Aunt Maud, coded message, Amber, Zen & misprint in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 09/19/2018 - 10:36

In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) describes Hazel Shade’s and his own attempts to decipher a message from the ghost:


Jane allowed me to copy out some of Hazel's notes from a typescript based on jottings made on the spot:


10:14 P.M. Investigation commenced.

10:23. Scrappy and scrabbly sounds.

10:25. A roundlet of pale light, the size of a small doily, flitted across the dark walls, the boarded windows, and the floor; changed its place; lingered here and there, dancing up and down; seemed to wait in teasing play for evadable pounce. Gone.

10:37. Back again.


The notes continue for several pages but for obvious reasons I must renounce to give them verbatim in this commentary. There were long pauses and "scratches and scrapings" again, and returns of the luminous circlet. She spoke to it. If asked something that it found deliciously silly ("Are you a will-o-the-wisp?") it would dash to and fro in ecstatic negation, and when it wanted to give a grave answer to a grave question ("Are you dead?") would slowly ascend with an air of gathering altitude for a weighty affirmative drop. For brief periods of time it responded to the alphabet she recited by staying put until the right letter was called whereupon it gave a small jump of approval. But these jumps would get more and more listless, and after a couple of words had been slowly spelled out, the roundlet went limp like a tired child and finally crawled into a chink; out of which it suddenly flew with extravagant brio and started to spin around the walls in its eagerness to resume the game. The jumble of broken words and meaningless syllables which she managed at last to collect came out in her dutiful notes as a short line of simple letter-groups. I transcribe:


pada ata lane pad not ogo old wart alan ther tale feur far rant lant tal told.


In her Remarks, the recorder states she had to recite the alphabet, or at least begin to recite it (there is a merciful preponderance of a's) eighty times, but of these seventeen yielded no results. Divisions based on such variable intervals cannot be but rather arbitrary; some of the balderdash may be recombined into other lexical units making no better sense (e. g., "war,""talant," ”her," "arrant," etc.). The barn ghost seems to have expressed himself with the empasted difficulty of apoplexy or of a half-awakening from a half-dream slashed by a sword of light on the ceiling, a military disaster with cosmic consequences that cannot be phrased distinctly by the thick unwilling tongue. And in this case we too might wish to cut short a reader's or bedfellow's questions by sinking back into oblivion's bliss - had not a diabolical force urged us to seek a secret design in the abracadabra,


812 Some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind  

813 Of correlated pattern in the game.


I abhor such games; they make my temples throb with abominable pain - but I have braved it and pored endlessly, with a commentator's infinite patience and disgust, over the crippled syllables in Hazel's report to find the least allusion to the poor girl's fate. Not one hint did I find. Neither old Hentzner's specter, nor an ambushed scamp's toy flashlight, nor her own imaginative hysteria, expresses anything here that might be construed, however remotely, as containing a warning; or having some bearing on the circumstances of her soon-coming death. (note to Line 347)


There is a coded message (that leads to a buried treasure) in E. A. Poe’s story The Gold-Bug (1843). The bug in Poe’s story is a beetle. In his poem Sobranie nasekomykh (“The Insect Collection,” 1829) Pushkin mentions rossiyskiy zhuk (the Russian beetle):


Какие крохотны коровки!
Есть, право, менее булавочной головки.



Моё собранье насекомых

Открыто для моих знакомых:

Ну, что за пёстрая семья!

За ними где ни рылся я!

Зато какая сортировка!

Вот <Глинка> — божия коровка,

Вот <Каченовский> — злой паук,

Вот и <Свиньин> — российский жук,

Вот <Олин><?> — чёрная мурашка,

Вот <Раич><?> — мелкая букашка.

Куда их много набралось!

Опрятно за стеклом и в рамах

Они, пронзённые насквозь,

Рядком торчат на эпиграммах.


The epigraph to Pushkin’s poem is from Krylov’s fable Lyubopytnyi (“The Curious Man”): “What tiny creatures! / Really, some are smaller than a pinhead!” Krylov is the author of Modnaya lavka (“The Fashion Shop,” 1805), a three-act farce. Its title brings to mind Dmitriev’s rhymed tale Modnaya zhena (“The Fashionable Woman,” 1792), “a poor imitation of La Fontaine’s style in his Contes” (as VN calls it in his EO Commentary, vol. II, p. 114). In Canto Two of his poem Shade says that life is a message scribbled in the dark and mentions Lafontaine:


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)


“Life is a message scribbled in the dark. Anonymous” brings to mind Karamzin’s epigram on life (Dec. 31, 1797):


Что наша жизнь? Роман. — Кто автор? Аноним.
Читаем по складам, смеёмся, плачем... спим.


Life? A romance. By whom? Anonymous.

We spell it out; it makes us laugh and weep,

And then put us

To sleep.


In EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 145) VN points out that in a bout-rimés exchange (using rhymes supplied by Dmitriev), Karamzin made the following New Year prophecy for 1799 (which was to be the year of Pushkin’s birth):


To sing all things, Pindar will be reborn.


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 (“The Cicada and the Ant”) as Strekoza i muravey (“The Dragonfly and the Ant”). In his Commentary Kinbote mentions King Alfin’s beloved Santos Dumont Demoiselle (Dragonfly) and Colonel Peter Gusev, the king'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).


The surname Gusev comes from gus’ (goose). Gusi (“The Geese”) is a fable by Krylov. In Chekhov’s play Tri sestry (“The Three Sisters,” 1901) Solyony misquotes the last two lines of Krylov’s fable:

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). Gusev is a story (1890) and Chayka (“The Seagull,” 1896) is a play by Chekhov.


The first line of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, moy dyadya samykh chestnykh pravil (my uncle has most honest principles), is an echo of line 4 of Krylov’s fable Osyol i muzhik (“The Ass and the Boor”), osyol byl samykh chestnykh pravil (the ass had most honest principles). Pushkin’s novel begins with the death of Onegin’s uncle (who “has made one respect him”). Pushkin is the author of an elegy (that greatly upset Pushkin’s uncle Vasiliy Lvovich) on the death of his aunt Anna Lvovna:


Ох, тётенька! ох, Анна Львовна,
Василья Львовича сестра!
Была ты к маменьке любовна,
Была ты к папеньке добра,
Была ты Лизаветой Львовной
Любима больше серебра;
Матвей Михайлович, как кровный,
Тебя встречал среди двора.
Давно ли с Ольгою Сергевной,
Со Львом Сергеичем давно ль,
Как бы на смех судьбине гневной,
Ты разделяла хлеб да соль.
Увы! зачем Василий Львович
Твой гроб стихами обмочил,
Или зачем подлец попович
Его Красовский пропустил.


Vasiliy Lvovich Pushkin is the author of Opasnyi sosed (“The Dangerous Neighbor,” 1811). Its main character, Buyanov (whom Pushkin calls “my first cousin”) appears among the guests at Tatiana’s name-day party in Chapter Five of EO. One of the guests, Monsieur Triquet (“Mr. Trick”), brings to mind M. Trichet (“Mr. Trickster), an unscrupulous Frenchman in Krylov’s “Fashionable Woman.” A few days before her name-day Tatiana had a wondrous dream that seems to predict Lenski’s death in a duel with Onegin. Upon awakening Tatiana looks up a book of dream interpretations:


Её тревожит сновиденье.

Не зная, как его понять,

Мечтанья страшного значенье

Татьяна хочет отыскать.

Татьяна в оглавленье кратком

Находит азбучным порядком

Слова: бор, буря, ведьма, ель,

Ёж, мрак, мосток, медведь, метель

И прочая. Её сомнений

Мартын Задека не решит;

Но сон зловещий ей сулит

Печальных много приключений.

Дней несколько она потом

Всё беспокоилась о том.


The dream disturbs her.

Not knowing what to make of it,

the import of the dread chimera

Tatiana wishes to discover.

Tatiana finds in the brief index,

in alphabetic order,

the words: bear, blizzard, bridge,

dark, fir, fir forest, hedgehog, raven, storm,

and so forth. Martin Zadeck

will not resolve her doubts,

but the ominous dream portends

to her a lot of sad adventures.

For several days thereafter she

kept worrying about it. (Five: XXIV)

Describing Aunt Maud's room, Shade mentions the verse book open at the Index (Moon, Moonrise, Moor, Moral):


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)

In one of the preceding stanzas (Five: XXII: 10) Pushkin mentions Damskikh mod zhurnal (the Magazine of Ladies' Fashions):

Но та, сестры не замечая,

В постеле с книгою лежит,

За листом лист перебирая,

И ничего не говорит.

Хоть не являла книга эта

Ни сладких вымыслов поэта,

Ни мудрых истин, ни картин;

Но ни Виргилий, ни Расин,

Ни Скотт, ни Байрон, ни Сенека,

Ни даже Дамских Мод Журнал

Так никого не занимал:

То был, друзья, Мартын Задека,33

Глава халдейских мудрецов,

Гадатель, толкователь снов.


But she, not noticing her sister,

lies with a book in bed,

page after page

keeps turning over, and says nothing.

Although that book displayed

neither the sweet inventions of a poet,

nor sapient truths, nor pictures,

yet neither Virgil, nor Racine, nor Scott, nor Byron,

nor Seneca, nor even

the Magazine of Ladies' Fashions

ever engrossed anybody so much:

it was, friends, Martin Zadeck,33

head of Chaldean sages,

divinistre, interpreter of dreams.


It seems that in a message that Kinbote (Shade’s dangerous neighbor) fails to decipher the ghost of Aunt Maud wants to tell Hazel that her father should not cross over the lane to the house of Judge Goldsworth (Kinbote’s landlord). “Lant tal” in the ghost’s message seems to hint at Vanessa atalanta, a butterfly mentioned by Shade at the end of his poem:


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 butterfly in Shade's poem brings to mind the beetle in Chapter Seven (XV: 1-2) of Pushkin's EO:


Был вечер. Небо меркло. Воды
Струились тихо. Жук жужжал.


'Twas evening. The sky darkened. Waters

streamed quietly. The beetle churred.


In EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 81) VN quotes Pushkin's note that mentions a review of Chapter Seven in the Northern Bee. The reviewer (Faddey Bulgarin) welcomed the appearance of a new personage and expected him to prove a better sustained [vyderzhannyi] character than the others. According to VN, "when Bulgarin ironically welcomed Pushkin's beetle as a new character, he was wrong: it was a very old character indeed." VN points out that a beetle appears in Shakespeare's Macbeth, William Collins' Ode to Evening and Thomas Gray's Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard (in which "the beetle wheels his droning flight"). Gray's elegy was translated into Russian by Zhukovski, a poet whose name comes from zhuk (beetle). Zhukovski was an illegitimate son of Afanasiy Bunin and a Turkish girl. A namesake of Zhukovski's father, Afanasiy Fet (a son of Afanasiy Shenshin and a German girl) was married to Maria Botkin. In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN quotes Ivan Bunin's and Afanasiy Fet's poems in which a butterfly appears:


In the works of major Russian poets I can discover only two lepidopteral images of genuinely sensuous quality: Bunin’s impeccable evocation of what is certainly a Tortoiseshell:


And there will fly into the room
A colored butterfly in silk
To flutter, rustle and pit-pat
On the blue ceiling…


and Fet’s “Butterfly” soliloquizing:


Whence have I come and whither am I hasting
Do not inquire;
Now on a graceful flower I have settled
And now respire. (Chapter Six, 2)


In Krylov’s fable the Curious Man did not notice the elephant in a zoo. In the ghost’s message Kinbote does not notice the insect. Russian for “elephant,” slon also means "bishop" (chessman) and brings to mind Vera Slonim (the maiden name of VN’s wife). In his Commentary Kinbote mentions the Bishop of Yeslove, Ferz Bretwit (Mayor of Aros) and his cousin Zule Bretwit (Mayor of Odevalla). Ferz’ is Russian for “chess queen,” "zule" is chess rook (in heraldry), Bretwit means in Zemblan “chess intelligence.” In Chapter Four (XXVI: 13-14) of EO Lenski plays chess with Olga and takes in abstraction with a pawn his own rook.


Describing King Alfin’s death, Kinbote mentions his last photograph:


On the serene, and not too cold, December morning that the angels chose to net his mild pure soul, King Alfin was in the act of trying solo a tricky vertical loop that Prince Andrey Kachurin, the famous Russian stunter and War One hero, had shown him in Gatchina. Something went wrong, and the little Blenda was seen to go into an uncontrolled dive. Behind and above him, in a Caudron biplane, Colonel Gusev (by then Duke of Rahl) and the Queen snapped several pictures of what seemed at first a noble and graceful evolution but then turned into something else. At the last moment, King Alfin managed to straighten out his machine and was again master of gravity when, immediately afterwards, he flew smack into the scaffolding of a huge hotel which was being constructed in the middle of a coastal heath as if for the special purpose of standing in a king's way. This uncompleted and badly gutted building was ordered razed by Queen Blenda who had it replaced by a tasteless monument of granite surmounted by an improbable type of aircraft made of bronze. The glossy prints of the enlarged photographs depicting the entire catastrophe were discovered one day by eight-year-old Charles Xavier in the drawer of a secretary bookcase. In some of these ghastly pictures one could make out the shoulders and leathern casque of the strangely unconcerned aviator, and in the penultimate one of the series, just before the white-blurred shattering crash, one distinctly saw him raise one arm in triumph, and reassurance. The boy had hideous dreams after that but his mother never found out that he had seen those infernal records. (note to Line 71)


At the end of his Commentary Kinbote mentions a million of photographers:


God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of two other characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, healthy, heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old-fashioned Melodrama with three principals: a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things! History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out - somebody has already set out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and presently he will ring at my door - a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus. (note to Line 1000)


A world-famous actor and Zemblan patriot, Odon has a half-brother Nodo (a cardsharp and despicable traitor). Odon = Nodo = odno (neut. of odin, “one”). In Chapter Two (XIV: 5-7) of EO Pushkin (who died a few years before the invention of photography) mentions the millions of two-legged creatures and uses the phrase orudie odno (only tools):


Мы все глядим в Наполеоны;
Двуногих тварей миллионы
Для нас орудие одно


We all expect to be Napoleons;

the millions of two-legged creatures

for us are only tools.


Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on Oct. 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum). There is a hope that, after Kinbote’s death, Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote and Gradus’ “real” name), like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin’s epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade's "real" name). In Chapter Five of EO Pushkin describes divination and mentions nadezhda (hope) that lies to old people with its childish lisp:


Что ж? Тайну прелесть находила
И в самом ужасе она:
Так нас природа сотворила,
К противуречию склонна.
Настали святки. То-то радость!
Гадает ветреная младость,
Которой ничего не жаль,
Перед которой жизни даль
Лежит светла, необозрима;
Гадает старость сквозь очки
У гробовой своей доски,
Всё потеряв невозвратимо;
И всё равно: надежда им
Лжёт детским лепетом своим.


Yet — in her very terror

she [Tatiana] found a secret charm:

thus has created us

nature, inclined to contradictions.

Yuletide is here. Now that is joy!

Volatile youth divines —

who nought has to regret,

in front of whom the faraway of life

extends luminous, boundless;

old age divines, through spectacles,

at its sepulchral slab,

all having irrecoverably lost;

nor does it matter: hope to them

lies with its childish lisp. (VII)


In Chapter Six (XIII: 12) of EO Pushkin compares Olga (Tatiana's younger sister) to vetrenaya nadezhda (giddy hope):


Решась кокетку ненавидеть,
Кипящий Ленский не хотел
Пред поединком Ольгу видеть,
На солнце, на часы смотрел,
Махнул рукою напоследок -
И очутился у соседок.
Он думал Оленьку смутить
Своим приездом поразить;
Не тут-то было: как и прежде,
На встречу бедного певца
Прыгнула Оленька с крыльца,
Подобно ветреной надежде,
Резва, беспечна, весела,
Ну точно так же, как была.


Having decided to detest

the coquette, boiling Lenski did not wish

to see before the duel Olga.

The sun, his watch he kept consulting;

at last he gave it up —

and found himself at the fair neighbors'.

He thought he would embarrass Ólinka,

confound her by his coming;

but nothing of the sort: just as before

to welcome the poor songster

Olinka skipped down from the porch,

akin to giddy hope,

spry, carefree, gay — in fact, exactly

the same as she had been.


In Canto Two (l. 383) of his poem Shade says that his daughter always nursed a small mad hope and, in the next line, mentions his book on Pope. In his Commentary Kinbote points out that the title of Shade's book on Pope, Supremely Blest, was borrowed from Pope's Essay on Man (Epistle Two, VI):


See the blind beggar dance, the cripple sing,
The sot a hero, lunatic a king;
The starving chemist in his golden views
Supremely blest, the poet in his Muse.


But it also brings to mind the beginning of a stanza in Chapter Eight (X: 1-2) of Pushkin's EO:


Блажен, кто с молоду был молод,
Блажен, кто во-время созрел,
Кто постепенно жизни холод
С летами вытерпеть умел;
Кто странным снам не предавался,
Кто черни светской не чуждался,
Кто в двадцать лет был франт иль хват,
А в тридцать выгодно женат;
Кто в пятьдесят освободился
От частных и других долгов,
Кто славы, денег и чинов
Спокойно в очередь добился,
О ком твердили целый век:
N. N. прекрасный человек.

Blest who was youthful in his youth;

blest who matured at the right time;

who, with the years, the chill of life

was gradually able to withstand;

who never was addicted to strange dreams;

who did not shun the fashionable rabble;

who was at twenty fop or dasher,

and then at thirty, profitably married;

who rid himself at fifty

of private and of other debts;

who gained repute, money, and rank

calmly in turn;

about whom lifelong one kept saying:

N. N. is an excellent man.

The epigraph to Chapter Eight of EO is from Byron's poem to his wife:


Fare thee well, and if for ever,

Still for ever, fare thee well.



John Shade is a son of Samuel Shade and Caroline Lukin. In his satire The Age of Bronze (1821) written, like Shade's poem, in heroic couplets Byron (who had a romance with Lady Caroline Lamb in 1812) mentions Samuel's shade, Bolivar and Stoic Franklin's energetic shade robed in the Lightnings which his hand allayed:


Like Samuel's shade to Saul's monarchic eyes,
The Prophets of young Freedom, summoned far
From climes of Washington and Bolivar;
Henry, the Forest born Demosthenes,
Whose thunder shook the Philip of the Seas;
And Stoic Franklin's energetic shade
Robed in the Lightnings which his hand allayed;
And Washington, the Tyrant-tamer, wake,
To bid us blush for these old chains, or break. (ll. 381-389)


In Canto One (XV: 10) of EO Pushkin describes Onegin's morning and mentions Onegin's broad bolivar (hat à la Bolivar):


Покамест в утреннем уборе,
Надев широкий боливар,3
Онегин едет на бульвар
И там гуляет на просторе,
Пока недремлющий брегет
Не прозвонит ему обед.


Meanwhile, in morning dress,

having donned a broad bolivar,3

Onegin drives to the boulevard

and there goes strolling unconfined

till vigilant Bréguet

to him chimes dinner.

Benjamin Franklin is the inventor of a lightning rod. In his Commentary Kinbote quotes in full Shade's poem "The Nature of Electricity" that appeared in the New York magazine The Beau and the Butterfly:


The light never came back but it gleams again in a short poem "The Nature of Electricity", which John Shade had sent to the New York magazine The Beau and the Butterfly, some time in 1958, but which appeared only after his death:

The dead, the gentle dead - who knows?
In tungsten filaments abide,
And on my bedside table flows
Another man's departed bride.

And maybe Shakespeare floods a whole
Town with innumerable lights,
And Shelley's incandescent soul
Lures the pale moths of starless nights.

Streetlamps are numbered; and maybe
Number nine-hundred-ninety-nine
(So brightly beaming through a tree
So green) is an old friend of mine.

And when above the livid plain
Forked lightning plays, therein may dwell
The torments of a Tamerlane,
The roar of tyrants torn in hell.

Science tells us, by the way, that the Earth would not merely fall apart, but vanish like a ghost, if Electricity were suddenly removed from the world. (note to Line 347)


The Beau in the magazine name seems to hint at Beau Brummell (1778-1840), the notorious man of fashion mentioned by VN in EO Commentary. In his mock epic in octaves Domik v Kolomne ("The Small House in Kolomna," 1830) Pushkin compares each line of his poem to a soldier and the poet, to Tamerlane or even Napoleon himself:


Как весело стихи свои вести
Под цифрами, в порядке, строй за строем,
Не позволять им в сторону брести,
Как войску, в пух рассыпанному боем!
Тут каждый слог замечен и в чести,
Тут каждый стих глядит себе героем,
А стихотворец... с кем же равен он?
Он Тамерлан иль сам Наполеон. (V)


According to Pushkin, it is a thrill to lead one’s verses pod tsiframi (under numbers). Domik is a diminutive of dom (house). Dom is Mod (the name Maud in Russian spelling) in reverse. Hazel Shade twisted words and read them backward. Btw., Tamerlane (1827) is a poem by E. A. Poe.

Maud Shade (1869-1950) is the younger sister of Samuel Shade (the poet's father, 1852-1902). It seems that Botkin invented her, just as he invented the King’s uncle Conmal (Shakespeare's translator into Zemblan).


At the beginning of E. A. Poe's story How to Write a Blackwood Article (1838) Psyche Zenobia (the narrator and main character) says that her name means in Greek "the soul" and sometimes "a butterfly:"


I presume everybody has heard of me. My name is the Signora Psyche Zenobia. This I know to be a fact. Nobody but my enemies ever calls me Suky Snobbs. I have been assured that Suky is but a vulgar corruption of Psyche, which is good Greek, and means "the soul" (that's me, I'm all soul) and sometimes "a butterfly," which latter meaning undoubtedly alludes to my appearance in my new crimson satin dress, with the sky-blue Arabian mantelet, and the trimmings of green agraffas, and the seven flounces of orange-colored auriculas.


Zenobia brings to mind Anthony Hope's novel The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) and "from Amber to Zen," a phrase used by Kinbote in his Commentary:


Judging by the novels in Mrs. Goldsworth's boudoir, her intellectual interests were fully developed, going as they did from Amber to Zen. (note to Lines 47-48)


Forever Amber (1944) is a hystorical romance novel by Kathleen Winsor, Zen is a Japanese school of Buddhism. In his note to Line 238 ("the empty emerald case") of Shade's poem Kinbote mentions amber:


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.


Amber differs only in one letter from ambar, "barn" in Russian. Hazel Shade investigated certain sounds and lights in an old barn.


Describing Shade's speedy recovery after a heart attack, Kinbote compares the poet to a Japanese fish:


The poet's recovery turned out indeed to be very speedy and would have to be called miraculous had there been anything organically wrong with his heart. There was not; a poet's nerves can play the queerest tricks but they also can quickly recapture the rhythm of health, and soon John Shade, in his chair at the head of an oval table, was again speaking of his favorite Pope to eight pious young men, a crippled extramural woman and three coeds, one of them a tutorial dream. He had been told not to curtail his customary exercise, such as walks, but I must admit I experienced myself palpitations and cold sweats at the sight of that precious old man wielding rude garden tools or squirming up the college hall stairs as a Japanese fish up a cataract. (note to Line 691)


During his heart attack Shade saw a tall white fountain:


                                   And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played. (ll. 706-707)


In Canto Three of his poem Shade describes his visit to a Mrs. Z. who also saw a fountain during a heart attack. But “fountain” in Jim Coates’ article about Mrs. Z.’s heart attack turns out to be a misprint of “mountain:”

                         I also called on Coates.
He was afraid he had mislaid her notes.
He took his article from a steel file:
"It's accurate. I have not changed her style.
There's one misprint--not that it matters much:
Mountain, not fountain. The majestic touch.”

Life Everlasting--based on a misprint! (ll. 797-803)


Aunt Maud's verse book is open at the Index (Moon, Moonrise, Moor, Moral). Mountain begins with an M and, in a lexicon, is not too far removed from Moral (the last word in a series quoted by Shade). It is now clear why Shade, after his visit to Mrs. Z., can grope his way to some Faint Hope.


"Dear bizarre Aunt Maud" brings to mind the bizarreries mentioned by E. A. Poe in How to Write a Blackwood Article:


But the chief merit of the Magazine lies in its miscellaneous articles; and the best of these come under the head of what Dr. Moneypenny calls the "bizarreries" (whatever that may mean) and what everybody else calls the "intensities."


Psyche Zenobia brings to mind Psisha (Psyche) mentioned by Pushkin at the end of his Oda ego siat. gr. Dm. Iv. Khvostovu (“Ode to his Excellency Count D. I. Khvostov,” 1825):


Султан ярится. (1)  Кровь Эллады
И резвоскачет, (2) и кипит.
Открылись грекам древни клады, (3)
Трепещет в Стиксе лютый пит. (4)
И се - летит продерзко судно
И мещет громы обоюдно.
Се Бейрон, Феба образец.
Притек, но недуг быстропарный, (5)
Строптивый и неблагодарный
Взнёс смерти на него резец.

Певец бессмертный и маститый,
Тебя Эллада днесь зовёт
На место тени знаменитой,
Пред коей Цербер днесь ревёт.
Как здесь, ты будешь там сенатор,
Как здесь, почтенный литератор,
Но новый лавр тебя ждёт там,
Где от крови земля промокла:
Перикла лавр, лавр Фемистокла;
Лети туда, Хвостов наш! сам.

Вам с Бейроном шипела злоба,
Гремела и правдива лесть.
Он лорд - граф ты! Поэты оба!
Се, мнится, явно сходство есть. -
Никак! Ты с верною супругой (6)
Под бременем Судьбы упругой
Живёшь в любви - и наконец
Глубок он, но единобразен,
А ты глубок, игрив и разен.
И в шалостях ты впрям певец.

А я, неведомый Пиита,
В восторге новом воспою
Во след Пиита знаменита
Правдиву похвалу свою,
Моляся кораблю бегущу,
Да Бейрона он узрит кущу, (7)
И да блюдут твой мирный сон (8)
Нептун, Плутон, Зевс, Цитерея,
Гебея, Псиша, Крон, Астрея,
Феб, Игры, Смехи, Вакх, Харон.

(1) Подражание г. Петрову, знаменитому нашему лирику.

(2) Слово, употребленное весьма счастливо Вильгельмом Карловичем Кюхельбекером в стихотворном его письме к г. Грибоедову.

(3) Под словом клады должно разуметь правдивую ненависть нынешних Леонидов, Ахиллесов и Мильтиадов к жестоким чалмоносцам.

(4) Г. Питт, знаменитый английский министр и известный противник Свободы.

(5) Горячка.

(6) Графиня <А. И.> Хвостова, урождённая княжна Горчакова, достойная супруга маститого нашего Певца. Во многочисленных своих стихотворениях везде называет он её Темирою (см. последн. замеч. к оде: "Заздр. кубок").

(7) Подражание е. высокопр. действ. тайн. сов. Ив. Ив. Дмитриеву, знаменитому другу гр. Хвостова:

       К тебе я руки простирал
       Уже из отческия кущи,
       Взирая на суда бегущи.

(8) Здесь поэт, увлекаясь воображением, видит уже Великого нашего лирика, погруженного в сладкий сон и приближающегося к берегам благословенной Эллады. Нептун усмиряет пред ним предерзкие волны; Плутон исходит из преисподней бездны, дабы узреть того, кто ниспошлет ему в непродолжительном времени богатую жатву теней поклонников Лже-пророка; Зевес улыбается ему с небес; Цитерея (Венера) осыпает цветами своего любимого певца; Геба подъемлет кубок за здравие его; Псиша, в образе Иполита Богдановича, ему завидует; Крон удерживает косу, готовую разить; Астрея предчувствует возврат своего  царствования; Феб ликует; Игры, Смехи, Вакх и Харон весёлою толпою следуют за судном нашего бессмертного Пииты.


Pushkin appended eight footnotes to his poem (in which Khvostov is compared to Byron and Byron's "famous shade" is mentioned). In the last of them Pushkin says that Psyche, in the shape of Ippolit Bogdanovich (the author of Dushen'ka, "Little Psyche," 1778), envies Khvostov. Bogdanovich's poem, resembling a mock epic, is a reworking of Lafontaine's Psyche. Its title brings to mind Chekhov's story Dushechka ("The Darling," 1899) whose heroine receives a telegram with two funny misprints telling her about the death of her husband:


Оленька и раньше получала телеграммы от мужа, но теперь почему-то так и обомлела. Дрожащими руками она распечатала телеграмму и прочла следующее:

"Иван Петрович скончался сегодня скоропостижно сючала ждем распоряжений хохороны вторник".

Так и было напечатано в телеграмме "хохороны" и какое-то ещё непонятное слово "сючала"; подпись была режиссёра опереточной труппы.

Olenka had received telegrams from her husband before, but this time for some reason she felt numb with terror. With shaking hands she opened the telegram and read as follows:


That was how it was written in the telegram -- "fufuneral," and the utterly incomprehensible word "immate." It was signed by the stage manager of the
operatic company.

In "Ode to Khvostov" Psyche envies Khvostov. In Pushkin's little tragedy "Mozart and Salieri" (1830) envious Salieri poisons Mozart and Mozart uses a 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 all could feel like you the power of harmony!
But no: the world could not go on then. None
Would bother with the needs of lowly life;
All would surrender to the free art.

(scene II, transl. A. Shaw)


Nikto b is Botkin in reverse. The name Khvostov comes from khvost (tail). In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol describes a carnival in Rome, mentions sonetto colla coda and in a footnote explains that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as sonet s khvostom (sonnet with a tail, con la coda), when the idea cannot be expressed in fourteen lines and entails an appendix which is often longer than the sonnet itself:


В италиянской поэзии существует род стихотворенья, известного под именем сонета с хвостом (con la coda), когда мысль не вместилась и ведёт за собою прибавление, которое часто бывает длиннее самого сонета.


Shade’s poem is almost finished when he is killed by Gradus. 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 also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). In fact, not only Line 1001, but the entire Kinbote's Foreword, Commentary and Index can be regarded as the coda ("tail") of Shade's poem.


*See also my previous post, “mirror words & T. S. Eliot in Pale Fire.” Btw., I keep updating my old post and (to invert a Chekhovian metaphor) sometimes even manage to make a ship (or at least a boat) out of a nail.

"Dear bizarre Aunt Maud" brings to mind the bizarreries mentioned by E. A. Poe in How to Write a Blackwood Article (and in some other stories):


But the chief merit of the Magazine lies in its miscellaneous articles; and the best of these come under the head of what Dr. Moneypenny calls the "bizarreries" (whatever that may mean) and what everybody else calls the "intensities."

To draw your attention to my last post's new enging, I slightly changed its topic again. Hope you will enjoy it now even more! Btw., in Chapter Three of EO (XXIX: 8) Pushkin mentions Bogdanovicha stikhi (Bogdanovich's verse):


Неправильный, небрежный лепет,
Неточный выговор речей
По прежнему сердечный трепет
Произведут в груди моей;
Раскаяться во мне нет силы,
Мне галлицизмы будут милы,
Как прошлой юности грехи,
Как Богдановича стихи.
Но полно. Мне пора заняться
Письмом красавицы моей;
Я слово дал, и что ж? ей-ей
Теперь готов уж отказаться.
Я знаю: нежного Парни
Перо не в моде в наши дни.


An incorrect and careless patter,

an inexact delivery of words,

as heretofore a flutter of the heart

will in my breast produce;

in me there's no force to repent;

to me will Gallicisms remain

as sweet as the sins of past youth,

as Bogdanóvich's verse.

But that will do. 'Tis time I busied

myself with my fair damsel's letter;

my word I've given — and what now? Yea, yea!

I'm ready to back out of it.

I know: tender Parny's

pen in our days is out of fashion.


Ne v mode (out of fashion) in the stanza's line 14 brings to mind Aunt Maud.