Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027345, Tue, 4 Apr 2017 14:18:52 +0300

Charles the Beloved, crown jewels & Untamed Seahorse in Pale Fire
One of the three main characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962), Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla. According to Kinbote, the king escaped from green Zembla clad in bright red clothes. Vyacheslav Velikolepnyi (“Vyacheslav the Magnificent”), the second essay in Part Three of Shestov’s Potestas clavium (“Power of the Keys,” 1923), begins as follows:

Предо мною новая книга В. Иванова. На зелёной обложке красными буквами напечатано заглавие: «Борозды и межи». Краски яркие, заглавие яркое. И обложка не обманывает: книга, как всё, впрочем, что выходит из-под пера Вячеслава Иванова,—необыкновенно яркая.

Before me is a new book by V. Ivanov. On the green cover the title is printed in red characters: “Furrows and Boundaries.” Bright colors, bright title. And the cover does not deceive: like everything that comes from Vyacheslav Ivanov’s pen, the book is extraordinarily bright.

In the penultimate stanza of his epistle To Vyacheslav Ivanov (1912) Alexander Blok calls V. Ivanov tsar’ samoderzhavnyi (“an autocratic king”) and, in the poem’s last line, mentions V. Ivanov’s tsarskiy poezd (royal procession):

И много чар, и много песен,
И древних ликов красоты…
Твой мир, поистине, чудесен!
Да, царь самодержавный — ты.

А я, печальный, нищий, жёсткий,
В час утра встретивший зарю,
Теперь на пыльном перекрёстке
На царский поезд твой смотрю.

In the last stanza of his poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) Blok says that a treasure lies in his soul and the key is entrusted to him alone:

В моей душе лежит сокровище,

И ключ поручен только мне!

Ты право, пьяное чудовище!

Я знаю: истина в вине.

A treasure lies in my soul,

and the key is entrusted to me alone!

You are correct, you drunken fiend!

I know: in wine is truth.

A treasure that lies in the poet’s soul brings to mind Zemblan crown jewels (vainly looked for by the Extremists). The poem’s last words, istina v vine (in wine is truth), is a rendering in Russian of the Latin saying quoted by Blok earlier in his poem:

А рядом у соседних столиков

Лакеи сонные торчат,

И пьяницы с глазами кроликов

"In vino veritas!" кричат.

And drowsy lackeys lounge about

beside the adjacent tables,

while drunks with the eyes of rabbit

cry out: "In vino veritas!"

According to Kinbote, Gradus (Shade’s murderer) believed that his name derived from vinograd (a word that has vino, “wine,” in it):

Having a morbid affection for the ruddy Russia of the Soviet era, he contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making in Vinogradus. (note to Line 17)

In his Commentary Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus “Vinogradus” and “Leningradus:”

All this is as it should be; the world needs Gradus. But Gradus should not kill kings. Vinogradus should never, never provoke God. Leningradus should not aim his peashooter at people even in dreams, because if he does, a pair of colossally thick, abnormally hairy arms will hug him from behind and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. (note to Line 171)

In another note Kinbote points out that Leningrad used to be Petrograd (St. Petersburg’s name in 1914-24). VN’s home city, St. Petersburg was founded in 1703 by the tsar Peter I and received its name after St. Peter (the apostle whom God gave the keys from Paradise and Hell and who founded the Roman Church). In Potestas Clavium Shestov speaks of the keys that belong to the Popes.

Alexander Blok is the author of Cherez dvenadtsat let (“After Twelve Years,” 1909), a cycle of eight poems addressed to his first love, and of Dvenadtsat’ (“The Twelve,” 1918). The name Shestov comes from shest’ (six). 6 × 2 = 12. Lev Shestov died in 1938, at the age of seventy-two. 72 = 12 × 6 = 36 × 2. Lord Byron died in 1824 at the age of thirty-six. In the first stanza of his last poem, On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year (1824), Byron says that he cannot be beloved anymore:

Tis time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

In his poem K moryu (“To the Sea,” 1824) Pushkin pairs Napoleon with Byron and calls the latter vlastitel’ nashikh dum (“the master of our thoughts”):

Там он почил среди мучений.
И вслед за ним, как бури шум,
Другой от нас умчался гений,
Другой властитель наших дум.

Исчез, оплаканный свободой,
Оставя миру свой венец.
Шуми, взволнуйся непогодой:
Он был, о море, твой певец.

There rested he in tribulations.
And, after him as thunder, rolls
Yet one more genius of the nations,
One more commander of our souls.

Leaving the world his wreath forever
He vanished, grieved by liberty.
Seethe! Sound! Blow wild with angry weather.
He was your one true bard, O Sea.

(transl. A.Z. Foreman)

Vlastitel’ (sovereign, potentate) comes from vlast’ (power, authority), the word used by Shestov in the title of his book Potestas clavium. Vlast’ klyuchey.

The name Charles the Beloved seems to hint not only at Byron (the poet who could not be beloved anymore), but also at Charles Baudelaire, the author of L’Albatros (a poem that was translated into Russian by VN). In a discarded variant Shade mentions poor Baudelaire:

Strange Other World where all our still-born dwell,

And pets, revived, and invalids, grown well,

And minds that died before arriving there:

Poor old man Swift, poor —-, poor Baudelaire (note to Line 231)

The dash in the last line seems to stand for Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name). Botkin is nikto b (none would), a phrase used by Mozart in Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830), backwards. Nik. T-o (“Mr. Nobody”) was a penname of Innokentiy Annenski (1855-1909). One of the essays in Vyacheslav Ivanov’s Borozdy i mezhi (“Furrows and Boundaries,” 1916) is O poezii Innokentiya Annenskogo (“On the Poetry of Innokentiy Annenski”). At the beginning of Dostoevskiy i roman-tragediya (“Dostoevski and the Novel-Tragedy”), the first essay in “Furrows and Boundaries,” V. Ivanov uses the phrase vlastiteli nashikh dum (the masters of our thoughts):

Достоевскій кажется мнѣ наиболѣе живымъ изъ всѣхъ отъ насъ ушедшихъ вождей и богатырей духа. Сходятъ со сцены люди, которые были властителями нашихъ думъ, или только отходятъ вглубь съ передняго плана сцены, — и мы уже знаемъ, какъ опредѣлилось ихъ историческое мѣсто, какое десятилѣтіе нашей быстро текущей жизни, какое устремленіе нашей безпокойно ищущей, нашей мятущейся мысли они выразили и воплотили. Такъ, Чеховъ кажется намъ поэтомъ сумерекъ дореволюціонной поры. Немногіе какъ бы изъяты въ нашемъ сознаніи изъ этой ближайшей исторической обусловленности: такъ возвышается надъ потокомъ времени Левъ Толстой.

V. Ivanov compares Dostoevski to Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy. Shestov’s essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), has for epigraph a line from Baudelaire’s poem Le Goût du néant (“The Taste for Nothingness”):

Résigne-toi, mon cœur, dors ton sommeil de brute.

Resign yourself, my heart; sleep your brutish sleep.

In his essay Shestov calls Chekhov pevets beznadyozhnosti (a bard of hopelessness). Beznadyozhnost’ (hopelessness) comes from nadezhda (hope). Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. After the suicide of his daughter Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent) went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus. There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on October 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (the Governor of New Russia, a target of Pushkin’s epigrams) will be “full” again.

In his essay on Dostoevski V. Ivanov quotes the lines from Schiller’s poem Das Eleusische Fest (“The Eleusinian Festival,” 1798), quoted by Dostoevski in “Brothers Karamazov” (1880), in Zhukovski’s translation:

Чтобъ изъ низости душою
Могъ подняться человѣкъ,
Съ древней матерью Землёю
Онъ вступи въ союзъ навѣкъ.

So that a man a man may be,
Let him make an endless bond
With the kind earth trustingly,
Who is ever good and fond.

The line S drevney mater’yu Zemlyoyu (with the ancient mother Earth) brings to mind Kinbote’s Zembla. In his translation Zhukovski renders the German word Bund (bond) as soyuz (cf. Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik, or simply Sovetskiy Soyuz, the Soviet Union, Russia’s name in 1922-91). In his poem “To Vyazemski” (1826), Pushkin calls more (the sea) drevniy dushegubets (the ancient assassin) and 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.

(transl. by VN)

At the end of Browning’s poem My Last Duchess (1842) the Duke of Ferrara mentions Neptune taming a sea-horse:

‘Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!’

Shade’s collection of essays is entitled The Untamed Seahorse:

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)

In his Commentary Kinbote deplores the custom of borrowing the title of one’s book from a poetical work of the past and mentions Shakespeare’s Sonnets:

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 (“A Sonnet,” 1830) Pushkin says that the author of Macbeth loved a sonnet’s play. In his sonnet Poetu (“To a Poet,” 1830) Pushkin tells to a poet: Ty tsar’: zhivi odin (“you are the king: live alone”). There are many sonnets in Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal (“Flowers of Evil,” 1857). Vyacheslav Ivanov is the author of Rimskie sonety (“The Roman Sonnets,” 1925), a cycle of nine sonnets. In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol mentions sonetto colla coda and in a footnote explains that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as “sonnet with the tail” (con la coda), when the idea cannot not be expressed in fourteen lines and entails an appendix that can be longer than the sonnet itself. It seems to me that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem 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”). In fact, the entire Kinbote’s Foreword, Commentary and Index can be regarded as a coda of Shade’s poem, a comet’s beautiful tail.

There is a bad misprint in my previous post (“Martin Gradus & clockwork toy in Pale Fire; Darwin in Glory”): Part Three of Shestov’s Potestas Clavium begins with an essay entitled Memento Mori (not “Momento mori”).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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