Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000039, Sat, 24 Jul 1993 11:16:38 -0700

Nabokov Poetry in Occupied Russia: 1943

D. Barton Johnson

Three early Nabokov poems shared a strange fate that probably
remained unknown to their author. Nor are the publications listed in
Michael Juliar's Nabokov Bibliography. In 1943 three Nabokov poems
were published in German-occupied northern Russia or, perhaps more
accurately, in the former Baltic Republics. The German forces that
occupied northern Russia in World War II attempted to enlist local
support against the Communist enemy. To this end they supported the
establishment of Russian-language newspapers. One of these, $Za
Rodinu$ ("For the Motherland" [1942-1944]), was a daily, nominally
published in the northern Russian city of Pskov, but actually in
Riga, the capital of Latvia. The collaborationist paper apparently
retreated with the Germans since the last reference to a paper of that
name bears the address [Germany ?], Feldpost 28264 in 1945 and is
described as the Military Organ of the Committee for the Liberated
Nationalities. The staff was mostly Russian and included one B.
Filippov-Filistinskii, who, without his "-philistinic" cognomen, would
become a well-known figure in emigre literature, and a professor at
American University in Washington where he edited the suppressed
poetry of Akhmatova and Mandelstam for publication in the
West (and covert circulation in the USSR).
The Nabokov poems were: "Zima" ("Na opushke lesa eli
nebol'shie...) ["Winter"--"On the forest fringe the little
firs..."]---Issue #21, 1943; "Son" ("Igraiut kamni aloi kraskoi..."
["The Dream"--"Stones of crimsom hue play..."]--Issue #23, 1943; and
"Nasha zvezda" ("Kak polnoch' prob'et, otodvin' zanaveski" ["Our
Star"--"When midnight strikes, move back the curtains"]--Issue #84,
1943. The only prior appearance of the poems was in the rarest of all
of Nabokov's books, the 1916 $Stikhi$, which was privately published
in an edition of 500 numbered copies in Saint Petersburg.
This youthful volume was the product of Nabokov's affair with
Valentina Shulgina ("Tamara"). While the first poem, "Winter," is a
lyrical invocation of snowy Vyra, the latter two are love lyrics. "The
Dream" offers an image of seaside lovers bathed in a molten twilight
glow while the girl is enwreathed in roses. "Our Star" depicts sepa-
rated lovers joined by their shared view of a distant star. The poems
are, frankly, trite, and Nabokov did not include any of them in his
retrospective 1979 Ardis $Stikhi$ ("Poetry").
Although more copies of the 1916 Nabokov $Stikhi$ undoubtedly
existed in 1943 than the ten that Juliar counted in the nineteen-
eighties, one cannot but ponder how the poems came into the possession
of a staff member of $Za Rodinu$. It is, of course, sheer speculation,
but Boris Filippov was a student in Leningrad during the twenties,
only a decade after Nabokov's $Stikhi$ was published there. As a young
poet himself, he might well have acquired a copy. Later sentenced to a
camp and released, he was in Novgorod when the Germans occupied it and
later accompanied their retreat. Filippov died in 1991 and so the
question of his role in the Nabokov publication of 1943 may never be
known. If he, indeed, was the source of the Nabokov material, his part
in the affair oddly presaged his post-war role in returning Russian
literature to its homeland. His own return (in print) came only
shortly after Nabokov's. Three of his stories appeared in the last
$Novyi Mir$ of 1991.
Given the context of the 1943 re-publication of the Nabokov poems,
it is surprising such apolitical ones were chosen. Nabokov, had, after
all, written a number of strongly patriotic, anti-Soviet poems, which
would have better served the purposes of $Za rodinu$, but these were
probably unknown to the editors. There is yet another curiosity in the
whole affair. Nabokov's name was no more acceptable to the German
occupiers (and their minions) than it was to the Soviets. Not only was
he vigorously anti-Nazi, but Sergei Taboritsky, one of the murders of
Nabokov's father, served as second-in-command in Hitler's department for
Russian emigre affairs. Apparently, neither the Germans, nor the
Russians connected with $Za Rodinu$ knew who Nabokov was.