was prompted by rumors
(which later proved false) to the effect that Great Britain had surrendered
the political émigré, Decembrist Nikolay Turgenev, to the Russian
government. According to Pushkin, he wrote Graf Nulin (“Count Null”), a
narrative poem of 370 lines in which he parodied history and Shakespeare’s
Lucrece, in two days: on Dec. 13-14 of 1825. The disastrous Decembrists’
uprising took place on Dec. 14, 1825. The name Nulin comes from nul’
(naught; zero; nil; cipher; nonentity). In Eugene Onegin (Two: XIV: 3-5)
Pushkin says that we deem all people naughts and ourselves units and that we
all expect to be Napoleons:



Но дружбы нет и той меж нами.
Все предрассудки истребя,

Мы почитаем всех нулями,
А единицами \xa8C себя.

Мы все глядим в Наполеоны;
Двуногих тварей миллионы
Для нас орудие одно;

Нам чувство дико и смешно.



But in our midst there’s even no such friendship:

Having destroyed all the prejudices,

We deem all people naughts

And ourselves units.

We all expect to be Napoleons;

the millions of two-legged creatures

for us are only tools;

feeling to us is weird and ludicrous.



In the fifth and eight (last) stanzas of his poem Byla pora: nash prazdnik
molodoy… Pushkin mentions Napoleon. In the last sentence of his Commentary
to Shade’s poem Kinbote mentions Odon (a world-famous actor and Zemblan
patriot who helped the king to escape from Zembla) and a million of
photographers:



God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example
of the other two characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may
assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up
yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, health heterosexual Russian, a
writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but
his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from
Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the
simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an
old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: a lunatic who intends to kill
an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and
a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and
perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things!
History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a
great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I
may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene
is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out--somebody has already set
out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a
ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and
presently he will ring at my door--a bigger, more respectable, more
competent Gradus. (note to Line 1000)



Odon = Nodo = odno

Nodo \xa8C Odon’s epileptic half-brother

odno \xa8C neut. of odin, “one;” according to Pushkin, the millions of
two-legged creatures dlya nas orudie odno (for us are only tools); odno
rhymes with dno (bottom), okno (window) and vino (wine).



In its unfinished form Shade’s poem has 999 lines. 999 looks like 666 (in
the Book of Revelations, the number of the Beast) turned upside down. In
Tolstoy’s novel Voyna i mir (“War and Peace,” 1866) Pierre Bezukhov, in
an attempt to prove that he the man destined to kill Napoleon, makes
calculations based on the Book of Revelations. The title of Tolstoy’s novel
and that of his play Pyotr Khlebnik (“Peter the Baker,” 1894) bring to
mind Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922), the author of the futurological Doski
sud’by (“The Plates of Fate”) and Tam, gde zhili sviristeli (“There
where the Waxwings Lived…” 1908), a poem in which staya lyogkikh vremirey
(a flock of light timefinches) and besporyadok dikiy teney (a wild confusion
of shadows) are mentioned. Shade’s poem begins:



I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By the false azure in the windowpane.



Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs but one line
(Line 1000 identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”).
But it seems to me that, like some sonnets, it also needs a coda (Line 1001:
“By its own double in the windowpane”).



It seems that Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian
descent who went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after his
daughter’s suicide) writes Pale Fire in a madhouse. In Pushkin’s story
Pikovaya dama (“The Queen of Spades,” 1833) Hermann ends up in a madhouse
where he occupies room No. 17. Pushkin graduated from the Lyceum in 1817. A
hundred years later, in 1917, the Russian Revolution broke out. Pushkin was
born in 1799, a hundred years before VN’s birth.



*The maiden name of Igor Severyanin’s mother was Shenshin. She was a
distant relative of Afanasiy Fet (Shenshin), the poet who was married to
Maria Botkin.



Alexey Sklyarenko


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