mirror words & T. S. Eliot in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Tue, 09/11/2018 - 05:53

In Canto Two of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) speaks of his daughter and says that she twisted words:

                         She twisted words: pot, top
Spider, redips. And "powder" was "red wop."
She called you a didactic katydid.
She hardly ever smiled, and when she did,
It was a sign of pain.
She'd criticize

Ferociously our projects, and with eyes

Expressionless sit on her tumbled bed

Spreading her swollen feet, scratching her head

With psoriatic fingernails, and moan,

Murmuring dreadful words in monotone. (ll. 347-356)


According to Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), it was he who observed one day that “spider” in reverse is “redips” and “T.S. Eliot,” “toilest:”


One of the examples her father gives is odd. I am quite sure it was I who one day, when we were discussing "mirror words," observed (and I recall the poet's expression of stupefaction) that "spider" in reverse is "redips," and "T.S. Eliot," "toilest." But then it is also true that Hazel Shade resembled me in certain respects. (note to Lines 347-348)


In Gerontion (1920) T. S. Eliot mentions a wilderness of mirrors and the spider:


These with a thousand small deliberations

Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,

Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,

With pungent sauces, multiply variety

In a wilderness of mirrors.  What will the spider do

Suspend its operations, will the weevil

Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled

Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear

In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits

Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,

White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,

And an old man driven by the Trades

To a sleepy corner.


In his poem Eliot mentions Fräulein von Kulp “who turned in the hall, one hand on the door.” Describing his years in Paris, Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955) quotes one of his pastiches:


The days of my youth, as I look back on them, seem to fly away from me in a flurry of pale repetitive scraps like those morning snow storms of used tissue paper that a train passenger sees whirling in the wake of the observation car. In my sanitary relations with women I was practical, ironical and brisk. While a college student, in London and Paris, paid ladies sufficed me. My studies were meticulous and intense, although not particularly fruitful. At first, I planned to take a degree in psychiatry as many manqué talents do; but I was even more manqué than that; a peculiar exhaustion, I am so oppressed, doctor, set in; and I switched to English literature, where so many frustrated poets end as pipe-smoking teachers in tweeds. Paris suited me. I discussed Soviet movies with expatriates. I sat with uranists in the Deux Magots. I published tortuous essays in obscure journals. I composed pastiches:

... Fr
äulein von Kulp
may turn, her hand upon the door;
I will not follow her. Nor Fresca. Nor
that Gull.


Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896) is a play by Chekhov. In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901) Solyony misquotes the last two lines of Krylov’s fable Gusi (“The Geese”):

Баснь эту можно бы и боле пояснить —
Да чтоб гусей не раздразнить.

This fable could have been elucidated even more,
Had I not been afraid of angering the geese.


A bretteur who kills Baron Tuzenbakh in a pistol duel, Solyony imagines that he resembles Lermontov. According to Kinbote, the name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya [Earth], but of Semberland, a land of reflections, of "resemblers" (note to Line 894). Lermontov is the author of Geroy nashego vremeni ("A Hero of Our Time," 1841). In his Commentary Kinbote compares himself to Pechorin (the main character and part-time narrator in Lermontov's novel) and to Marcel (the main character and narrator in Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu):


Windows, as well known, have been the solace of first-person literature throughout the ages. But this observer never could emulate in sheer luck the eavesdropping Hero of Our Time or the omnipresent one of Time Lost. (note to Lines 47-48)


Krylov's fable Gusi brings to mind Chekhov's story Gusev (1890) and Colonel Peter Gusev, king Alfin's 'aerial adjutant:'


King Alfin's absent-mindedness was strangely combined with a passion for mechanical things, especially for flying apparatuses. In 1912, he managed to rise in an umbrella-like Fabre "hydroplane" and almost got drowned in the sea between Nitra and Indra. He smashed two Farmans, three Zemblan machines, and a beloved Santos Dumont Demoiselle. A very special monoplane, Blenda IV, was built for him in 1916 by his constant "aerial adjutant." Colonel Peter Gusev (later a pioneer parachutist and, at seventy, one of the greatest jumpers of all time), and this was his bird of doom. (note to Line 71).


Demoiselle is French for "dragonfly." In his essay O Chekhove ("On Chekhov," 1929) Hodasevich mentions Strekoza (“The Dragonfly”), a literary magazine in which young Chekhov published his humorous short stories:

Самые ранние произведения Чехова - рассказики, сценки, диалоги, напечатанные в печальной памяти "Стрекозе".
Они приспособлены ко вкусу и пониманию читателя ниже чем среднего.


Chekhov wrote "The Three Sisters" in Nice. In Canto Two of his poem Shade mentions that Englishman in Nice who fed the poor sea gulls:


Life is a message scribbled in the dark.


                         Espied on a pine's bark,

As we were walking home the day she died,

An empty emerald case, squat and frog-eyed,

Hugging the trunk; and its companion piece,

A gum-logged ant.

                                    That Englishman in Nice,

A proud and happy linguist: je nourris

Les pauvres cigales - meaning that he

Fed the poor sea gulls! Lafontaine was wrong:

Dead is the mandible, alive the song. (ll. 235-244)


In his Commentary Kinbote writes:


This, I understand, is the semitransparent envelope left on a tree trunk by an adult cicada that has crawled up the trunk and emerged. Shade said that he had once questioned a class of three hundred students and only three knew what a cicada looked like. Ignorant settlers had dubbed it "locust," which is, of course, a grasshopper, and the same absurd mistake has been made by generations of translators of Lafontaine's La Cigale et la Fourmi (see lines 243-244). The cigale's companion piece, the ant, is about to be embalmed in amber. (note to Line 238)


Shade's daughter called her mother "a didactic katydid." A katydid is a cricket or grasshopper. On the Grasshopper and Cricket is a sonnet by Keats.


Kuznechik-pouchitel' (as in her Russian translation of Pale Fire Vera Nabokov renders "a didactic katydid") brings to mind Polonski's poem Kuznechik-muzykant ("The Grasshopper Musician," 1859). In Polonski's poem the grasshopper falls in love with a pretty butterfly. In Canto Two and then again at the end of his poem Shade mentions a Vanessa butterfly:


Come and be worshiped, come and be caressed,

My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest

My Admirable butterfly! Explain

How could you, in the gloam of Lilac Lane,

Have let uncouth, hysterical John Shade

Blubber your face, and ear, and shoulder blade? (ll. 269-274)


A dark Vanessa with a crimson band

Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand

And shows its ink-blue wingtips flecked with white.

And through the flowing shade and ebbing light

A man, unheedful of the butterfly -

Some neighbor's gardener, I guess - goes by

Trundling an empty barrow up the lane. (ll. 993-999)


In his Commentary Kinbote writes:


One minute before his death, as we were crossing from his demesne to mine and had begun working up between the junipers and ornamental shrubs, a Red Admirable (see note to line 270) came dizzily whirling around us like a colored flame. Once or twice before we had already noticed the same individual, at that same time, on that same spot, where the low sun finding an aperture in the foliage splashed the brown sand with a last radiance while the evening's shade covered the rest of the path. One's eyes could not follow the rapid butterfly in the sunbeams as it flashed and vanished, and flashed again, with an almost frightening imitation of conscious play which now culminated in its setting upon my delighted friend's sleeve. It took off, and we saw it next morning sporting in an ecstasy of frivolous haste around a laurel shrub, every now and then perching on a lacquered leaf and sliding down its grooved middle like a boy down the banister on his birthday. Then the tide of the shade reached the laurels, and the magnificent, velvet-and-flame creature dissolved in it. (note to Lines 993-995)


The word "demesne" used by Kinbote occurs in Keats' sonnet On First Looking into Chapman's Homer:


Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men

Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.


Describing Aunt Maud's room, Shade mentions Chapman's Homer:


I was brought up by dear bizarre Aunt Maud,

A poet and a painter with a taste

For realistic objects interlaced

With grotesque growths and images of doom.

She lived to hear the next babe cry. Her room

We've kept intact. Its trivia create

A still life in her style: the paperweight

Of convex glass enclosing a lagoon,

The verse book open at the Index (Moon,

Moonrise, Moor, Moral), the forlorn guitar,

The human skull; and from the local Star

A curio: Red Sox Beat Yanks 5-4

On Chapman's Homer, thumbtacked to the door. (ll. 86-98)


"Doom" is "mood," "room," "Moor" and "Star," "rats" in reverse. "Homer" (a baseball term) comes from "home." Russian for "home," dom is Mod (the name Maud in Russian spelling) and mod (Gen. pl. of moda, "fashion") in reverse. Pushkin's epistle to Prince Gorchakov (Pushkin's schoolmate at the Lyceum) begins: Pitomets mod, bol'shogo sveta drug... ("A nursling of fashions, beau monde's friend..." 1819). 5 + 4 = 9. In its unfinished form Shade's poem has 999 lines.


In a footnote to her Russian translation of Pale Fire Vera Nabokov points out that Krylov translated Lafontaine’s fable La Cigale et la Fourmi as Strekoza i muravey (“The Dragonfly and the Ant”). One of Krylov’s most famous fables is Kvartet (“The Quartet”). As pointed out by J. B. Foster in “Nabokov's Art of Memory,” the words grimpen, chthonic and sempiternal (whose meaning Shade's daughter wants to know) occur in T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.


“Toilest” (“T. S. Eliot” in reverse) brings to mind Geroy truda ("The Hero of Toil," 1925), Marina Tsvetaev's memoir essay on Bryusov. In her memoir essay Marina Tsvetaev contrasts Bryusov with Balmont and mentions Krylov's fable "The Dragonfly and the Ant:"


Бальмонт. Брюсов. Два полюса творчества. Творец-ребёнок (Бальмонт) и творец-рабочий (Брюсов). (Ребёнок, как der Spieler, игрун.) Ничего от рабочего - Бальмонт, ничего от ребёнка - Брюсов. Творчество игры и творчество жилы. Почти что басня «Стрекоза и муравей», да в 1919 г. она и осуществилась, с той разницей, что стрекоза моей басни и тогда, умирая с голоду, жалела муравья.

According to Marina Tsvetaev, Krylov's fable was fulfilled in 1919. John Shade and Sybil Swallow (as Kinbote calls the poet's wife) were married in 1919. Mot i lastochka ("The Spendthrift and the Swallow") is a fable by Krylov. In his Commentary Kinbote mentions King Alfin's only memorable mot:


As usual, King Alfin traveled without a vestige of escort, and this, and his brisk driving, seemed to trouble his guest. On their way back, some twenty miles from Onhava, King Alfin decided to stop for repairs. While he tinkered with the motor, the emperor and the interpreter sought the shade of some pines by the highway, and only when King Alfin was back in Onhava, did he gradually realize from a reiteration of rather frantic questions that he had left somebody behind ("What emperor?" has remained his only memorable mot). (note to Line 71)


French for "word" and Russian for "spenfthrift," mot is Tom (a form of Thomas, T. S. Eliot's first name) in reverse. On the other hand, tom is Russian for "volume." In Chapter Four (XXX: 1) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions razroznennye tomy iz bibilioteki chertey (odd volumes out of the devils' library):


Но вы, разрозненные томы
Из библиотеки чертей,
Великолепные альбомы,
Мученье модных рифмачей,
Вы, украшенные проворно
Толстого кистью чудотворной
Иль Баратынского пером,
Пускай сожжёт вас божий гром!
Когда блистательная дама
Мне свой in-quarto подаёт,
И дрожь и злость меня берёт,
И шевелится эпиграмма
Во глубине моей души,
А мадригалы им пиши!


But you, odd volumes

from the bibliotheca of the devils,

the gorgeous albums,

the rack of fashionable rhymesters;

you, nimbly ornamented

by Tolstoy's wonder-working brush,

or Baratïnski's pen,

let the Lord's levin burn you!

Whenever her in-quarto a resplendent lady

proffers to me,

a tremor and a waspishness possess me,

and at the bottom of my soul

there stirs an epigram —

but madrigals you have to write for them!

In his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 443) VN points out that Pushkin gives to the octave in the next stanza (Four: XXXI) the two rhymes of an Italian sonnet. In his fragment Rim ("Rome," 1842) Gogol describes a carnival in Rome and mentions the Italian sonnets with a coda. It seems that Shade's poem, too, needs a coda. Rim is mir (world; peace) in reverse. Rim i mir ("Rome and World") is the title of the second volume of Bryusov's three-volume collection of poetry Puti i pereput'ya ("Roads and Crossroads," 1908).


There is tom in Tomsk, a city that VN called "Atomsk" (Omsk is "Bombsk"). Atomsk brings to mind Uranograd (as Amfiteatricus dubbed Onhava, the capital of Kinbote's Zembla):


Alfin the Vague (1873-1918; regnal dates 1900-1918, but 1900-1919 in most biographical dictionaries, a fumble due to the coincident calendar change from Old Style to New) was given his cognomen by Amphitheatricus, a not unkindly writer of fugitive poetry in the liberal gazettes (who was also responsible for dubbing my capital Uranograd!). (note to Line 71)

Amphiteatricus hints at Amfiteatrov, the author of Gospoda Obmanovy ("The Obmanov Family," 1902), a satire on the Romanovs (the Russian Imperial family). The emperor whom King Alfin had left behind seems to be Nicholas II. In July of 1918 he was executed with his entire family and servants (including Dr. Eugene Botkin). Shade's, Kinbote's and Gradus' "real" name seems to be Botkin. According to Kinbote (the author of a book on surnames), Botkin is one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear. In "The Hero of Toil" Marina Tsvetaev mentions Bryusov's obutoe litso (shod face):


Уже по написании этих строк. Одна моя знакомая, на мой вопрос, какое у него было лицо, с гениальностью женской непосредственности: «Не знаю, какое-то... обутое».

Describing Bryusov's looks, Marina Tsvetaev compares his face to that of Lenin (Zembla is a corruption of Semberland, a land of "resemblers"):


Внешность Брюсова. Первое: негибкость, негнущесть, вплоть до щетиной брызжущих из черепа волос («бобрик»). Невозможность изгиба (невозможность юмора, причуды, imprèvu, - всего, что относится к душевной грации). Усы - как клыки, характерное французское en сrос]. Усы наладчика, шевелящиеся в гневе. Форма головы - конус, посадка чуть кверху, взирание и вызов, неизменное свысока. Волевой, наполеоновский, естественнейший - сосредоточенной воли жест! - скрещивать руки. Руки вдоль тела - не Брюсов. Либо перо, либо крест. В раскосости и скуластости - перекличка с Лениным. Топорная внешность, топором, а не резцом, не крепко, но метко. При негодности данных - сильнейшее данное (не дано, дал).


According to Marina Tsvetaev, Bryusov's face was carved with topor (an axe), not with rezets (a chisel). In VN's novel Priglashenie na kazn' ("Invitation to a Beheading," 1935) Cincinnatus' brother-in-law, the wit, asks Cincinnatus to read the word ropot (murmur, grumble) backward:


Возьми-ка слово "ропот", - говорил Цинциннату его шурин, остряк, - и прочти обратно. А? Смешно получается? Да, брат, - вляпался ты в историю. В самом деле, как это тебя угораздило?

"Take the word 'anxiety,' " Cincinnatus's brother-in-law, the wit, was saying to him. "Now take away the word 'tiny', Eh? Comes out funny, doesn't it? Yes, friend, you've really got yourself in a mess. In truth, what made you do such a thing?" (Chapter IX)


The noun ropot comes from the verb roptat' ("to murmur, grumble"). In Dostoevski's novel Besy ("The Possessed," 1872) Ignat Lebyadkin says that the cockroach in his fable ne ropshchet (does not complain):


- Я могу вам прочесть пиесу Таракан, сударыня!

- Что-о-о?

- Сударыня, я ещё не помешан! Я буду помешан, буду, наверно, но я ещё не помешан! Сударыня, один мой приятель - бла-го-роднейшее лицо, - написал одну басню Крылова, под названием Таракан, - могу я прочесть её?

- Вы хотите прочесть какую-то басню Крылова?

- Нет, не басню Крылова хочу я прочесть, а мою басню, собственную, мое сочинение! Поверьте же, сударыня, без обиды себе, что я не до такой степени уже необразован и развращен, чтобы не понимать, что Россия обладает великим баснописцем Крыловым, которому министром просвещения воздвигнут памятник в Летнем Саду, для игры в детском возрасте. Вы вот спрашиваете, сударыня: "почему?" Ответ на дне этой басни, огненными литерами!

- Прочтите вашу басню.


- Жил на свете таракан,

Таракан от детства,

И потом попал в стакан

Полный мухоедства...


- Господи, что такое? - воскликнула Варвара Петровна.

- То-есть когда летом, - заторопился капитан, ужасно махая руками, с раздражительным нетерпением автора, которому мешают читать, - когда летом в стакан налезут мухи, то происходит мухоедство, всякий дурак поймет, не перебивайте, не перебивайте, вы увидите, вы увидите... (он всё махал руками).


Место занял таракан,

Мухи возроптали,

Полон очень наш стакан,

К Юпитеру закричали.

Но пока у них шел крик,

Подошел Никифор,

Бла-го-роднейший старик...


Тут у меня ещё не докончено, но всё равно, словами! - трещал капитан, - Никифор берет стакан и, несмотря на крик, выплескивает в лахань всю комедию, и мух и таракана, что давно надо было сделать. Но заметьте, заметьте, сударыня, таракан не ропщет! Вот ответ на ваш вопрос: "почему?" - вскричал он, торжествуя: - "Та-ра-кан не ропщет!" - Что же касается до Никифора, то он изображает природу, - прибавил он скороговоркой и самодовольно заходил по комнате.


"I can read you the poem, 'The Cockroach,' madam."


"Madam, I'm not mad yet! I shall be mad, no doubt I shall be, but I'm not so yet. Madam, a friend of mine—a most honourable man—has written a Krylov's fable, called 'The Cockroach.' May I read it?"

"You want to read some fable of Krylov's?"

"No, it's not a fable of Krylov's I want to read. It's my fable, my own composition. Believe me, madam, without offence I'm not so uneducated and depraved as not to understand that Russia can boast of a great fable-writer, Krylov, to whom the Minister of Education has raised a monument in the Summer Gardens for the diversion of the young. Here, madam, you ask me why? The answer is at the end of this fable, in letters of fire."

"Read your fable."


"Lived a cockroach in the world

Such was his condition,

In a glass he chanced to fall

Full of fly-perdition."


"Heavens! What does it mean?" cried Varvara Petrovna. "That's when flies get into a glass in the summer-time," the captain explained hurriedly with the irritable impatience of an author interrupted in reading. "Then it is perdition to the flies, any fool can understand. Don't interrupt, don't interrupt. You'll see, you'll see...." He kept waving his arms.


"But he squeezed against the flies,

They woke up and cursed him,

Raised to Jove their angry cries;

'The glass is full to bursting!'

In the middle of the din

Came along Nikifor,

Fine old man, and looking in...


I haven't quite finished it. But no matter, I'll tell it in words," the captain rattled on. "Nikifor takes the glass, and in spite of their outcry empties away the whole stew, flies, and beetles and all, into the pig pail, which ought to have been done long ago. But observe, madam, observe, the cockroach doesn't complain. That's the answer to your question, why?" he cried triumphantly. "'The cockroach does not complain.' As for Nikifor he typifies nature," he added, speaking rapidly and walking complacently about the room. (Part One, Chapter 5, IV)


Accoding to Kinbote, Shade listed Dostoevski among 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." (note to Line 172)

The characters of Ilf and Petrov's novel Dvenadtsat' stuliev ("The Twelve Chairs," 1928) include Nikifor Lyapis-Trubetskoy, the author of Gavriliada whom Persitsky calls "Lapsus."


In a canceled variant of EO (Four: XLIII: 4) Pushkin (the author of The Gabrieliad, 1821) mentions lysoe Saturna temya (the bald pate of Saturn). In his story Tochka opory ("Point of Repère," 1924) Amfiteatrov mentions Saturn, Uranus and Valeriy Bryusov:


Эйфелева башня кувыркалась где то далеко, между Сатурном и Ураном, в перегонку с неистово визжавшей Айседорой Дункан...


Хеопсова пирамида, — на ней сидели небольшой, но приятной компанией: Мэри Пикфорд, госпожа Коллонтай, ген. Бискупский, Хулио Хуренито и Владимир Маяковский — налезла на Слюзина сзади, хлопнула его по затылку, и бедняку, наверное, пришел бы, конец, если бы он в это самое мгновение не проснулся. А, проснувшись, с наслаждением обрёл себя целым, здравым, и невредимым, и, главное, холостым. Правда, наяву, оказалось также что Дмитрий Алексеевич не определил квадратуры круга, не изобрёл perpetuum mobile и точка опоры ведома ему не более, чем каждому смертному, за исключением г. Валерия Брюсова. Но нельзя же человеку владеть всеми земными благами: быть и живым, и здоровым, и свободным, да еще гением! Хорошенького понемножку, а то не долго и зазнаться.


In "The Hero of Toil" Marina Tsvetaev mentions Nadezhda Lvov, Bryusov’s mistress (and a young poet) who committed suicide in the fall of 1913. The surname Lvov comes from lev (lion). Demon samoubiystva ("The Demon of Suicide," 1910) and Oryol dvuglavyi ("The Two-Headed Eagle," 1914) are poems by Bryusov. In Griboedov’s play Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824) Zagoretsky is displeased with the mockery of lions and eagles in the fables:



Я вас обрадую: всеобщая молва,
Что есть проект насчет лицеев, школ, гимназий;
Там будут лишь учить по нашему: раз, два;
А книги сохранят так: для больших оказий.


Сергей Сергеич, нет! Уж коли зло пресечь:
Забрать все книги бы да сжечь.

Загорецкий (с кротостию)

Нет-с, книги книгам рознь. А если б, между нами,
Был ценсором назначен я,
На басни бы налёг; ох! басни - смерть моя!
Насмешки вечные над львами! над орлами!
Кто что ни говори:
Хотя животные, а всё-таки цари.


Отцы мои, уж кто в уме расстроен,
Так всё равно, от книг ли, от питья ль;
А Чацкого мне жаль.
По-христиански так; он жалости достоин;
Был острый человек, имел душ сотни три.




Три, сударь.




Нет! триста.


В моём календаре...


Всё врут календари.


I have good news: there is an education plan, I hear,

For boarding schools, lyceums and gymnasiums,

They'll teach there simply, like they do it here.

They will use books on some occasions.


Sergey Sergeyich! No! To nip it in the bud

I'd take all books and burn them up like that!


(speaking humbly)

No, there are books and books. You know,

If I were engaged in censorship,

I'd deal with fables: Oh! I Love them so!

The mockery of lions, eagles,

No matter what one thinks,

They're animals, and yet their kings.


It doesn't matter if it's books or drinking

That caused his lunacy. And I'm thinking

With sympathy of Chatsky, I should say,

He really deserves it, in a Christian way.

He had three hundred souls, and he was bright.


Four hundred.


Three, sir.




No! Three.


My calendar...



The calendars are never right. (Act Three, scene 21)


In Griboedov’s play (Act Two, scene 1) Famusov uses his calendar to calculate the pregnancy of a lady friend. The Shades visited Nice in 1933. Hazel Shade was born in 1934. In a canceled variant of Eugene Onegin Two: XLI: 7 Pushkin mentions Bryusov Kalendar' (Bruce's Calendar, a kind of Farmer's Almanack). In EO Commentary (vol. II, pp. 315-316) VN points out that it was attributed to Count Yakov Bryus (James Bruce, 1670-1735), one of Peter I"s generals, who was reputed to be an alchemist. Actually, he was an excellent astronomer and mathematician. In "The Hero of Toil" Marina Tsvetaev pairs Bryusov with Bryus:


Брюсов. Брюс. (Московский чернокнижник 18-го века.) Может быть, уже отмечено. (Зная, что буду писать, своих предшественников в Брюсове не читала, - не из страха совпадения, из страха, в случае перехулы, собственного перехвала.) Брюсов. Брюс. Созвучие не случайное. Рационалисты, принимаемые современниками за чернокнижников. (Просвещённость, превращающаяся на Руси в чернокнижие.)


In Canto Two of his poem Shade speaks of his married life and wonders how many more free calendars shall grace the kitchen door:


We have been married forty years. At least
Four thousand times your pillow has been creased
By our two heads. Four hundred thousand times
The tall clock with the hoarse Westminster chimes
Has marked our common hour. How many more
Free calendars shall grace the kitchen door? (ll. 275-280)


In his note to Line 275 Kinbote writes:


John Shade and Sybil Swallow (see note to line 247) were married in 1919, exactly three decades before King Charles wed Disa, Duchess of Payn. Since the very beginning of his reign (1936-1958) representatives of the nation, salmon fishermen, non-union glaziers, military groups; worried relatives, and especially the Bishop of Yeslove, a sanguineous and saintly old man, had been doing their utmost to persuade him to give up his copious but sterile pleasures and take a wife. It was a matter not of morality but of succession. As in the case of some of his predecessors, rough alderkings who burned for boys, the clergy blandly ignored our young bachelor's pagan habits, but wanted him to do what an earlier and even more reluctant Charles had done: take a night off and lawfully engender an heir.


“Duchess of Payn” brings to mind “a sign of pain” (as Shade calls his daughter’s smile). In his Index to Pale Fire Kinbote calls Queen Disa “Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone.” According to Shade, his daughter would moan, murmuring dreadful words in monotone.


In “Portrait of a Lady” T. S. Eliot uses the phrase “capricious monotone:”


Among the winding of the violins

And the ariettes

Of cracked cornets

Inside my brain a dull tom-tom begins

Absurdly hammering a prelude of its own,

Capricious monotone

That is at least one definite "false note." (I)


At the poem’s beginning Eliot mentions “an atmosphere of Juliet's tomb:”


Among the smoke and fog of a December afternoon

You have the scene arrange itself — as it will seem to do—

With "I have saved this afternoon for you";

And four wax candles in the darkened room,

Four rings of light upon the ceiling overhead,

An atmosphere of Juliet's tomb

Prepared for all the things to be said, or left unsaid. (ibid.)


In Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet Mercutio mentions Benvolio’s hazel eyes:

Thou wilt quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no other reason but because thou hast hazel eyes. (Act III, scene 1)


In a letter of May 21, 1830, to Pushkin Pletnyov mentions Mercutio and Benvolio (the unceremonious friends):


Хотелось бы мне, чтоб ты ввернул в трактат о Шекспире любимые мои две идеи: 1) Спрашивается, зачем перед публикой позволять действующим лицам говорить непристойности? Отвечается: эти лица и не подозревают о публике; они решительно одни, как любовник с любовницей, как муж с женой, как Меркутио с Бенволио (нецеремонные друзья). Пракситель, обделывая формы статуи, заботится об истине всех частей её (вот его коран!), а не о тех, кто будет прогуливаться мимо выставленной его статуи. 2) Для чего в одном произведении помещать прозу, полустихи (т. е. стихи без рифм) и настоящие стихи (по понятию простонародному)? Потому, что в трагедии есть лица, над которыми все мы смеялись бы, если бы кто вздумал подозревать, что они способны к поэтическому чувству; а из круга людей, достойных поэзии, иные бывают на степени поэзии драматической, иные же, а иногда и те же, на степени поэзии лирической: там дипломатическая музыка, а здесь военная.


In the same letter of May 21, 1830, Pletnyov tells Pushkin about the birth of his daughter:

Не дивись, милый, что аккуратный человек так неаккуратно тебе отвечает: у меня на неделе столкнулись разные хлопоты. Теперь, слава богу, всё пришло, кажется, в свою колею. Родилась у меня дочь, которая теперь стала у нас известна под именем Ольги. Её привели сегодня в христианскую веру.


In his poem Eyo glaza (“Her Eyes,” 1828) Pushkin describes the eyes of Anna Olenin and says that, when she raises them, “Raphael’s angel thus contemplates divinity.” Angel Rafaelya (Raphael's angel) brings to mind Bryusov's novel Ognennyi angel ("The Fiery Angel," 1908). Set in sixteenth-century Germany, it depicts a love triangle between Renata, a passionate young woman, Ruprecht, a knight, and Madiel, the fiery Angel. The novel tells the story of Ruprecht's attempts to win the love of Renata whose spiritual integrity is seriously undermined by her participation in occult practices.


One of Bryusov's collections of poetry is entitled Zerkalo teney ("The Mirror of Shadows," 1912). In his Commentary and Index Kinbote mentions Sudarg of Bokay, a mirror maker of genius. Sudarg of Bokay is Jakob Gradus (Shade’s murderer) in reverse. Gradus is a member of a regicidal group who called themselves the Shadows.


In the surname Olenin there is Lenin. In his Commentary Kinbote mockingly calls Gradus "Vinogradus" and "Leningradus:"


All this is as it should be; the world needs Gradus. But Gradus should not kill kings. Vinogradus should never, never provoke God. Leningradus should not aim his peashooter at people even in dreams, because if he does, a pair of colossally thick, abnormally hairy arms will hug him from behind and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. (note to Line 171)


Vinograd (“The Grapes,” 1824) is a poem by Pushkin. In Shakespeare’s Othello Othello strangles Desdemona. Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone, Queen Disa seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Shakespeare’s Desdemona.


In the fall of 1828 Pushkin proposed to Anna Olenin and was refused. In Eugene Onegin Commentary (vol. III, p. 206) VN points out that in the margins of the draft of Pushkin’s Poltava the name Annette Olenine is written backward:


Anagrams in French of "Anette Olénine" blossom here and there in the margins of our poet's manuscripts. One finds it written backward in the margins of the draft of Poltava (first half of October, 1828): ettenna eninelo; and the earnestness of his hopes is reflected in "Annette Pouchkine" jotted among the drafts of the first canto of Poltava, apparently on the very day that the repentant letter about the Gabriel poem was written to the tsar.


In Oproverzhenie na kritiki ("Reply to my Critics," 1830) Pushkin speaks of his Poltava and mentions Othello and Desdemona:


Наши критики взялись объяснить мне причину моей неудачи — и вот каким образом.

Они, во-первых, объявили мне, что отроду никто не видывал, чтоб женщина влюбилась в старика, и что, следственно, любовь Марии к старому гетману (NB: исторически доказанная) не могла существовать.

Ну что ж, что ты Честон? Хоть знаю, да не верю.

Я не мог довольствоваться этим объяснением: любовь есть самая своенравная страсть. Не говорю уже о безобразии и глупости, ежедневно предпочитаемых молодости, уму и красоте. Вспомните предания мифологические, превращения Овидиевы, Леду, Филиру, Пазифаю, Пигмалиона — и признайтесь, что все сии вымыслы не чужды поэзии. А Отелло, старый негр, пленивший Дездемону рассказами о своих странствиях и битвах?.. А Мирра, внушившая итальянскому поэту одну из лучших его трагедий?..


In EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 202) VN points out that Anna Olenin dubbed Pushkin "Red Rover" after the hero of James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Red Rover (1827). "Red Rover" brings to mind Hazel's "red wop" ("powder" in reverse). According to Kinbote, the King escaped from Zembla clad in bright red clothes.


In the Prefatory Piece of EO Pushkin asks Pletnyov to “take this collection of variegated chapters: half droll, half sad, plain-folk, ideal, etc.” The half droll, half sad chapters of EO bring to mind Pushkin’s epigram (1824) on Count Vorontsov:


Полу-милорд, полу-купец,
Полу-мудрец, полу-невежда,
Полу-подлец, но есть надежда,
Что будет полным наконец.


Half-milord, half-merchant,

Half-sage, half-ignoramus,

Half-scoundrel, but there's a hope

That he will be a full one at last.


Polu-milord, polu-kupets (half-milord, half-merchant) brings to mind pol-tsarstva za konya (half of my kingdom for a horse), King Richard’s words “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (Richard III, Act V, scene 4) in a classical Russian translation. In a letter of June 11, 1831, to Vyazemski Pushkin asks Vyazemski if Sofia Karamzin (the historian's daughter) reigns in the saddle and quotes King Richard's words (the epigraph to Vyazemski's poem Progulka v stepi, "A Ride in the Steppe," 1831):


Что Софья Николаевна? царствует на седле? A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!


In his Commentary Kinbote calls Queen Blenda (the mother of Charles the Beloved) "a horsewoman:"


Her he remembered - more or less: a horsewoman, tall, broad, stout, ruddy-faced. She had been assured by a royal cousin that her son would be safe and happy under the tutelage of admirable Mr. Campbell who had taught several dutiful little princesses to spread butterflies and enjoy Lord Ronald's Coronach. He had immolated his life, so to speak, at the portable altars of a vast number of hobbies, from the study of book mites to bear hunting, and could reel off Macbeth from beginning to end during hikes; but he did not give a damn for his charges' morals, preferred ladies to laddies, and did not meddle in the complexities of Zemblan ingledom. (note to Line 71)


In Pushkin's EO (One: III: 12) Onegin's tutor, Monsieur l'Abbé, did not bother his charge with strong moralization (ne dokuchal moral'yu strogoy).


In Shakespeare’s Richard III (Act 5, scene 2) Richmond says:


True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings.

Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings.


The "real" name of both Sybil Shade and Queen Disa seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin). Lastochki ("The Swallows," 1884) is a poem by Afanasiy Fet (a poet who was married to Maria Botkin). An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter. Hazel Shade drowned in Lake Omega. According to Sergey Solovyov (the philosopher's nephew), in the book of Russian verse Pushkin is alpha and Bryusov, omega:


Пушкин - альфа, ты - омега
В книге русского стиха.


Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. Nadezhda is Russian for "hope." There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade's poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin's Lyceum), Botkin will be full again.


In East Coker (a poem in Four Quartets) T. S. Eliot mentions “wait without hope:”


I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth. (III)


Faith, Hope and Love are the daughters of Sophia (Wisdom). Eliot’s poem begins: “In my beginning is my end” and ends: “In my end is my beginning.” Shade’s poem is almost finished when the author is killed by Gradus. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” T. S. Eliot mentions “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, / The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes…”