Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026484, Wed, 30 Sep 2015 01:39:05 +0300

Balthasar, Prince of Loam & crown jewels in Pale Fire
In the closing lines of his unfinished poem Shade mentions some neighbor’s gardener:

Some neighbor's gardener, I guess--goes by
Trundling an empty barrow up the lane. (ll.998-999)

According to Kinbote, it was his gardener:

Some neighbor's! The poet had seen my gardener many times, and this vagueness I can only assign to his desire (noticeable elsewhere in his handling of names, etc.) to give a certain poetical patina, the bloom of remoteness, to familiar figures and things—although it is just possible he might have mistaken him in the broken light for a stranger working for a stranger. This gifted gardener I discovered by chance one idle spring day when I was slowly wending my way home after a maddening and embarrassing experience at the college indoor swimming pool. He stood at the top of a green ladder attending to the sick branch of a grateful tree in one of the most famous avenues in Appalachia. His red flannel shirt lay on the grass. We conversed, a little shyly, he above, I below. I was pleasantly surprised at his being able to refer all his patients to their proper habitats. It was spring, and we were alone in that admirable colonnade of trees which visitors from England have photographed from end to end. I can enumerate here only a few kinds of those trees: Jove's stout oak and two others: the thunder-cloven from Britain, the knotty-entrailed from a Mediterranean island; a weather-fending line (now lime), a phoenix (now date palm), a pine and a cedar (Cedrus), all insular; a Venetian sycamore tree (Acer); two willows, the green, likewise from Venice, the hoar-leaved from Denmark; a midsummer elm, its barky fingers enringed with ivy; a midsummer mulberry, its shade inviting to tarry; and a clown's sad cyprus from Illyria. (note to Line 998)

Kinbote nicknamed his gardener “Balthasar, Prince of Loam:”

I am happy to report that soon after Easter my fears disappeared never to return. Into Alphina's or Betty's room another lodger moved, Balthasar, Prince of Loam, as I dubbed him, who with elemental regularity fell asleep at nine and by six in the morning was planting heliotropes (Heliotropium turgenevi). (note to Line 62)

Balthasar was the name of one of the three Magi. In his essay Problema Gamleta (“The Problem of Hamlet,” 1907) included in The Second Book of Reflections (1909) Annenski mentions the star that two thousand years ago led the wise men (i. e. the Magi) and showed them God’s manger (nowadays the wise men lead the star after their telescope and bring the golden star to the grave of the same God,* as they think):

Две тысячи лет тому назад звезда вела мудрецов и показала им ясли бога -- так они думали, теперь мудрецы ведут звезду за своей трубой и приводят золотую звезду к могиле этого же бога, -- и так они думают... Для меня Гамлет и Шекспир близки друг другу, как μυριόνοοι -- обладатели мириады душ, среди которых теряется их собственная. Для Гамлета, после холодной и лунной ночи в Эльсинорском саду, жизнь не может уже быть ни действием, ни наслаждением.

For Annenski, Hamlet and Shakespeare are as close to each other, as μυριόνοοι – the possessors of a myriad of souls among which their own soul gets lost. For Hamlet, after the cold and moonlit night in the Elsinore garden, life can be neither action, nor pleasure anymore.

On the campus of the Wordsmith University there is a famous avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare:

Here are the great mansions of madness, the impeccably planned dormitories—bedlams of jungle music—the magnificent palace of the Administration, the brick walls, the archways, the quadrangles blocked out in velvet green and Chrysoprase, Spencer House and its lily pond, the Chapel, New Lecture Hall, the Library, the prisonlike edifice containing our classrooms and offices (to be called from now on Shade Hall), the famous avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare, a distant droning sound, the hint of a haze, the turquoise dome of the Observatory, wisps and pale plumes of cirrus, and the poplar-curtained Roman-tiered football field, deserted on summer days except for a dreamy-eyed youngster flying—on a long control line in a droning circle—a motor-powered model plane. (Kinbote’s note to Lines 47-48)

In one of his conversations with Kinbote, Shade mentions Gogol among the great Russian humorists:

Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque “perfectionist”): “How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov.” (Kinbote’s note to Line 172)

Problema gogolevskogo yumora (“The Problem of Gogol’s Humor”) is Annenski’s essay included in Book of Reflections (1906). Problema (problem) rhymes with emblema (emblem), another word favored by Annenski. In Zemblan, emblem means “blooming:”

Emblem, meaning "blooming" in Zemblan; a beautiful bay with bluish and black, curiously striped rocks and a luxurious growth of heather on its gentle slopes, in the southmost part of W. Zembla (Index to PF)

Emblem is a near anagram of mebel’ (Russian for “furniture”). In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stul’yev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) Vorob’yaniniov’s mother-in-law concealed her diamonds in the seat of a Hambs chair. I suspect that Emblem, with its curiously striped rocks and a luxurious growth of heather** on gentle slopes, is the place where the crown jewels should be looked for:

Now that he was safely out of the country, the entire blue bulk of Zembla, from Embla Point to Emblem Bay, could sink in the sea for all she [Queen Disa] cared. That he had lost weight was of more concern to her than that he had lost a kingdom. Perfunctorily she inquired about the crown jewels; he revealed to her their unusual hiding place, and she melted in girlish mirth as she had not done for years and years. (Kinbote’s note to ll. 433-34)

Incidentally, at the end of Chekhov’s play Dyadya Vanya (“Uncle Vanya,” 1897) Sonya promises to Uncle Vanya that they will see vsyo nebo v almazakh (the whole sky swarm with diamonds).

*according to Shade, his God died young (PF, Line 99)

**Heather Ale is a ballad by R. L. Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Alexey Sklyarenko

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,nabokv-l@holycross.edu
Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com
AdaOnline: "http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada: http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html
The VN Bibliography Blog: http://vnbiblio.com/
Search the archive with L-Soft: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A0=NABOKV-L

Manage subscription options :http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=NABOKV-L