Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026235, Fri, 19 Jun 2015 11:27:51 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] Nabokov's Ideal Arrangement - Chess Sonnets
Jansy Mello: Trying to locate the story behind the photograph of VN, wrapped in a shawl and posing in the Alps, I turned to Brian Boyd’s biography. I thought that the chapter “Mask and Man” looked promising. Unfortunately, I found no detailed info in it about the session of pictures “over scree and mountain meadow” by Horst Tappe (AY,468).*
I cannot trust my memory enough to guarantee that VN had been impersonating another writer but this record must exist somewhere. Does anyone remember this?

Before I resorted to the tranquility of printed texts, I roamed the www and reached a few early chess-related poems by VN: another treat for rereaders! And a retake of his awareness of “fairy rhyme…on the board” – something he might have used later in the composition of Pale Fire, with an extension of chess moves into the literary realm: a special kind of phenomenological record…

November 1924, Nabokov published “Three Chess Sonnets” in Rul’.**


In moving the rook – an iambic meter,
in moving the bishop – an anapest.
Half-dance, half-deliberation. From the café’s
boozy din, from the sulfur-smoke air.
Here, Phillidor contended, and Ducer.
Now, sits a thick-browed, angry Spaniard and
a bespectacled gnome. On the tendons of his hands
lies a strange gloss, his glance – a chimera’s.
With iambic feet the rook steps forward.
Then again there is thinking. “Caramba,
give it up!” But the quiet gnome lingers.
And here the feet knock against a florid,
iodic figure – as it were, the sacrificial bishop.
In black’s move the bewitching check and mate.


There are thrashing rhymes and dancers with wings
within such puzzling schemes. Observe:
across the bright and dark squares,
white has seven pieces, black has only three.
Humpbacked horses flank the black queen,
and the pawn, like amber, sparkles in night.
Kings, as servants, await the decision,
in fretted crowns and carved cuirasses.
The star-shaped intrigues of the queen,
the titillating patterned path,
leads away thought – anew, into obscurity.
But fairy rhyme manifests itself
on the board, shimmering in lacquer,
and – ethereal – soars into a whorl.


I do not write by the sonnet’s law;no nightingales sing in the poplars,
but, adjusting here a pawn, here a rook,
meditate upon the problem ’til dawn.
And I locked down her defense
the entire night, all of her cries,
and dark the branches, and bright the arcs
of flowing stars, and poetry’s workmanship…
I think, my Spaniard, and gnome,
and Phillidor, that in the lacelike design,
spare of pieces, ordered in consonance –
everything is seen, the gliding moonlight,
that I love ecstatically and clearly,
that on the board composed this sonnet.

<http://scacchi.chess.com/blog/billwall/nabokov-and-chess> http://scacchi.chess.com/blog/billwall/nabokov-and-chess


*An earlier description (AY,458) of the writer’s decision to move to the topmost floor of the old wing of the Montreux Palace in 1962 informs us that “Further from the street noise and with no footsteps thudding overhead, they liked their new quarters too much to move” (expressing the same wish as the one related to Nabokov’s plans on living in "an absolutely soundproofed flat in New York, on a top floor—no feet walking above, no soft music anywhere..." : 1964 PLAYBOY interview cited by Mo Ibrahim). Another advantage over NY lay in the nearby landscape because “their rooms occupied almost the whole lakeside frontage of the Hotel du Cygne” and the couple could enjoy tranquil strolls in the promenade or, at the right time, a quick access to butterfly hunting in the mountains. Besides, as Brian Boyd informs, Montreux “though small, serves a cosmopolitan world.” He quotes VN at this point: “I am an old man, very private in all my habits of life, who has preferred the fruitful isolation in Switzerland to the stimulating but distracting atmosphere of America.”(1974 talk with Teddy Kolleck).

**POETRY: VLADAMIR NABOKOV'S CHESS POEMS, NEWLY TRANSLATED FROM RUSSIAN By Erik Vande Stouwe, February 27,2011 - NolaVie intends to publish weekly creative writing from writers living in New Orleans. By spotlighting creative writing content, NolaVie hopes to expose a wide audience to the full spectrum of content coming from New Orleans. This week, we present two poems by Vladmir Nabokov -- most famously known for his book "Lolita" -- translated for the first time from Russian by Tulane University student Erik Vande Stouwe. <http://nolavie.com/creative-writing-poetry-in-translation/> http://nolavie.com/creative-writing-poetry-in-translation/

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