Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026305, Tue, 21 Jul 2015 17:41:11 +0300

korona-vorona-korova series in Pale Fire
Translators of Shade's poem are bound to have trouble with the
transformation, at one stroke, of "mountain" into "fountain": it cannot be
rendered in French or German, or Russian, or Zemblan; so the translator will
have to put it into one of those footnotes that are the rogue's galleries of
words. However! There exists to my knowledge one absolutely extraordinary,
unbelievably elegant case, where not only two, but three words are involved.
The story itself is trivial enough (and probably apocryphal). A newspaper
account of a Russian tsar's coronation had, instead of korona (crown), the
misprint vorona (crow), and when next day this was apologetically
"corrected," it got misprinted a second time as korova (cow). The artistic
correlation between the crown-crow-cow series and the Russian
korona-vorona-korova series is something that would have, I am sure,
enraptured my poet. I have seen nothing like it on lexical playfields and
the odds against the double coincidence defy computation. (Pale Fire,
Commentary, Kinbote' note to Line 803)

In his humorous poem "To L. M. Lopatin" (1897) V. Solovyov mentions korova,
vorona and the tsar's - no, not korona - aktsiz (the excise-duty, alcohol

Левон! ты феномен! Российскому акцизу
Феноменальный ты даёшь доход.
Взгляну ли на тебя я сверху или снизу -
Ты феномен: Но феномен и Грот!
Мы все феномены, всем тварям по закону
Субстанциями быть запрещено,-
Куда б ни метил ты: в корову иль в ворону,-
Субстанцию минуешь всё равно.
Итак, Левон, будь твёрд, и царскому акцизу
Потщись доход являемый платить
Не прыгай слишком вверх и не спускайся книзу:
Феномену субстанцией не быть!

According to Solovyov, his friend and colleague Lev Lopatin helped to
increase enormously the income of Russian wine monopolists. To a Russian ear
the name Gradus (of the man whom the Shadows commissioned to assassinate the
self-banished King of Zembla) suggests spirits. According to Sybil Shade
(John Shade's wife), her husband is forbidden to touch alcohol.

Solovyov's poem Koldun-kamen' ("The Stone Sorcerer," 1894) composed in
Vyborg is dedicated to L. M. Lopatin. The grey sorcerers turned into huge
stones described in it bring to mind a steinmann in Pale Fire:

A shiver of alfear (uncontrollable fear caused by elves) ran between his
shoulder-blades. He murmured a familiar prayer, crossed himself, and
resolutely proceeded toward the pass. At a high point upon an adjacent ridge
a steinmann (a heap of stones erected as a memento of an assent) had donned
a cap of red wool in his honor. (Commentary, Kinbote's note to Line 149)

In his poem "Byl truden dolgiy put':" ("The long way was difficult:" 1892)
V. Solovyov mentions nepristupnye gory (inaccessible mountains) and nezhnykh
el'fov roy (a swarm of tender elves):

Был труден долгий путь. Хоть восхищала взоры

Порой природы дивной благодать,

Но неприступные кругом сдвигались горы,

И грудь усталая едва могла дышать.

И вдруг посыпались зарёй вечерней розы,

Душа почуяла два лёгкие крыла,

И в новую страну неистощимой грёзы

Любовь-волшебница меня перенесла.

Поляна чистая луною серебрится,

Деревья стройные недвижимо стоят,

И нежных эльфов рой мелькает и кружится,

И феи бледные задумчиво скользят.

Oleg (Prince Charles' playmate and first lover) is a namesake of Oleg
Koldunov, a character in VN's story Lik (1939) whose name comes from koldun

Alexey Sklyarenko

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