Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027628, Sat, 23 Dec 2017 16:52:05 +0300

tennis ace Julius Steinmann in Pale Fire
In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions an especially brilliant impersonator of the King, the tennis ace Julius Steinmann:

The Zemblan Revolution provided Gradus with satisfactions but also produced frustrations. One highly irritating episode seems retrospectively most significant as belonging to an order of things that Gradus should have learned to expect but never did. An especially brilliant impersonator of the King, the tennis ace Julius Steinmann (son of the well-known philanthropist), had eluded for several months the police who had been driven to the limits of exasperation by his mimicking to perfection the voice of Charles the Beloved in a series of underground radio speeches deriding the government. When finally captured he was tried by a special commission, of which Gradus was a member, and condemned to death. The firing squad bungled their job, and a little later the gallant young man was found recuperating from his wounds at a provincial hospital. When Gradus learned of this, he flew into one of his rare rages--not because the fact presupposed royalist machinations, but because the clean, honest, orderly course of death had been interfered with in an unclean, dishonest, disorderly manner. Without consulting anybody he rushed to the hospital, stormed in, located Julius in a crowded ward and managed to fire twice, both times missing, before the gun was wrested from him by a heft male nurse. He rushed back to headquarters and returned with a dozen soldiers but his patient had disappeared. (note to Line 171)

Stein is German for “stone.” Kamen’ (“Stone,” 1915) is a collection of poetry by Osip Mandelshtam. One of the poems in “Stone” is Tennis (1913). In his review of Andrey Bely’s Zapiski chudaka (“The Notes of an Eccentric,” 1922) Mandelshtam describes the plot of Bely’s book and mentions “Johannes’ temple of theosophist wisdom” (as Mandelshtam calls the Goetheanum):

В книге можно вылущить фабулу, разгребая кучу словесного мусора: русский турист, застигнутый войной в Швейцарии, строит Иоаннов храм теософской мудрости, швейцарцы, обратив внимание на подозрительного иностранца, высылают его, и, преследуемый шпиономанией, он вполне благополучно возвращается через Англию и Норвегию в Россию.

Mandelshtam compares the Goetheanum built in Switzerland by Rudolf Steiner (the founder of anthroposophy) and his pupils to some new Hagia Sophia (a Greek Orthodox basilica in Constantinople):

Что за безвкусная нелепая идея строить «храм всемирной мудрости» на таком неподходящем месте? Со всех сторон швейцары, пансионы и отели; люди живут на чеки и поправляют здоровье. Самое благополучное место в мире. Чистенький нейтральный кусочек земли и в то же время в сытом своём международном благополучии самый нечистый угол Европы. И на этом-то месте, среди фамильных пансионов и санаторий, строится какая-то новая София.

The poems in Mandelshtam’s “Stone” include Aya-Sofia (“Hagia Sophia,” 1912). The “real” name of Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) seems to be Sofia Botkin. Her husband went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). Nadezhda was the name of Mandelshtam’s wife.

Julius Steinmann is a son of the well-known philanthropist. Der Philanthrop (“The Philanthropist,” 1853) is a poem by Heinrich Heine. According to Heine (who lived in exile in Paris), his French friends often mispronounced his name Henri Enn and sometimes even shortened it to Rien (“Mr. Nobody”). Heine’s poem Still ist die Nacht, es ruhen die Gassen (“The night is quiet, the streets are calm…”) was set to music (as Der Doppelgänger) by Schubert. In his poem V tot vecher ne gudel strel’chatyi les organa… (“That Evening the forest of organ pipes did not play…” 1918), with the epigraph from Heine’s poem about the doppelganger, Mandelshtam mentions Schubert:

Du, Doppelgänger, du, bleicher Geselle!..

В тот вечер не гудел стрельчатый лес органа.
Нам пели Шуберта — родная колыбель!
Шумела мельница, и в песнях урагана
Смеялся музыки голубоглазый хмель!

Старинной песни мир — коричневый, зеленый,
Но только вечно-молодой,
Где соловьиных лип рокочущие кроны
С безумной яростью качает царь лесной.

И сила страшная ночного возвращенья —
Та песня дикая, как чёрное вино:
Это двойник — пустое привиденье —
Бессмысленно глядит в холодное окно!

Du, Doppelgänger, du, bleicher Geselle!..

That evening the forest of organ pipes did not play.
A native cradle sang Schubert for us,
The mill was grinding, the music's blue-eyed drunkenness
Laughed in the songs of the hurricane.

The world of the old song – brown, green,
But only eternally young where the Erl-king
Shakes the rumbling crowns of nightingaled
Linden trees in savage rage.

The awesome force of night's return,
That wild song, like black wine:
It is a double, a hollow ghost
Peering senselessly through the cold window!

Schubert also set to music Goethe’s Erlkönig, a poem whose opening lines are a leitmotif in Pale Fire. Starinnoy pesni mir – korichnevyi, zelyonyi (“the world of the old song – brown, green”) in the second stanza of Mandelshtam’s poem brings to mind “the man in green” (Gerald Emerald) and “the man in brown” (Gradus) mentioned by Kinbote in his Commentary:

Did they talk in the car, these two characters, the man in green and the man in brown? Who can say? They did not. After all, the drive took only a few minutes (it took me, at the wheel of my powerful Kramler, four and a half). (note to Line 949)

“The man in green” and “the man in brown” bring to mind chyornyi chelovek (the man in black) mentioned by Mozart in Pushkin’s little tragedy “Mozart and Salieri” (1830):


Так слушай.

Недели три тому, пришёл я поздно
Домой. Сказали мне, что заходил
За мною кто-то. Отчего — не знаю,
Всю ночь я думал: кто бы это был?
И что ему во мне? Назавтра тот же
Зашел и не застал опять меня.
На третий день играл я на полу
С моим мальчишкой. Кликнули меня;
Я вышел. Человек, одетый в черном,
Учтиво поклонившись, заказал
Мне Requiem и скрылся. Сел я тотчас
И стал писать — и с той поры за мною
Не приходил мой черный человек;
А я и рад: мне было б жаль расстаться
С моей работой, хоть совсем готов
Уж Requiem. Но между тем я...




Мне совестно признаться в этом...


В чём же?


Мне день и ночь покоя не даёт
Мой черный человек. За мною всюду
Как тень он гонится. Вот и теперь
Мне кажется, он с нами сам-третей

Then listen:

About three weeks ago, I came back home
Quite late at night. They told me that some person
Had called on me. And then, I don't know why,
The whole night through I thought: who could it be?
What does he need of me? Tomorrow also
The same man came and didn't find me in.
The third day, I was playing with my boy
Upon the floor. They hailed me; I came out
Into the hall. A man, all clad in black,
Bowed courteously in front of me, commissioned
A Requiem and vanished. I at once
Sat down and started writing it -- and since,
My man in black has not come by again.
Which makes me glad, because I would be sorry
To part with my endeavor, though the Requiem
Is nearly done. But meanwhile I am...


I'm quite ashamed to own to this...

What is it?

By day and night my man in black would not
Leave me in peace. Wherever I might go,
He tails me like a shadow. Even now
It seems to me he's sitting here with us,
A third... (Scene II, tr. Genia Gurarie)

At the end of Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would):


Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.

If only all so quickly felt the power
Of harmony! But no, in that event
The world could not exist; none would care
about the basic needs of ordinary life,
All would give themselves to unencumbered art. (ibid.)

Nikto b is Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name) in reverse.

It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but, like some sonnets, also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Alexander Blok. According to G. Ivanov (a poet who attacked VN in the Paris émigré review “Numbers”), to his question “does a sonnet need a coda” Blok replied that he did know what a coda is. In his essay on Blok (in “The Silhouettes of Russian Writers”) the critic Yuliy Ayhenvald says that Blok used to meet his sad double in the city squares:

Поэт, "стареющий юноша", прошёл сквозь строй города, изведал его развращение, отравил себя его моральной ржавчиной и беленой, на площадях его встречал своего печального двойника, - и вот между рыцарем и дамой стали иные образы.

Ayhenvald’s essay on Blok begins as follows:

Когда скончался Блок - на лире новейшей русской поэзии оборвалась одна из её певучих и драгоценных струн.

When Blok died, one of the melodious and precious strings on the lyre of new Russian poetry was torn.

In his poem Tennis Mandelshtam says that the strings of lyres are dilapidated and mentions a golden racket’s strings strengthened and thrown into the world by the ever young Englishman:

Слишком дряхлы струны лир:
Золотой ракеты струны

Укрепил и бросил в мир
Англичанин вечно юный!

Ayhenvald’s first name, Yuliy corresponds to Latin Julius. The Russian spelling of Julius Caesar is Yuliy Tsezar’. The Russian word tsar’ (czar) comes from Latin Caesar. In his sonnet Poetu (“To a Poet,” 1830) Pushkin tells to a poet: ty tsar’: zhivi odin (you are a king: live alone). In the sonnet’s penultimate line Pushkin mentions ogon’ (fire) that burns in a poet’s altar. The sonnet’s last word, trenozhnik (tripod), brings to mind the three main characters (Shade, Kinbote and Gradus) in Pale Fire. Koleblemyi trenozhnik (“The Shaken Tripod,” 1921) is the title of Hodasevich’s Pushkin speech. In his memoir essay “Gumilyov and Blok” (1931) Hodasevich describes the Pushkin Evening in February, 1921, when Blok read his speech O naznachenii poeta (“On a Poet’s Destination”). In his speech Blok quotes (not quite correctly) Pushkin’s poem Iz Pindemonti (“From Pindemonte,” 1836):

Не будем сегодня, в день, отданный памяти Пушкина, спорить о том, верно или неверно отделял Пушкин свободу, которую мы называем личной, от свободы, которую эта называем политической. Мы знаем, что он требовал «иной», «тайной» свободы. По-вашему, она «личная»; но для поэта это не только личная свобода:


Отчёта не давать; себе лишь самому

Служить и угождать; для власти, для ливрея

Не гнуть ни совести, ни помыслов, ни шеи;

По прихоти своей скитаться здесь и там,

Дивясь божественным природы красотам,

И пред созданьями искусств и вдохновенья —

Безмолвно утопать, в восторгах умиленья —

Вот счастье! Вот права!..

But to dance
To no one else's fiddle, foster and advance
one's private self alone; before gold braid and power
with neither conscience, thought, nor spine to cower;
to move now here, now there with fancy's whim for law,
at Nature's godlike works feel ecstasy and awe,
and start before the gifts of art and joyous adoration -
there's bliss for you! There are your rights ...

(tr. W. Arndt)

In the draft Pushkin’s poem is dated July 5, 1836. July 5 is Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ birthday (Shade was born in 1898, Kinbote and Gradus in 1915). Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on October 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s lyceum). There is a hope (nadezhda) that, after Kinbote’s death, Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin’s epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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