Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027433, Sat, 15 Jul 2017 16:19:32 +0300

prophetic sonnets & Gray Star in Lolita; Queen Disa & Altamira
animals in Pale Fire
At the end of Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert mentions "prophetic sonnets:"

Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. But while the
blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of
blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be
true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to
strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That
husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my
specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull
him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C.Q. One had to choose between him
and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to exist at least a couple of months longer,
so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. I am
thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic
sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may
share, my Lolita. (2.36)

In the novel's Russian version (1967) "prophetic sonnets" become
predskazanie v sonete (prediction in a sonnet):

Говорю я о турах и ангелах, о тайне прочных пигментов, о предсказании в
сонете, о спасении в искусстве.

It seems that HH is thinking of a specific poem, namely, of Shakespeare's
Sonnet 14:

Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck,

And yet methinks I have astronomy,

But not to tell of good or evil luck,

Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;

Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,

Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,

Or say with princes if it shall go well

By oft predict that I in heaven find:

But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,

And, constant stars, in them I read such art

As truth and beauty shall together thrive

If from thy self to store thou wouldst convert:

Or else of thee this I prognosticate,

Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.

From John Ray's Foreword to HH's manuscript we find out that Lolita died in
childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl:

Mrs. "Richard F. Schiller" died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn
girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest

"The capital town of the book" (as VN calls it in his essay "On a Book
Entitled Lolita"), Gray Star seems to hint at the stars mentioned by
Shakespeare in his sonnet. In the sonnet's line 10 Shakespeare calls the
eyes, from which he derives his knowledge, "constant stars." Lolita's eyes
are grey. In his poem "Wanted" composed in a madhouse HH mentions Lolita's
vair eyes:

My Dolly, my folly! Her eyes were vair,
And never closed when I kissed her.
Know an old perfume called Soleil Vert?
Are you from Paris, mister? (2.24)

In the poem's last stanza HH (who, according to John Ray, Jr., had died in
legal captivity, of coronary thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days
before his trial was scheduled to start) predicts his own death:

My car is limping, Dolores Haze,
And the last long lap is the hardest,
And I shall be dumped where the weed decays,
And the rest is rust and stardust. (ibid.)

The poem's last line (and the beginning of Lolita's last chapter: "The rest
is a little flattish and faded") seems to hint at Hamlet's last words in
Shakespeare's Hamlet: "the rest is silence." In HH's manuscript Lolita is
the first and last word. Lolita's death in Gray Star (as well as the book's
publication in Paris, the city where HH was born) was predicted by
Shakespeare! Btw., in 1927 VN translated into Russian two of Shakespeare's
Sonnets, 17 and 27, and in 1930 two scenes from Hamlet (including Hamlet's
famous monologue). In 1924 VN wrote three "Chess Sonnets" and Shekspir
("Shakespeare"), a poem.

Lolita outlives HH by forty days. In his poem O net! ne raskolduesh' serdtsa
ty: ("Oh no! You cannot disenchant my heart:" 1912) Alexander Blok mentions
his shade that will appear on the ninth and fortieth day after his death:

И тень моя пройдёт перед тобою

В девятый день, и в день сороковой -

Неузнанной, красивой, неживою.

Такой ведь ты искала? - Да, такой.

And suddenly you'll see my shade appear

Before you on the ninth and fortieth day:

Unrecognized, uncomely, plain and drear,

The kind of shade you looked for, by the way!

In the Russian version of Lolita the name of Clare Quilty's co-author,
Vivian Darkbloom, becomes Vivian Damor-Blok and the title of her book on CQ,
"My Cue," Kumir moy ("My Idol"):

Г-жа Вивиан Дамор-Блок (Дамор - по сцене, Блок - по одному из первых мужей)
написала биографию бывшего товарища под каламбурным заглавием "Кумир мой",
которая скоро должна выйти в свет; критики, уже ознакомившиеся с
манускриптом, говорят, что это лучшая её вещь.

"Vivian Darkbloom" has written a biography, "My Cue," to be published
shortly, and critics who have perused the manuscript call it her best book.
(John Ray's Foreword)

At the end of his poem Poet idyot: otkryty vezhdy: ("The poet goes: his eyes
are wide-open:") inserted by the Soviet editors in the gap of Pushkin's
unfinished novella Egipetskie nochi ("The Egyptian Nights," 1835) Pushkin
compares the poet to Desdemona who, without asking anybody, chooses kumir
(the idol) for her heart:

Таков поэт: как Аквилон
Что хочет, то и носит он -
Орлу подобно, он летает
И, не спросясь ни у кого,
Как Дездемона избирает
Кумир для сердца своего.

A character in Shakespeare's Othello, Desdemona (whose name means
"ill-starred") brings to mind Queen Disa, a character in VN's novel Pale
Fire (1962). Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone, Disa married Charles
the Beloved, the last king of Zembla (a distant northern land). One of the
three main characters in PF is the poet Shade. It seems that, to be
completed, Shade's almost finished poem Pale Fire (the title was borrowed
from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens) needs not only Line 1000 (identical to
Line 1: "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain"), but also a coda (Line
1001: "By its own double in the windowpane"). Dvoynik ("The Double," 1914)
is a poem by Alexander Blok. One of Blok's poems begins: Ya - Gamlet.
Kholodeet krov': ("I am Hamlet. Freezes blood:" 1914). According to G.
Ivanov, when asked if a sonnet needs a coda, Blok replied that he did not
know what a coda is.

Aurochs mentioned by HH at the end of Lolita bring to mind Altamira animals
(cave paintings of contemporary local fauna in Cantabria, N Spain) mentioned
by Kinbote (Shade's mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the
Beloved) in Pale Fire:

English was not taught in Zembla before Mr. Campbell's time. Conmal mastered
it all by himself (mainly by learning a lexicon by heart) as a young man,
around 1880, when not the verbal inferno but a quiet military career seemed
to open before him, and his first work (the translation of Shakespeare's
Sonnets) was the outcome of a bet with a fellow officer. He exchanged his
frogged uniform for a scholar's dressing gown and tackled The Tempest. A
slow worker, he needed half a century to translate the works of him whom he
called "dze Bart," in their entirety. After this, in 1930, he went on to
Milton and other poets, steadily drilling through the ages, and had just
complete Kipling's "The Rhyme of the Three Sealers" ("Now this is the Law of
the Muscovite that he proved with shot and steel") when he fell ill and soon
expired under his splendid painted bed ceil with its reproductions of
Altamira animals, his last words in his last delirium being "Comment dit-on
'mourir' en anglais?"--a beautiful and touching end. (note to Line 962)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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