Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026472, Thu, 24 Sep 2015 13:49:51 +0300

versipel & Arcady in Pale Fire
In Canto Four of his poem Shade calls his muse a "versipel:"

And that odd muse of mine,

My versipel, is with me everywhere,

In carrel and in car, and in my chair. (ll. 946-48)

Versipel (VN's neologism from versipellous, "changeable; protean; having a
form, nature or appearance that changes often") seems to hint not only at
Vseslav (in The Song of Igor's Campaign the Prince who at night prowled in
the guise of a wolf), but also at Versilov, in Dostoevski's Podrostok ("The
Adolescent," 1875) Arkadiy Dolgoruki's real father. The name of Podrostok's
protagonist and narrator brings to mind Arcady mentioned by Kinbote (Charles
Xavier Vseslav, the last king of Zembla) in his Commentary:

The ultimate destiny of madmen's souls has been probed by many Zemblan
theologians who generally hold the view that even the most demented mind
still contains within its diseased mass a sane basic particle that survives
death and suddenly expands, bursts out as it were, in peals of healthy and
triumphant laughter when the world of timorous fools and trim blockheads has
fallen away far behind. Personally, I have not known any lunatics; but have
heard of several amusing cases in New Wye ("Even in Arcady am I," says
Dementia, chained to her gray column). (note to Line 629)

"Dementia, chained to her gray column" clearly hints at the lines in the
fourth (penultimate) stanza of Pushkin's poem Ne day mne Bog soyti s uma
("The Lord forbid my going mad:" 1833):

Да вот беда: сойди с ума,
И страшен будешь как чума,
Как раз тебя запрут,
Посадят на цепь дурака
И сквозь решётку как зверка
Дразнить тебя придут.

But there's the rub! You lose your sense -

Are dreaded like a pestilence,

And clapped in prison drear.

They chain you to the idiot's yoke,

And, through the cage-bars, to provoke

The wild beast they draw near.

(transl. John Pollen)

According to VN (EO Commentary), the epithet yarkiy (bright) in the second
line ("not the nightingale's bright voice") of the poem's last stanza
signals Pushkin's awareness of Batyushkov's madness. Batyushkov is the
author of Besedka muz ("The Bower of Muses," 1817) beginning:

Pod teniyu cheryomukhi mlechnoy

i zolotom blistayushchikh akatsiy:

In the shade of milky racemosas

And golden-glistening pea trees.

The name Batyushkov comes from batyushka (coll., father). The name of
Stavrogin's batyushka (in Dostoevski's Besy) was Vsevolod. Vsevolod seems to
be V. Botkin's real name (Shade, Kinbote and Gradus seem to represent three
different aspects of V. Botkin, the American scholar of Russian descent)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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