Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027565, Tue, 24 Oct 2017 15:26:57 +0300

waxwing, mockingbird, Uranograd, great beaver,
lost glove in Pale Fire; ziggurat,
pyramids in Ada; Karl Vetrov in LATH
In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Shade’s poem begins as follows:

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane… (ll. 1-2)

Tam, gde zhili sviristeli (“There, where the waxwings lived…” 1908) is a poem by Velimir Khlebnikov. In his poem Pen pan (“Master of Foams,” 1914) Khlebnikov mentions ischezayushchiy nechet (the vanishing odd). Nechet (“Odd,” 1936-46) is a collection of poetry by Anna Akhmatov. In Nadpis’ na knige (“The Inscription on the Book,” 1940), the first poem in Nechet, Anna Akhmatov calls herself pochti leteyskaya ten’ (almost a Lethean shade), mentions Leningrad (St. Petersburg’s name in 1924-91) and mgla magicheskikh zerkal (the mist of magical mirrors). In her sonnet Tebe pokornoy? Ty soshyol s uma!.. (“Submissive to you? You're out of your mind!..” 1921) Anna Akhmatov compares herself to a bird that hits the transparent glass:

Тебе покорной? Ты сошёл с ума!

Покорна я одной Господней воле.

Я не хочу ни трепета, ни боли,

Мне муж - палач, а дом его - тюрьма.

Но видишь ли! Ведь я пришла сама;

Декабрь рождался, ветры выли в поле,

И было так светло в твоей неволе,

А за окошком сторожила тьма.

Так птица о прозрачное стекло

Всем телом бьётся в зимнее ненастье,

И кровь пятнает белое крыло.

Теперь во мне спокойствие и счастье.

Прощай, мой тихий, ты мне вечно мил

За то, что в дом свой странницу пустил.

Shade’s poem consists of 999 lines and is almost finished. Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs but one line. According to Kinbote, Line 1000 is identical to Line 1 (“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). In the finished version of Shade’s poem the total number of lines is thus also odd.

Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Alexander Blok. In the first line of the second poem in her cycle V Tsarskom Sele (“In Tsarskoe Selo,” 1911) Anna Akhmatov mentions her mramornyi dvoynik (marble double):

…А там мой мраморный двойник,
Поверженный под старым клёном,
Озёрным водам отдал лик,
Внимает шорохам зелёным.

И моют светлые дожди
Его запёкшуюся рану…
Холодный, белый, подожди,
Я тоже мраморною стану.

Anna Akhmatov’s epistle to Marina Tsvetaev (included in “Odd”) begins: Nevidimka, dvoynik, peresmeshnik… (“The invisible woman, the double, the mockingbird…” 1940). Chelovek-nevidimka is the Russian title of H. G. Wells’ novel The Invisible Man (1897). In his memoir essay Dom iskusstv (“The House of Arts,” 1925) G. Ivanov describes a banquet in Petrograd (St. Petersburg’s name in 1914-24) in honor of H. G. Wells and mentions Amfiteatrov’s suggestion to unbutton one’s clothes and to demonstrate to the guest one’s dessous (underwear):

Банкет был позорный. Уэллс с видимым усилием ел «роскошный завтрак», плохо слушал ораторов и изредка невпопад им отвечал. Ораторы... некоторые из них выказали большое гражданское мужество — например Амфитеатров, предложивший присутствующим, чтобы показать высокому гостю, «что они с нами сделали»,— расстегнуться и продемонстрировать ему свой «дессу».

Это смелое предложение принято не было. Но Амфитеатров был наказан: Уэллс, обратившись к нему, назвал его мистером Шкловским.

This bold suggestion was not accepted, but Amfiteatrov was punished: addressing him, H. G. Wells called him “Mr. Shklovsky.” Shklovsky’s book Zoo ili Pis’ma ne o lyubvi (“Zoo, or Letters not about Love,” 1923) has for epigraph Khlebnikov’s poem in prose Zverinets (“Menagerie,” 1909). H. G. Wells described his trip to Russia and his meeting in Kremlin with Lenin in his book Russia in the Shadows (1921). Shade’s murderer, Gradus is a member of the Shadows (a regicidal organization). In his Commentary Kinbote mentions Amphitheatricus, 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)

In his essay Asfodeli i romashka (“Asphodels and Camomile,” 1908) Merezhovski quotes Balmont’s poem Plyaska dvukh (“The Dance of Two,” 1908) in which grad Vetrograd and grad Tsvetograd are mentioned almost in every line:

И Бальмонт любит Россию, как небывалую Жар-Птицу. И он "стилизует" русские песни; но почему же в устах его они похожи на "перевод с французского"?

Я из града Ветрограда,

Называюсь "Вей".

Я из града Цветограда,

Я "Огонь очей".

И далее:

Я по граду Ветрограду...

Я по граду Цветограду...

Я во граде Ветрограде...

Я во граде Цветограде...

Что это, деревянная трещотка или жестяной вентилятор?

In his book Tayna Tryokh. Egipet i Vavilon (“The Secret of Three: Egypt and Babylon,” 1925) Merezhkovski mentions Aphrodite Urania:

Как глубоко наше скопчество, видно из того, что в нём согласны все индивидуалисты и социалисты, буржуа и пролетарии, верующие в Бога и безбожники. Как нам понять, что такое божественный Эрос, когда вместо Афродиты Урании – у нас «Елена Прекрасная», а вместо Елевзинского храма – публичный дом?

Мы убили Пол и мёртвое тело спрятали в подполье: вот почему у нас в доме такой тлетворный дух. (“One, Two and Three,” XIX)

Grad Vetrograd in Balmont’s poem brings to mind Karl Vetrov, in VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) the new name of Charlie Everett, Bel’s husband who takes his wife to Leningrad. In his Commentary Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus “Leningradus” and points out that Leningrad used to be Petrogad. The surname Vetrov comes from veter (wind) and hints at the saying ishchi vetra v pole (“you can't catch the wind in a net”). Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character in LATH) will never see his daughter again.

In Canto One of his poem Shade mentions the naive, the gauzy mockingbird:

TV's huge paperclip now shines instead
Of the stiff vane so often visited
By the naive, the gauzy mockingbird
Retelling all the programs that she had heard;
Switching from chippo-chippo to a clear
To-wee, to-wee; then rasping out: come here,
Come here, come herrr'; flitting her tail aloft,
Or gracefully indulging in a soft
Upward hop-flop, and instantly (to-wee!)
Returning to her perch--the new TV. (ll. 61-70)

While peresmeshnik (mockingbird) rhymes with oreshnik (nut-tree, nutwood; hazelnut), a word that brings to mind Shade’s daughter Hazel, dvoynik (double) rhymes with vorotnik (collar). In Chapter One (XVI: 4) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions Onegin’s bobrovyi vorotnik (beaver collar). According to Kinbote, he was nicknamed “the great beaver:”

One day I happened to enter the English Literature office in quest of a magazine with the picture of the Royal Palace in Onhava, which I wanted my friend to see, when I overheard a young instructor in a green velvet jacket, whom I shall mercifully call Gerald Emerald, carelessly saying in answer to something the secretary had asked: "I guess Mr Shade has already left with the great beaver." Of course, I am quite tall, and my brown beard is of a rather rich tint and texture; the silly cognomen evidently applied to me, but was not worth noticing, and after calmly taking the magazine from a pamphlet-cluttered table, I contented myself on my way out with pulling Gerald Emerald's bow-tie loose with a deft jerk of my fingers as I passed by him. (Foreword)

Kinbote describes himself as “a soft, clumsy giant:”

As mentioned, I think, in my last note to the poem, the depth charge of Shade's death blasted such secrets and caused so many dead fish to float up, that I was forced to leave New Wye soon after my last interview with the jailed killer. The writing of the commentary had to be postponed until I could find a new incognito in quieter surroundings, but practical matters concerning the poem had to be settled at once. I took a plane to New York, had the manuscript photographed, came to terms with one of Shade's publishers, and was on the point of clinching the deal when, quite casually, in the midst of a vast sunset (we sat in a cell of walnut and glass fifty stories above the progression of scarabs), my interlocutor observed: "You'll be happy to know, Dr. Kinbote, that Professor So-and-so [one of the members of the Shade committee] has consented to act as our adviser in editing the stuff."
Now "happy" is something extremely subjective. One of our sillier Zemblan proverbs says: the lost glove is happy. Promptly I refastened the catch of my briefcase and betook myself to another publisher.

Imagine a soft, clumsy giant; imagine a historical personage whose knowledge of money is limited to the abstract billions of a national debt; imagine an exiled prince who is unaware of the Golconda in his cuff links! This is to say--oh, hyperbolically--that I am the most impractical fellow in the world. Between such a person and an old fox in the book publishing business, relations are at first touchingly carefree and chummy, with expansive banterings and all sorts of amiable tokens. I have no reason to suppose that anything will ever happen to prevent this initial relationship with good old Frank, my present publishers, from remaining a permanent fixture. (ibid.)

In the first stanza of her Pesnya posledney vstrechi (“Song of the Final Meeting,” 1911) Anna Akhmatov says that she pulled onto her right hand the glove from her left hand:

Так беспомощьно грудь холодела,

Но шаги мои были легки.

Я на правую руку надела

Перчатку с левой руки.

My breast grew helplessly cold,

But my steps were light.

I pulled the glove from my left hand

Mistakenly onto my right.

In “The Secret of Three” Merezhkovski mentions a fourth dimension in which “the glove from the left hand is pulled onto the right hand:”

Мы читаем книгу мира, как малограмотные люди, не отрывая глаз от страницы и водя пальцем по строкам; и только тогда, когда чья-то быстрая как молния рука перевёртывает страницу, мы видим, что мелькает что-то «написанное сбоку, на полях» (Бергсон), может быть, самое важное, но мы не успеваем прочесть: чтобы успеть, нужны другие глаза, те «вещие зеницы», что бывают только у пророков.

Мы верим на слово Лобачевскому и Эйнштейну, что где-то в «четвёртом измерении», в метагеометрии, «перчатка с левой руки надевается на правую». Но для того чтобы это понять – увидеть, нужен метафизический вывих, выверт ума наизнанку, как бы сумасшествие, или то «исступление», «выхождение из себя», έκτασις, которому учили древние мистагоги и апостол Павел: «Премудрость Божия – безумие для мира сего».

О четвёртом измерении кое-что знает Эйнштейн, но, может быть, больше знают Орфей и Пифагор, иерофант «Четверицы Божественной», которую воспевает он, как «число чисел и вечной природы родник», παγάν άεννάου φύσεως (Carm. Aur., V, 47).

Пифагора и Орфея объясняет Шеллинг: над тремя началами в Боге, Отцом, Сыном и Духом, возвышается сам Бог в единстве Своём, так что тайна Бога и мира выражается алгебраически: 3+1=4 (Philos. d. Offenbar.). Это и значит: в Боге Три – Четыре в мире; Троица в метафизике есть «четвёртое измерение» в метагеометрии.

Не эту ли игру божественных чисел кристаллизируют и египтяне в пирамиде, соединяя в одной точке неба четыре исходящих из земли треугольника, и вавилоняне – в башне Zikkurat, семиярусной: 3+4=7? (“The Divine Trefoil,” XI)

Merezhkovski quotes Schelling, the philosopher who said that the secret of God and of the world could be expressed algebraically: 3 + 1 = 4. The three main characters in Pale Fire are Shade, Kinbote and Gradus. Their “real” name seems to be Botkin. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). Botkin = Shade + Kinbote + Gradus + Hazel (4 = 3 + 1). in his Commentary Kinbote admits that Hazel Shade, who twisted words, resembled him in certain respects and says that Zembla is a corruption not of zemlya (Russian for “earth”) but of Semberland (a land of reflections, of ‘resemblers’).

According to Kinbote (the author of a book on surnames), Botkin is the one who makes bottekins (fancy footwear). In Canto One of his poem Shade mentions the fellow who reversed his shoes:

Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose
Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes? (ll. 27-28)

At the beginning of his essay Chetvyortoe izmerenie (“The Fourth Dimension,” 1929) G. Ivanov says that spiritualists are always a little funny and mentions the author of “immortal” Sherlock Holmes who recently called spiritualism a religion:

Над спиритами смеются — и действительно, спириты всегда смешноваты. Таинственное у них тесно перепутано с комическим. Чего стоит хотя бы король бульварных романистов, автор «бессмертного» Шерлока Холмса в роли их великого мастера, объявивший, кстати, недавно спиритизм на каком-то конгрессе — excusez du peu — религией.

Lyudi chetvyortogo izmereniya (“People of the Fourth Dimension”) is a feuilleton by Gilyarovski. In a letter of March 23, 1903, to the author Chekhov says that his “people of the fourth dimension” are magnificent and adds that he could not help laughing when he read Gilyarovski’s feuilleton:

Милый дядя Гиляй, твои «Люди четвертого измерения» великолепны, я читал и всё время смеялся. Молодец, дядя!

By “people of the fourth dimension” Gilyarovski means poets of the symbolist school (Balmont, Bryusov and their seven pupils, seven “new poets”):

Сцена наполнилась. Налево сели гг. К. Д. Бальмонт и В. Я. Брюсов – солидные, серьёзные. Напротив, в глубине, на семи стульях поместились семь "новых поэтов", семь "подбрюсков".

In “The Secret of Three” (see the quote with the formula 3 + 4 = 7 above) Merezhkovski mentions Egyptian pyramid and Babylonian tower, the seven storey ziggurat. In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) says that in the false mustache he resembles Pierre Legrand, his fencing master, and mentions a regular ziggurat:

‘We shall now go for a ride in the park,’ said Van firmly, and rang, first of all, for a Sunday messenger to take the letter to Lucette’s hotel — or to the Verma resort, if she had already left.

‘I suppose you know what you’re doing?’ observed Ada.

‘Yes,’ he answered.

‘You are breaking her heart,’ said Ada.

‘Ada girl, adored girl,’ cried Van, ‘I’m a radiant void. I’m convalescing after a long and dreadful illness. You cried over my unseemly scar, but now life is going to be nothing but love and laughter, and corn in cans. I cannot brood over broken hearts, mine is too recently mended. You shall wear a blue veil, and I the false mustache that makes me look like Pierre Legrand, my fencing master.’

‘Au fond,’ said Ada, ‘first cousins have a perfect right to ride together. And even dance or skate, if they want. After all, first cousins are almost brother and sister. It’s a blue, icy, breathless day,’

She was soon ready, and they kissed tenderly in their hallway, between lift and stairs, before separating for a few minutes.

‘Tower,’ she murmured in reply to his questioning glance, just as she used to do on those honeyed mornings in the past, when checking up on happiness: ‘And you?’

‘A regular ziggurat.’ (2.8)

The name of Van’s fencing master hints at Peter I (“Peter the Great”), the tsar who founded St. Petersburg (VN’s home city) and who sentenced his son Alexey to death. Merezhkovski is the author of Antikhrist. Pyotr i Aleksey (“The Antichrist. Peter and Alexey,” 1904). The title of Merezhkovski’s novel brings to mind Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set). Describing his travels, Van mentions the pyramids of Ladorah:

He traveled, he studied, he taught.

He contemplated the pyramids of Ladorah (visited mainly because of its name) under a full moon that silvered the sands inlaid with pointed black shadows. (3.1)

In the same chapter of Ada Van mentions his obsession with numbers:

Numbers and rows and series — the nightmare and malediction harrowing pure thought and pure time — seemed bent on mechanizing his mind. Three elements, fire, water, and air, destroyed, in that sequence, Marina, Lucette, and Demon. Terra waited.

In Canto Three of his poem Shade speaks of IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) and mentions “Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp:”

Iph borrowed some peripheral debris
From mystic visions; and it offered tips
(The amber spectacles for life's eclipse)--
How not to panic when you're made a ghost:
Sidle and slide, choose a smooth surd, and coast,
Meet solid bodies and glissade right through,
Or let a person circulate through you.
How to locate in blackness, with a gasp,
Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp. (ll. 550-558

In his essay The Texture of Time (Part Four of Ada) Van quotes John Shade, a modern poet who says that “Space is a swarming in the eyes and Time a singing in the ears.” In “The Secret of Three: Egypt and Babylon” Merezhkovski says the we are pozhirateli prostranstva (devourers of Space) and Egypt is pozhiratel’ vremeni (devourer of Time):

Мы живём, движемся в бесконечных пространствах, но век наш короток. Пространство Египта ничтожно – клочок земли, как бы точка, но движущаяся по бесконечной линии времени. Мы – пожиратели пространства, Египет – пожиратель времени. Насколько время глубже, таинственнее пространства, настолько дух Египта – глубже нашего. (“The Flight into Egypt,” XVIII)

In their old age (even in the last day of their long lives) Van and Ada translate Shade’s poem into Russian:

She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the right of making up a future, and in that case one’s very own future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years quickly passed — a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern. They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569-572) in John Shade’s famous poem:

...Sovetï mï dayom

Kak bït’ vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;

On ih vstrechaet — lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,

Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke...

(...We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another...)

Van pointed out that here was the rub — one is free to imagine any type of hereafter, of course: the generalized paradise promised by Oriental prophets and poets, or an individual combination; but the work of fancy is handicapped — to a quite hopeless extent — by a logical ban: you cannot bring your friends along — or your enemies for that matter — to the party. The transposition of all our remembered relationships into an Elysian life inevitably turns it into a second-rate continuation of our marvelous mortality. Only a Chinaman or a retarded child can imagine being met, in that Next-Installment World, to the accompaniment of all sorts of tail-wagging and groveling of welcome, by the mosquito executed eighty years ago upon one’s bare leg, which has been amputated since then and now, in the wake of the gesticulating mosquito, comes back, stomp, stomp, stomp, here I am, stick me on.

‘Oh, Van, oh Van, we did not love her enough. That’s whom you should have married, the one sitting feet up, in ballerina black, on the stone balustrade, and then everything would have been all right — I would have stayed with you both in Ardis Hall, and instead of that happiness, handed out gratis, instead of all that we teased her to death!’ (5.6)

In a letter of January 14, 1891, to his sister Chekhov says that he is exhausted like a ballerina after five acts and eight scenes and adds that, if the ballet goes on, he will leave St. Petersburg and go either home or to Ivan’s place in Sudoroga (“Crampton”):

Я утомлён, как балерина после пяти действий и восьми картин. Обеды, письма, на которые лень отвечать, разговоры и всякая чепуха. Сейчас надо ехать обедать на Васильевский остров, а мне скучно, и надо работать. Поживу ещё три дня, посмотрю, если балет будет продолжаться, то уеду домой или к Ивану в Судорогу.

Sudoroga (as Chekhov calls Sudogda, a town in the Province of Vladimir where his brother Ivan worked in a school attached to a glass factory) brings to mind Sudarg of Bokay, a mirror maker of genius. Sudarg of Bokay is Jakob Gradus in reverse.

In LATH Vadim Vadimovich says that spying was always his clystère de Tchékhov and Oleg Orlov (a writer who works for the KGB) accuses Vadim (who visits Leningrad incognito) of snooping and tells him that Mr. Vetrov was permitted to leave a certain labor camp in Vadim:

"Et ce n'est pas tout," he went on. "Instead of writing for us, your compatriots, you, a Russian writer of genius, betray them by concocting, for your paymasters, this (pointing with a dramatically quivering index at A Kingdom by the Sea in my hands), this obscene novelette about little Lola or Lotte, whom some Austrian Jew or reformed pederast rapes after murdering her mother--no, excuse me--marrying mama first before murdering her--we like to legalize everything in the West, don't we, Vadim Vadimovich?"

Still restraining myself, though aware of the uncontrollable cloud of black fury growing within my brain, I said: "You are mistaken. You are a somber imbecile. The novel I wrote, the novel I'm holding now, is A Kingdom by the Sea. You are talking of some other book altogether."

"Vraiment? And maybe you visited Leningrad merely to chat with a lady in pink under the lilacs? Because, you know, you and your friends are phenomenally naive. The reason Mister (it rhymed with ‘Easter’ in his foul serpent-mouth) Vetrov was permitted to leave a certain labor camp in Vadim--odd coincidence--so he might fetch his wife, is that he has been cured now of his mystical mania--cured by such nutcrackers, such shrinkers as are absolutely unknown in the philosophy of your Western sharlatany. Oh yes, precious (dragotsennyy) Vadim Vadimovich--"

The swing I dealt old Oleg with the back of my left fist was of quite presentable power, especially if we remember--and I remembered it as I swung--that our combined ages made 140. (5.3)

At the beginning of “The Secret of Three” Merezhkovski says that he is not a sharlatan (charlatan):

Попробуйте войти в современное приличное общество и перекреститься: в лучшем случае, вас примут за сумасшедшего, а в худшем – за шарлатана.

Я не шарлатан: то, что я сейчас делаю, для меня слишком невыгодно. Всякий пишущий хочет иметь читателей, потому что не добро быть человеку одному, и особенно в религии. Всякий пишущий любит книгу свою, как дитя своё, а в глазах почти всех моих читателей я уничтожаю книгу мою, как бы сжигаю, ставя на ней крест во имя Трёх.

Но что же делать? Я не могу поступить иначе. Это малая жертва тому, что я больше всего люблю и во что больше всего верю.

Пусть же горит книга моя, дитя моё, как малая жертва Трём. (“The Unprecedented,” I)

In LATH Dmitri Merezhkovski is portrayed as Vasiliy Sokolovski:

Ivan Shipogradov, eminent novelist and recent Nobel Prize winner, would also be present, radiating talent and charm, and--after a few jiggers of vodka--delighting his intimates with the kind of Russian bawdy tale that depends for its artistry on the rustic gusto and fond respect with which it treats our most private organs. A far less engaging figure was I. A. Shipogradov's old rival, a fragile little man in a sloppy suit, Vasiliy Sokolovski (oddly nicknamed "Jeremy" by I. A.), who since the dawn of the century had been devoting volume after volume to the mystical and social history of a Ukrainian clan that had started as a humble family of three in the sixteenth century but by volume six (1920) had become a whole village, replete with folklore and myth. (2.1)

The surname Orlov comes from oryol (eagle), the surname Sokolovski comes from sokol (falcon). Ivan Shipogradov is a recognizable portrait of Ivan Bunin. Bunin is the author of Ten’ ptitsy (“The Shadow of the Bird,” 1907), a short story.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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