In his Commentary Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions his great-great-gradmother, Queen Yaruga, and her lover Hodinski (also known as Hodyna), the author of a celebrated pastiche:
When I was a child, Russia enjoyed quite a vogue at the court of Zembla but that was a different Russia--a Russia that hated tyrants and Philistines, injustice and cruelty, the Russia of ladies and gentlemen and liberal aspirations. We may add that Charles the Beloved could boast of some Russian blood. In medieval times two of his ancestors had married Novgorod princesses. Queen Yaruga (reigned 1799-1800) his great-great-graddam, was half Russian; and most historians believe that Yaruga's only child Igor was not the son of Uran the Last (reigned 1798-1799) but the fruit of her amours with the Russian adventurer Hodinski, her goliart (court jester) and a poet of genius, said to have forged in his spare time a famous old Russian chanson de geste, generally attributed to an anonymous bard of the twelfth century. (note to Line 681)
Yaruga is an old Russian word for “ravine.” In Slovo o polku Igoreve (“The Song of Igor’s Campaign”) Wild Bull Vsevolod (Igor’s brother) mentions yarugy (the ravines):
И рече ему Буй-Туръ Всеволодъ: "Одинъ братъ, одинъ свЪтъ свЪтлый - ты, Игорю! Оба есвЪ Святъславличя! СЪдлай, брате, свои бързыи комони, а мои ти готови, осЪдлани у Курьска напереди. А мои ти куряни - свЪдоми къмети: подъ трубами повити, подъ шеломы възлелЪяны, конець копия въскръмлени; пути имь вЪдоми, яругы имъ знаеми, луци у нихъ напряжени, тули отворени, сабли изъострени. Сами скачють, акы сЪрыи влъци въ полЪ, ищучи себе чти, а князю славЪ".
And Wild Bull Vsevolod [arrives and]
says to him:
"My one brother, one bright brightness,
We both are Svyatoslav's sons.
Saddle, brother, your swift steeds.
As to mine, they are ready,
saddled ahead, near Kursk;
as to my Kurskers, they are famous
swaddled under war-horns,
nursed under helmets,
fed from the point of the lance;
to them the trails are familiar,
to them the ravines are known,
the bows they have are strung tight,
the quivers, unclosed,
the sabers, sharpened;
themselves, like gray wolves,
they lope in the field,
seeking for themselves honor,
and for their prince glory." (ll. 72-90, VN’s translation)
One of the poets who translated Slovo into modern Russian was Balmont. Here is Vsevolod’s speech in Balmont’s version:
Молвит Всеволод до брата, говорит буй-тур могучий:
«Свет один ты, светлый Игорь, Святославичи мы оба,
Брат один ты, светлый Игорь,
так седлай коней ты борзых,
А мои готовы кони, уж оседланы у Курска,
А мои куряне знают, как быть витязями в битве,
Все под трубами повиты, всяк взлелеян под шеломом
И концом копья воскормлен,
свистом ветра был баюкан,
Все им ведомы дороги, все им знаемы яруги,
Уж натянуты их луки, много стрел, колчан отворен,
Уж наточены их сабли, сами скачут серым волком,
Ищут чести в поле бранном для себя, а князю - славы!»
At the end of his poem Nash tsar’ (“Our Tsar,” 1907) written for the tenth anniversary of the coronation of Nicholas II Balmont says that he who started reigning with Hodynka (the Khodynka tragedy, a human stampede that occurred on 30 May, 1896, on Khodynka Field in Moscow, during the festivities following the coronation of Nicholas II) will finish standing at the scaffold:
Наш царь - Мукден, наш царь - Цусима,
Наш царь - кровавое пятно,
Зловонье пороха и дыма,
В котором разуму - темно...
Наш царь - убожество слепое,
Тюрьма и кнут, подсуд, расстрел,
Царь-висельник, тем низкий вдвое,
Что обещал, но дать не смел.
Он трус, он чувствует с запинкой,
Но будет, час расплаты ждёт.
Кто начал царствовать - Ходынкой,
Тот кончит - встав на эшафот.
Our tsar is Mukden, tsar - Tsushima,
Our tsar is the stain of blood,
The stench of gunpowder and reek smoke,
In which the intellect feels - dark...
Our tsar is a blind-sighted squalor,
prison and whip, the judge, the shoot,
The king - the gallows, double low,
And what he promised, he dared not.
He is a coward, fumble feeling,
But hour of reckoning will come.
Who started reigning with - Hodynka,
will finish - at the scaffold stand.
The last Russian tsar, Nicholas II was executed with his entire family in July, 1918, in Ekaterinburg. Among the people who were executed with him was Doctor Evgeniy Botkin. In his Commentary Kinbote mentions Prof. Botkin and quotes the words of Shade who mentioned Russian humorists:
Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 172)
One of the essays in Innokentiy Annenski’s Kniga otrazheniy (“Book of Reflections,” 1906) is Yumor Lermontova (“Lermontov’s Humor”). In his essay Bal’mont liricheskiy poet (“Balmont the Lyric Poet”) included in Kniga otrazheniy (“The Book of Reflections,” 1906) Annenski (who published his book under the penname Nik. T-o, “Mr. Nobody”) mentions samye geroicheskie razmery (the most heroic meters):
Но ещё хуже обстоят дела поэзии, если стихотворение покажется читателю неморальным, точно мораль то же, что добродетель, и точно блюдение оной на словах, хотя бы в самых героических размерах, имеет что-нибудь общее с подвигом и даже доброй улыбкой. Поэтическое искусство, как и все другие, определяется прежде всего тем, что одарённый человек стремится испытывать редкое и высокое наслаждение творчеством. Само по себе творчество - аморально, и наслаждаться им ли или чем другим отнюдь не значит жертвовать и ограничивать самого себя ради ближних, сколько бы блага потом они ни вынесли из нашего наслаждения. (II)
In the preceding paragraph Annenski mentions algebra:
На словах поэзия будет для нас, пожалуй, и служение, и подвиг, и огонь, и алтарь, и какая там ещё не потревожена эмблема, а на деле мы всё ещё ценим в ней сладкий лимонад, не лишённый, впрочем, и полезности, которая даже строгим и огорчённым русским читателем очень ценится. Разве можно думать над стихами? Что же тогда останется для алгебры? (II)
In words poetry will be for us devotion, and heroic deed, and fire, and altar, and whatever other emblem is affected, but actually we still love in it sweet lemonade not devoid of usefulness very much appreciated by the austere and embittered Russian reader. How can one brood over verses? What will then remain for algebra?
In Pushkin’s little tragedy “Mozart and Salieri” (1830) Salieri says that he measured harmony by algebra and Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would). Nikto b is Botkin in reverse. Shade (whose poem is written in heroic couplets), his commentator Kinbote and his killer Gradus seem to be one and the same person whose “real” name is Vsevolod Botkin. Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). Hazel Shade drowned crossing the frozen lake. Queen Yaruga and Hodinski drowned in an ice-hole during traditional New Year's festivities:
Yaruga, Queen, reigned 1799-1800, sister of Uran (q.v.); drowned in an ice-hole with her Russian lover during traditional New Year's festivities, 681. (Index to PF)
The circumstances of Queen Yaruga’s and Hodinski’s death bring to mind Lazhechnikov’s historical novel Ledyanoy dom (“The Ice House,” 1835). In a letter of Nov. 3, 1835, to Lazhechnikov Pushkin asks the author in what sense and in what idiom he used the word khobot (trunk, proboscis) in his last novel:
Позвольте сделать вам филологический вопрос, коего разрешение для меня важно: в каком смысле упомянули вы слово хобот в последнем вашем творении и по какому наречию?
The word khoboty occurs in Slovo:
сего бо нынѣ сташа стязи Рюриковы, а друзіи – Давыдовы, нъ розно ся имъ хоботы пашутъ.
Now some of his banners
have gone to Ryurik and others to David,
but their plumes were in counterturn. (ll. 684-686)
In a manuscript note Pushkin interprets v khoboty as s zadi, “from behind.” In the last line of his epistle to Vigel (1823) Pushkin asks Vigel (the poet’s gay friend in Odessa) to spare his zad (arse):
Тебе служить я буду рад —
Стихами, прозой, всей душою,
Но, Вигель — пощади мой зад!
In his epistle Pushkin says that the fate of Sodom (a city distinguished by the polite sin) expects Kishinev:
Проклятый город Кишинев!
Тебя бранить язык устанет.
Когда-нибудь на грешный кров
Твоих запачканных домов
Небесный гром, конечно, грянет,
И — не найду твоих следов!
Падут, погибнут, пламенея,
И пестрый дом Варфоломея,
И лавки грязные жидов:
Так, если верить Моисею,
Погиб несчастливый Содом.
Но с этим милым городком
Я Кишинев равнять не смею,
Я слишком с библией знаком
И к лести вовсе не привычен.
Содом, ты знаешь, был отличен
Не только вежливым грехом,
Но просвещением, пирами,
И красотой нестрогих дев!
In his Commentary Kinbote mentions Amphiteatricus, a writer of fugitive poetry who dubbed Onhava (the capital of Zembla) Uranograd:
Alfin the Vague (1873-1918; regnal dates 1900-1918, but 1900-1919 in most biographical dictionaries, a fumble due to the coincident calendar change from Old Style to New) was given his cognomen by Amphitheatricus, a not unkindly writer of fugitive poetry in the liberal gazettes (who was also responsible for dubbing my capital Uranograd!). (note to Line 71)
Uranograd hints at Uran the Last (Queen Yaruga’s brother, an incredibly brilliant, luxurious and cruel monarch whose whistling whip made Zembla spin like a rainbow top and who was dispatched one night by a group of his sister's united favorites) and at urningism (homosexuality). Uran the Last seems to correspond to the Russian tsar Paul I (who reigned in 1796-1801). In the lines 65-88 of his ode Vol’nost’ (“Liberty,” 1817) Pushkin describes the murder of Paul I whom Pushkin calls tiran (“tyrant,” a word that rhymes with Uran):
Когда на мрачную Неву
Звезда полуночи сверкает,
И беззаботную главу
Спокойный сон отягощает,
Глядит задумчивый певец
На грозно спящий средь тумана
Пустынный памятник тирана,
Забвенью брошенный дворец —
И слышит Клии страшный глас
За сими страшными стенами,
Калигуллы последний час
Он видит живо пред очами,
Он видит — в лентах и звездах,
Вином и злобой упое́нны
Идут убийцы потае́нны,
На лицах дерзость, в сердце страх.
Молчит неверный часовой,
Опущен молча мост подъёмный,
Врата отверсты в тьме ночной
Рукой предательства наёмной…
О стыд! о ужас наших дней!
Как звери, вторглись янычары!…
Падут бесславные удары…
Погиб увенчанный злодей.
When down upon the gloomy Neva
The star Polaris scintillates
And peaceful slumber overwhelms
The head that is devoid of cares,
The pensive poet contemplates
The grimly sleeping in the mist
Forlorn memorial of a tyrant,
A palace to oblivion cast,
And hears the dreadful voice of Clio
Above yon gloom-pervaded walls
And vividly before his eyes
He sees Caligula's last hours.
He sees: beribanded, bestarred,
With Wine and Hate intoxicated,
They come, the furtive assassins,
Their faces brazen, hearts afraid.
Silent is the untrusty watchman,
The drawbridge silently is lowered,
The gate is opened in the dark
Of night by hired treachery's hand.
O shame! O horror of our days!
Like animals, the Janissaries
Burst in. The infamous blows fall,
And perished has the crowned villain!
Pushkin compares Paul I to Caligula, a Roman Emperor whose nickname means in Latin “little boot.” According to Kinbote (the author of books on surnames), Botkin is the one who makes bottekins (fancy footwear):
A Commentary where placid scholarship should reign is not the place for blasting the preposterous defects of that little obituary. I have only mentioned it because that is where I gleaned a few meager details concerning the poet's parents. His father, Samuel Shade, who died at fifty, in 1902, had studied medicine in his youth and was vice-president of a firm of surgical instruments in Exton. His chief passion, however, was what our eloquent necrologist calls "the study of the feathered tribe," adding that "a bird had been named for him: Bombycilla Shadei" (this should be "shadei," of course). The poet's mother, nee Caroline Lukin, assisted him in his work and drew the admirable figures of his Birds of Mexico, which I remember having seen in my friend's house. What the obituarist does not know is that Lukin comes from Luke, as also do Locock and Luxon and Lukashevich. It represents one of the many instances when the amorphous-looking but live and personal hereditary patronymic grows, sometimes in fantastic shapes, around the common pebble of a Christian name. The Lukins are an old Essex family. Other names derive from professions such as Rymer, Scrivener, Limner (one who illuminates parchments), Botkin (one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear) and thousands of others. My tutor, a Scotsman, used to call any old tumble-down buildings a "hurley-house." But enough of this. (note to Line 71)
A "hurley-house" brings to mind pustynnyi pamyatnik tirana, zabven’yu broshennyi dvorets (forlorn memorial of a tyrant, a palace to oblivion cast), as Pushkin calls the Mikhaylovski castle where Paul I was murdered in 1801. On Oct. 31, 1838 (Dostoevski’s seventeenth birthday), Dostoevski (a student of the Military Engineer School housed in the Mikhaylovski palace) wrote a letter to his brother in which he twice used the word gradus (degree).
Uran the Last is a grandfather of Thurgus the Third (surnamed the Turgid, a grandfather of Charles the Beloved). King Thurgus and his surname seem to hint at Turgenev. In his note to Line 69 of Pushkin’s Ode to Liberty (EO Commentary, vol. III, p.344) VN writes:
According to Vigel's Memoirs (1864) and a letter from Nikolay Turgenev to Pyotr Bartenev (in 1867), Pushkin wrote (no doubt from memory – poets do not compose in public) the ode, or part of it, in the rooms of Nikolay Turgenev, who at the time lived in St. Petersburg on the Fontanka Quay, opposite the Mikhaylovski Palace (also known as the Inzhenernyi Castle), whither, flushed after a champagne supper and wearing their resplendent decorations, the assassins made their way to Tsar Paul’s bedroom on the night of Mar. 11, 1801.
In his next note VN calls Clio “the hysterical Muse of history.” In the last paragraph of his Commentary Kinbote says that, history permitting, he may sail back to his recovered kingdom:
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.
“A million photographers” bring to mind dvunogikh tvarey milliony (the millions of two-legged creatures) mentioned by Pushkin in Chapter Two (XIV: 5) of Eugene Onegin. According to Pushkin, the millions of two-legged creatures for us are orudie odno (only tools). Odno (neut. of odin, “one”) = Odon (world-famous actor and Zemblan patriot) = Nodo (Odon’s half-brother, a cardsharp and despicable traitor). In lines 3-4 of the same stanza of EO Pushkin says that we deem all people nulyami (naughts) and ourselves edinitsami (units). Nul’ means “0,” edinitsa means “1.” It seems that the total number of lines in the finished version of Shade’s poem should be not 1000 (as Kinbote believes), but 1001. The poem’s last line (“By its own double in the windowpane”) is its coda. In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol mentions the Italian sonetto colla coda (sonnet with a coda) and in a footnote explains what a coda is. “A bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus” seems to hint at the real inspector whose arrival is announced at the end of Gogol’s play Revizor (“The Inspector,” 1836). In 1852 Gogol’s obituary was written by Ivan Turgenev (who was arrested for publishing it in a St. Petersburg’s newspaper). In its last paragraph Turgenev mentions istoriya (history) and uses the word nikto (nobody):
Едва ли нужно говорить о тех немногих людях, которым слова наши покажутся преувеличенными, или даже вовсе неуместными… Смерть имеет очищающую и примиряющую силу; клевета и зависть, вражда и недоразумения — все смолкает перед самою обыкновенною могилой; они не заговорят над могилою Гоголя. Какое бы ни было окончательное место, которое оставит за ним история, мы уверены, что никто не откажется повторить теперь же вслед за нами:
Мир его праху, вечная память его жизни, вечная слава его имени!