low hum of harmony in Pale Fire; Desdemonia in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 01/21/2019 - 07:26

In Canto Four of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions “a sustained low hum of harmony:”


Gently the day has passed in a sustained

Low hum of harmony. The brain is drained

And a brown ament, and the noun I meant

To use but did not, dry on the cement.

Maybe my sensual love for the consonne

D'appui, Echo's fey child, is based upon

A feeling of fantastically planned,

Richly rhymed life. I feel I understand

Existence, or at least a minute part

Of my existence, only through my art,

In terms of combinational delight;

And if my private universe scans right,

So does the verse of galaxies divine

Which I suspect is an iambic line. (ll. 963-976)


In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830) Mozart twice mentions harmony:


М о ц а р т

За твоё

Здоровье, друг, за искренний союз,

Связующий Моцарта и Сальери,

Двух сыновей гармонии.




To your health,
My friend, and to the loyal bond

that binds together Mozart and Salieri,

two sons of harmony.

(Scene II)



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 free art.



In his Pushkin speech, O naznachenii poeta (“On a Poet’s Destination,” 1921), Alexander Blok says that a poet is a son of harmony and quotes Mozart’s words (attributing them to Salieri):


Что такое поэт? Человек, который пишет стихами? Нет, конечно. Он называется поэтом не потому, что он пишет стихами; но он пишет стихами, то есть приводит в гармонию слова и звуки, потому что он - сын гармонии, поэт.


What is a poet? A man who writes in verse? Of course, not. He is called a poet not because he writes in verse; but he writes in verse, that is he brings into harmony words and sounds, because he is a son of harmony, a poet.


Нельзя сопротивляться могуществу гармонии, внесённой в мир поэтом; борьба с нею превышает и личные и соединённые человеческие силы. "Когда бы все так чувствовали силу гармонии!" - томится одинокий Сальери. Но её чувствуют все, только смертные - иначе, чем бог - Моцарт. От знака, которым поэзия отмечает на лету, от имени, которое она даёт, когда это нужно, - никто не может уклониться, так же как от смерти. Это имя даётся безошибочно.


According to Blok, everybody feels the power of harmony, but mortals feel it differently than god (Mozart) does.


In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen (the narrator and main character) says that on Desdemonia (as Van calls Demonia, aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) artists are the only gods:

That meeting, and the nine that followed, constituted the highest ridge of their twenty-one-year-old love: its complicated, dangerous, ineffably radiant coming of age. The somewhat Italianate style of the apartment, its elaborate wall lamps with ornaments of pale caramel glass, its white knobbles that produced indiscriminately light or maids, the slat-eyes, veiled, heavily curtained windows which made the morning as difficult to disrobe as a crinolined prude, the convex sliding doors of the huge white 'Nuremberg Virgin'-like closet in the hallway of their suite, and even the tinted engraving by Randon of a rather stark three-mast ship on the zigzag green waves of Marseilles Harbor – in a word, the alberghian atmosphere of those new trysts added a novelistic touch (Aleksey and Anna may have asterisked here!) which Ada welcomed as a frame, as a form, something supporting and guarding life, otherwise unprovidenced on Desdemonia, where artists are the only gods. (3.8)


Desdemonia hints at Desdemona, Othello’s wife in Shakespeare’s Othello. In his essay Taynyi smysl tragedii “Otello” (“The Secret Meaning of the Tragedy Othello,” 1919) Blok says that Desdemona is a harmony, Desdemona is a soul, and the soul can not but saves from chaos:


Дездемона - это гармония, Дездемона - это душа, а душа не может не спасать от хаоса.


Shade’s mad commentator, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla. Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone, Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Shakespeare’s Desdemona. Smert' bogov. Yulian otstupnik ("The Death of the Gods. Julian the Apostate," 1895) and Voskresshie bogi. Leonardo da Vinchi ("The Resurrection of the Gods. Leonardo da Vinci," 1900) are novels by Merezhkovski, the author of Tayna tryokh. Egipet i Vavilon (“The Secret of Three. Egypt and Babylon,” 1925). The three main characters in Pale Fire, Shade, Kinbote and Gradus (Shade’s murderer) seem to represent three different aspects of Botkin’s personality. 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 of Kinbote’s Commentary). Nadezhda (“Hope,” 1894) is a poem by Merezhkovski.


Botkin is nikto b (“none would,” the words used by Pushkin’s Mozart) in reverse. In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart mentions his chyornyi chelovek (man in black) who ordered a Requiem and who seems to sit with him and Salieri sam-tretey (as a third):


М о ц а р т

Мне день и ночь покоя не дает

Мой черный человек. За мною всюду

Как тень он гонится. Вот и теперь

Мне кажется, он с нами сам-третей


С а л ь е р и

И, полно! что за страх ребячий?

Рассей пустую думу. Бомарше

Говаривал мне: "Слушай, брат Сальери,

Как мысли черные к тебе придут,

Откупори шампанского бутылку

Иль перечти "Женитьбу Фигаро".

М о ц а р т

Да! Бомарше ведь был тебе приятель;

Ты для него "Тарара" сочинил,

Вещь славную. Там есть один мотив...

Я все твержу его, когда я счастлив...

Ла ла ла ла... Ах, правда ли, Сальери,

Что Бомарше кого-то отравил?

С а л ь е р и

Не думаю: он слишком был смешон

Для ремесла такого.

М о ц а р т

Он же гений,

Как ты да я. А гений и злодейство --

Две вещи несовместные. Не правда ль?



He gives me no rest night or day,
My man in black.
He’s everywhere behind
Me like a shadow. Even now he seems
To sit here with us as a third.


                                                       Come, come!
What sort of childish fright is this? Dispel
These empty fancies. Beaumarchais would often
Say to me "Listen, Salieri, old friend,
When black thoughts come your way, uncork the champagne
Bottle, or re-read The Marriage of Figaro."


Yes, you and Beaumarchais were pals, weren’t you?
It was for him you wrote Tarare, a lovely
Work. There is one tune in it, I always
Hum it to myself when I feel happy . . .
La la la la . . . Salieri, is it true
That Beaumarchais once poisoned somebody?


I don’t think so. He was too droll a fellow
For such a trade.


     Besides, he was a genius,
Like you and me. And genius and villainy
Are two things incompatible, aren’t they?

(scene II)


In his Commentary Kinbote calls Gradus “the man in brown” and Gerald Emerald (a young instructor at Wordsmith University who gives Gradus a lift to Shade’s house in New Wye), “the man in green:”


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).
"I think I'll drop you here," said Mr. Emerald. "It's that house up there."
One finds it hard to decide what Gradus alias Grey wanted more at that minute: discharge his gun or rid himself of the inexhaustible lava in his bowels. As he began hurriedly fumbling at the car door, unfastidious Emerald leaned, close to him, across him almost merging with him, to help him open it--and then, slamming it shut again, whizzed on to some tryst in the valley. My reader will, I hope, appreciate all the minute particulars I have taken such trouble to present to him after a long talk I had with the killer; he will appreciate them even more if I tell him that, according to the legend spread later by the police, Jack Grey had been given a lift, all the way from Roanoke, or somewhere, by a lonesome trucker! One can only hope that an impartial search will turn up the trilby forgotten in the Library--or in Mr. Emerald's car. (note to Line 949)


Jack Grey (Gradus’ name in the police records) brings to mind Nekto v serom (Someone in Grey), a character in Leonid Andreyev’s play Zhizn’ cheloveka (“The Life of Man,” 1907). Merezhkovski’s essay on Leonind Andreyev is entitled V obez’yanyikh lapakh (“In an Ape’s Paws,” 1908). In “The Secret Meaning of the Tragedy Othello” Bloks asks: “is it true that an artist is merely zhalkaya obez’yana (a pitiful ape) of nature, scimmia della natura:”


Для чего же было изображать движения человеческой души с такой фотографической верностью, с такой страшной правильностью? Зачем обезьянить? Неужели правда, что художник - только жалкая обезьяна природы, scimmia della natura? Неужели, наконец, спрашиваем мы, у самих нас не хватает потрясений и катастроф в наших сумасшедших годах и днях, чтобы будить этот хаос ещё и на сцене, совать в руки зеркало, где мы увидим собственное обожжённое, обугленное, обезображенное гримасой страдания лицо?


Obez'yana ("The Monkey," 1920) is a poem by Hodasevich. In his memoir essay Muni (1926) Hodasevich says that his friend Muni (the poet Samuil Kissin, 1885-1916) resembled a gorilla or a wrestler:


Муни состоял из широкого костяка, обтянутого кожей. Но он мешковато одевался, тяжело ступал, впалые щеки прикрывал большой бородой. У него были непомерно длинные руки, и он ими загребал, как горилла или борец. (chapter V: Semipudovaya kupchikha, "A Merchant Wife Seven Poods in Weight")


According to Kinbote, present-day bards look like gorillas or vultures:


John Shade's physical appearance was so little in keeping with the harmonies hiving in the man, that one felt inclined to dismiss it as coarse disguise or passing fashion; for if the fashions of the Romantic Age subtilized a poet's manliness by baring his attractive neck, pruning his profile and reflecting a mountain lake in his oval gaze, present-day bards, owing perhaps to better opportunities of aging, look like gorillas or vultures. (Foreword)


Kinbote is a tricky wrestler:


Frankly I too never excelled in soccer and cricket; I am a passable horseman, a vigorous through unorthodox skier, a good skater, a tricky wrestler, and an enthusiastic rock-climber. (note to Line 130)


In the Foreword to his poem Vozmezdie ("Retribution," 1910-21) Blok says that in the winter of 1911 he saw wrestling matches in the St. Petersburg circuses:


Неразрывно со всем этим для меня связан расцвет французской борьбы в петербургских цирках; тысячная толпа проявляла исключительный интерес к ней; среди борцов были истинные художники; я никогда не забуду борьбы безобразного русского тяжеловеса с голландцем, мускульная система которого представляла из себя совершеннейший музыкальный инструмент редкой красоты.


Upon her unexpected return from a trip to Sweden, Queen Disa finds the Palace transformed into a circus:


She had recently lost both parents and had no real friend to turn to for explanation and advice when the inevitable rumors reached her; these she was too proud to discuss with her ladies in waiting but she read books, found out all about our manly Zemblan customs, and concealed her naïve distress under the great show of sarcastic sophistication. He congratulated her on her attitude, solemnly swearing that he had given up, or at least would give up, the practices of his youth; but everywhere along the road powerful temptations stood at attention. He succumbed to them from time to time, then every other day, then several times daily - especially during the robust regime of Harfar Baron of Shalksbore, a phenomenally endowed young brute (whose family name, "knave's farm," is the most probable derivation of "Shakespeare"). Curdy Buff - as Harfar was nicknamed by his admirers - had a huge escort of acrobats and bareback riders, and the whole affair rather got out of hand so that Disa, upon unexpectedly returning from a trip to Sweden, found the Palace transformed into a circus. He again promised, again fell, and despite the utmost discretion was again caught. At last she removed to the Riviera leaving him to amuse himself with a band of Eton-collared, sweet-voiced minions imported from England. (note to Line 433)


In his essay on Mayakovski, Dekol'tirovannaya loshad' (“The Horse in a Décolleté Dress,” 1927), Hodasevich compares VN's "late namesake" to a circus horse:


Представьте себе лошадь, изображающую старую англичанку. В дамской шляпке, с цветами и перьями, в розовом платье с короткими рукавами и с розовым рюшем вокруг гигантского вороного декольте, она ходит на задних ногах, нелепо вытягивая бесконечную шею и скаля желтые зубы.

Такую лошадь я видел в цирке осенью 1912 года. Вероятно, я вскоре забыл бы её, если бы несколько дней спустя, придя в Общество свободной эстетики, не увидел там огромного юношу с лошадиными челюстями, в черной рубахе, расстегнутой чуть ли не до пояса и обнажавшей гигантское лошадиное декольте. Каюсь: прозвище “декольтированная лошадь” надолго с того вечера утвердилось за юношей...

А юноша этот был Владимир Маяковский. Это было его первое появление в литературной среде или одно из первых. С тех пор лошадиной поступью прошел он по русской литературе — и ныне, сдается мне” стоит уже при конце своего пути. Пятнадцать лет - лошадиный век.


In his memoir essay Muni Hodasevich tells about Muni's attempt to become a totally different person, Alexander Beklemishev:


После одной тяжёлой любовной истории, в начале 1908 года, Муни сам вздумал довоплотиться в особого человека, Александра Александровича Беклемишева (рассказ о Большакове был написан позже, именно на основании опыта с Беклемишевым). Месяца три Муни не был похож на себя, иначе ходил, говорил, одевался, изменил голос и самые мысли. Существование Беклемишева скрывалось, но про себя Муни знал, что, наоборот, - больше нет Муни, а есть Беклемишев, принуждённый лишь носить имя Муни "по причинам полицейского, паспортного порядка". (chapter V)


Like Blok, Hodasevich participated in the Pushkin evening in February, 1921. The title of Hodasevich's speech, Koleblemyi trenozhnik (“The Shaken Tripod”), is a reference to the last line of Pushkin's sonnet Poetu ("To a Poet," 1830):


Поэт! не дорожи любовию народной.
Восторженных похвал пройдёт минутный шум;
Услышишь суд глупца и смех толпы холодной,
Но ты останься твёрд, спокоен и угрюм.

Ты царь: живи один. Дорогою свободной
Иди, куда влечёт тебя свободный ум,
Усовершенствуя плоды любимых дум,
Не требуя наград за подвиг благородный.

Они в самом тебе. Ты сам свой высший суд;
Всех строже оценить умеешь ты свой труд.
Ты им доволен ли, взыскательный художник?

Доволен? Так пускай толпа его бранит
И плюет на алтарь, где твой огонь горит,
И в детской резвости колеблет твой треножник.


Poet! Set not too much store by the people's love.
The noise of accolades will not for long be heard,
You'll face the idiot's court, you'll hear the cold crowd laugh,
Yet you must remain firm, sullen, and unperturbed.

You're a king: live alone. Follow freely the roads
Along which your free mind impels your seeking feet,
Perfect the precious fruits of your beloved thoughts,
Demanding no rewards for that most noble feat.

They lie within you. You are your own supreme court,
The sternest judge of all of the worth of your work.
Exacting artist, satisfied with your output?

You are? Then scorn the crowd that sullies your good name,
And spits upon the altar wherein burns your fire,
And shakes in childish impishness your tripod.
(transl. Ph. Nikolayev)


In his poem S berlinskoy ulitsy... ("From a Berlin street..." 1923) Hodasevich compares himself and his companions to the three witches in Macbeth and mentions pyosyi golovy poverkh sutulykh plech (the dog heads over the stooping shoulders):


На перекрестки тьмы,
Как ведьмы, по трое
Тогда выходим мы.

Нечеловечий дух,
Нечеловечья речь -
И песьи головы
Поверх сутулых плеч.


Prof. Hurley (the head of the English Department at Wordsmith University) brings to mind “hurlyburly” mentioned by the Second Witch at the beginning of Macbeth:


First Witch

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch

When the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.

Third Witch

That will be ere the set of sun. (Act One, scene 1)


According to Kinbote, the slapdash disheveled hag in the Levin Hall cafeteria whom Shade is said to resemble is “the third in the witch row:”


"Strange, strange," said the German visitor, who by some quirk of alderwood ancestry had been alone to catch the eerie note that had throbbed by and was gone.

Shade [smiling and massaging my knee]: "Kings do not die - they only disappear, eh, Charles?"

"Who said that?" asked sharply, as if coming out of a trance, the ignorant, and always suspicious, Head of the English Department.

"Take my own case," continued my dear friend ignoring Mr. H. "I have been said to resemble at least four people: Samuel Johnson; the lovingly reconstructed ancestor of man in the Exton Museum; and two local characters, one being the slapdash disheveled hag who ladles out the mash in the Levin Hall cafeteria."

"The third in the witch row," I precised quaintly, and everybody laughed. (note to Line 894)


In his novella Egipetskaya marka ("The Egyptian Stamp," 1928) Mandelshtam says that a scandal is not a catastrophe, but its obez'yana (ape), a vile metamorphosis when the dog head grows out of a man's shoulders:


Скандалом называется бес, открытый русской прозой или самой русской жизнью в сороковых, что ли, годах. Это не катастрофа, но обезьяна её, подлое превращение, когда на плечах у человека вырастает собачья голова. (chapter V)


The title of Mandelshtam's novella brings to mind Pushkin's unfinished novella Egipetskie nochi ("The Egyptian Nights," 1835). In a draft which Soviet editors insert in the gap of "The Egyptian Nights" Pushkin compares a poet to Desdemona who, without asking anybody, chooses the idol for her heart:


Зачем арапа своего
Младая любит Дездемона,

Как месяц любит ночи мглу?
Затем, что ветру и орлу
И сердцу девы нет закона.
Таков поэт: как Аквилон
Что хочет, то и носит он —
Орлу подобно, он летает
И, не спросясь ни у кого,
Как Дездемона избирает
Кумир для сердца своего.


In his Eugene Onegin Commentary (vol. III, p. 383) VN points out that this is an inferior version of the idea expressed in XIII-XIV of Pushkin's Ezerski (1832-36), a poem written in the EO stanza. The name Ezerski comes from ezero (obsolete form of ozero, "lake"). In his Commentary Kinbote mentions the three conjoined lakes called Omega, Ozero, and Zero:


Higher up on the same wooded hill stood, and still stands I trust, Dr. Sutton’s old clapboard house and, at the very top, eternity shall not dislodge Professor C.’s ultramodern villa from whose terrace one can glimpse to the south the larger and sadder of the three conjoined lakes called Omega, Ozero, and Zero (Indian names garbled by early settlers in such a way as to accommodate specious derivations and commonplace allusions). (note to Lines 47-48)


Hazel Shade drowned in Lake Omega. In his essay Pushkin (1896) Merezhkovski quotes Pushkin’s words (as quoted by Aleksandra Smirnov – or, more likely, by her daughter, the author of spurious Memoirs) about Goethe’s Faust. According to Smirnov, Pushkin compared Faust to Dante’s Divine Comedy and called it “the last word of German literature… alpha and omega of human thought from the times of Christianity:”


Вот как русский поэт понимает значение «Фауста»: «„Фауст“ стоит совсем особо. Это последнее слово немецкой литературы, это особый мир, как „Божественная Комедия“; это — в изящной форме альфа и омега человеческой мысли со времён христианства». (chapter IV)


At the end of his poem A nebo budushchim beremenno... ("And the sky is pregnant with the future..." 1923) Mandelshtam mentions the sky zabremenevshee lazur'yu (pregnant with the azure) and calls it al'fa i omega buri (alpha and omega of the tempest):


А ты, глубокое и сытое,
Забременевшее лазурью,
Как чешуя многоочитое,
И альфа и омега бури;
Тебе — чужое и безбровое,
Из поколенья в поколение, —
Всегда высокое и новое
Передаётся удивление.


At the beginning of his poem Shade says that he was "the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane:"


I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane;
I was the smudge of ashen fluff--and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky. (ll. 1-4)


In Canto Three of his poem Shade calls 1958 "a year of Tempests:"


It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane
Lolita swept from Florida to Maine.
Mars glowed. Shahs married. Gloomy Russians spied.
Lang made your portrait. And one night I died.
(ll. 679-82)


According to Kinbote, the disguised king's arrival in America almost coincided with Shade's heart attack:


John Shade's heart attack (Oct. 17, 1958) practically coincided with the disguised king's arrival in America where he descended by parachute from a chartered plane piloted by Colonel Montacute, in a field of hay-feverish, rank-flowering weeds, near Baltimore whose oriole is not an oriole. (note to Line 691)


In a diary entry of Oct. 22, 1920, Blok mentions Mandelshtam who just returned to Petrograd and read his hew poems:


Гвоздь вечера — И. Мандельштам, который приехал, побывав во врангелевской тюрьме. Он очень вырос. Сначала невыносимо слушать общегумилёвское распевание. Постепенно привыкаешь… виден артист. Его стихи возникают из снов — очень своеобразных, лежащих в областях искусства только. Гумилёв определяет его путь: от иррационального к рациональному (противуположность моему). Его «Венеция». По Гумилёву — рационально всё (и любовь и влюблённость в том числе), иррациональное лежит только в языке, в его корнях, невыразимое. (В начале было Слово, из Слова возникли мысли, слова, уже непохожие на Слово, но имеющие, однако, источником Его; и всё кончится Словом — всё исчезнет, останется одно Оно.)


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, зелёный,
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!


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!


Franz Schubert set to music Goethe’s Erlkönig, a poem whose opening lines (Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? / Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind) 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 brown” and “the man in green.”


In his memoirs Peterburgskie zimy ("The St. Petersburg Winters," 1931) G. Ivanov quotes Blok's reply to Chulkov's question about Blok's strange orderliness:


Почерк у Блока ровный, красивый, четкий. Пишет он не торопясь, уверенно, твердо. Отличное перо (у Блока все письменные принадлежности отборные) плавно движется по плотной бумаге. В до блеска протертых окнах — широкий вид. В квартире тишина. В шкапу, за зелеными занавесками, ряд бутылок, пробочник, стаканы…

— Откуда в тебе это, Саша? — спросил однажды Чулков, никак не могший привыкнуть к блоковской методичности. — Немецкая кровь, что ли? — И передавал удивительный ответ Блока. — Немецкая кровь? Не думаю. Скорее — самозащита от хаоса.


According to Blok, his orderliness was samozaschchita ot khaosa (a self-defense from chaos). Blok's samozashchita brings to mind VN's novel Zashchita Luzhina ("The Luzhin Defense," 1930), in which Leonid Andreyev ("a celebrated writer") and his tragedy Okean ("The Ocean," 1911) are mentioned:


И затем, в Финляндии, оставшейся у неё в душе, как что-то более русское, чем сама Россия, оттого, может быть, что деревянная дача и ёлки, и белая лодка на чёрном от хвойных отражений озере особенно замечались, как русское, особенно ценились, как что-то запретное по ту сторону Белоострова, – в этой, ещё дачной, ещё петербургской Финляндии она несколько раз издали видела знаменитого писателя, очень бледного, с отчётливой бородкой, все посматривавшего на небо, где начинали водиться вражеские аэропланы. И он остался странным образом рядом с русским офицером, впоследствии потерявшим руку в Крыму, – тишайшим, застенчивым человеком, с которым она летом играла в теннис, зимой бегала на лыжах, и при этом снежном воспоминании всплывала вдруг опять на фоне ночи дача знаменитого писателя, где он и умер, расчищенная дорожка, сугробы, освещённые электричеством, призрачные полоски на тёмном снегу. После этих по-разному занятных людей, каждый из которых окрашивал воспоминание в свой определённый цвет (голубой географ, защитного цвета комиссар, чёрное пальто писателя и человек, весь в белом, подбрасывающий ракеткой еловую шишку), была расплывчатость и мелькание, жизнь в Берлине, случайные балы, монархические собрания, много одинаковых людей – и все это было ещё так близко, что память не могла найти фокуса и разобраться в том, что ценно, а что сор, да и разбираться было теперь некогда, слишком много места занял угрюмый, небывалый, таинственный человек, самый привлекательный из всех, ей известных.


And later in Finland, which had remained in her heart as something more Russian than Russia, perhaps because the wooden villa and the fir trees and the white boat on the lake, black with the reflected conifers, were especially Russian, being treasured as something forbidden on the far side of the frontier. In this Finland which was still, vacation land, still part of St. Petersburg life, she saw several times from afar a celebrated writer, a very pale man with a very conspicuous goatee who kept glancing up at the sky, which enemy airplanes had begun to haunt. And he remained in some strange manner beside the Russian officer who subsequently lost an arm in the Crimea during the civil war — a most shy and retiring boy with whom she used to play tennis in summer and ski in winter — and with this snowy recollection there would float up once more against a background of night the celebrated writer's villa, in which he later died, and the cleared path and snowdrifts illumined by electric light, phantasmal stripes on the dark snow. These men with their various occupations, each of whom tinted her recollection his own particular color (blue geographer, khaki commissar, the writers' black overcoat and a youth all in white lobbing a fir cone with his tennis racket) were followed by glinting and dissolving images: émigré life in Berlin, charity balls, monarchist meetings and lots of identical people — all this was still so close that her memory was unable to focus properly and sort out what was valuable and what rubbish, and moreover there was no time now to sort it out, too much space had been taken up by this taciturn fabulous, enigmatical man, the most attractive of all the men she had known. (Chapter Six)


Играя утром в теннис с приятельницей немкой, слушая давно приевшиеся лекции по истории искусства, перелистывая у себя в комнате потрёпанные, разношерстные книжки, -- андреевский "Океан", роман Краснова, брошюру "Как сделаться йогом", она всё время сознавала, что вот сейчас Лужин погружён в шахматные вычисления, борется, мучится, и ей было немного обидно, что она не может разделить муки его искусства.


All through those autumn days, while playing tennis in the mornings with a German girl friend, or listening to lectures on art that had long since palled on her, or leafing through a tattered assortment of books in her room - Andreyev's The Ocean, a novel by Krasnov and a pamphlet entitled "How to Become a Yogi"— she was conscious that right now Luzhin was immersed in chess calculations, struggling and suffering—and it vexed her that she was unable to share in the torments of his art. (Chapter Eight)


In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) Lermontov compares his soul to the ocean in which nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) lies:


Нет, я не Байрон, я другой,
Ещё неведомый избранник,
Как он, гонимый миром странник,
Но только с русскою душой.
Я раньше начал, кончу ране,
Мой ум немного совершит;
В душе моей, как в океане,
Надежд разбитых груз лежит.
Кто может, океан угрюмый,
Твои изведать тайны? Кто
Толпе мои расскажет думы?
Я — или Бог — или никто!


No, I'm not Byron, I’m another
yet unknown chosen man,
like him, a persecuted wanderer,
but only with a Russian soul.
I started sooner, I will end sooner,
my mind won’t achieve much;
in my soul, as in the ocean,
lies a load of broken hopes.
Gloomy ocean, who can
find out your secrets? Who
will tell to the crowd my thoughts?
Myself – or God – or none at all!


In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron, o, bez sozhalen’ya… (“Like Byron to Greece, oh, without regret…” 1927) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon’ (pale fire). According to G. Ivanov, to his question "does a sonnet need a coda" Blok replied that he did not know what a coda is:


Зачем Блок писал длинные письма или вёл долгие разговоры со мной, желторотым подростком, с вечными вопросами о технике поэзии на языке? Время от времени какой-нибудь такой вопрос с моего языка срывался.

— Александр Александрович, нужна ли кода к сонету? — спросил я как-то. К моему изумлению, Блок, знаменитый «мэтр», вообще не знал, что такое кода…


In his poem Kol’tso sushchestvovan’ya tesno (“The ring of existence is tight…” 1909) Blok quotes the saying “all roads lead to Rome:”


Кольцо существованья тесно:

Как все пути приводят в Рим,

Так нам заранее известно,

Что всё мы рабски повторим.


И мне, как всем, всё тот же жребий

Мерещится в грядущей мгле:

Опять — любить Её на небе

И изменить ей на земле.


Rim ("Rome") is the title of two poems (1914, 1937) by Mandelshtam. Tretiy Rim ("The Third Rome," 1929) is an unfinished novel by G. Ivanov. 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 “a sonnet with the tail” (con la coda), when the idea cannot not 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 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 Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). Moreover, not only Line 1001, but the entire apparatus criticus (Kinbote's Foreword, Commentary and Index) can be regarded as a coda of Pale Fire.


Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Blok. Dostoevski is the author of Netochka Nezvanov (1849), a novel that remained unfinished. Netochka is the nickname of Professor Oscar Nattochdag, a Zemblan scholar at Wordsmith University whose surname means in Swedish "night and day." Den' i noch' ("Day and Night," 1839) is a poem by Tyutchev. In his poem O chyom ty voesh', vetr nochnoy... ("What is it you howl about, night wind?") Tyutchev mentions khaos (chaos):


О чём ты воешь, ветр ночной?
О чём так сетуешь безумно?..
Что значит странный голос твой,
То глухо жалобный, то шумно?
Понятным сердцу языком
Твердишь о непонятной муке –
И роешь и взрываешь в нём
Порой неистовые звуки!..

О! страшных песен сих не пой!
Про древний хаос, про родимый
Как жадно мир души ночной
Внимает повести любимой!
Из смертной рвется он груди,
Он с беспредельным жаждет слиться!..
О! бурь заснувших не буди –
Под ними хаос шевелится!..


Why do you howl, night wind?
Why do you complain insanely?
Your voice is strange. What does it mean?
First muffled, pitiful, then loud?
My heart understands your tongue,
your tale of madness it can't,
and at times you uproot and plough up
frenzied noises in your words!
Don't sing these songs,
these fearsome songs
of ancient Chaos, kindred Chaos!
How avidly the inner soul of night
hears the beloved tale!
It wants to burst from the breast,
it wants to merge with the boundless.
Oh, do not wake the sleeping storms -
Chaos writhes beneath them!

(tr. F. Jude)


In the last stanza of his poem Vesennyaya groza (“The Spring Thunderstorm,” 1829) Tyutchev mentions vetrenaya Geba (frivolous Hebe) who spilled on earth her gromokipyashchiy kubok (thunder-boiling cup):


Ты скажешь: ветреная Геба,
Кормя Зевесова орла,
Громокипящий кубок с неба,
Смеясь, на землю пролила.


You'll say: 'Tis carefree Hebe -
She fed Zeus' eagle, and
dropped the Storm Cup
from the sky on earth.


In Canto Four of his poem Shade mentions his third collection Hebe’s Cup:


Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote
Came next; then Hebe's Cup, my final float
In that damp carnival, for now I term
Everything "Poems," and no longer squirm.
(But this transparent thingum does require
Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.) (ll. 957-962)


Shade borrows the title of his last poem from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens. In a diary entry of Dec. 12, 1920, Blok lists thirty-seven plays of Shakespeare, including Timon Afinskiy (1607). Leaving Zembla, the King took with him into exile as a talisman a copy of Timon Afinsken (translated into Zemblan by the King's uncle Conmal):


Line 962: Help me, Will. Pale Fire.

Paraphrased, this evidently means: Let me look in Shakespeare for something I might use for a title. And the find is "pale fire." But in which of the Bard's works did our poet cull it? My readers must make their own research. All I have with me is a tiny vest pocket edition of Timon of Athens - in Zemblan! It certainly contains nothing that could be regarded as an equivalent of "pale fire" (if it had, my luck would have been a statistical monster).

English was not taught in Zembla before Mr. Campbell's time. Conmal mastered it all by himself (mainly by learning a lexicon by heart) as a young man, around 1880, when not the verbal inferno but a quiet military career seemed to open before him, and his first work (the translation of Shakespeare's Sonnets) was the outcome of a bet with a fellow officer. He exchanged his frogged uniform for a scholar's dressing gown and tackled The Tempest. A slow worker, he needed half a century to translate the works of him whom he called "dze Bart," in their entirety. After this, in 1930, he went on to Milton and other poets, steadily drilling through the ages, and had just completed Kipling's "The Rhyme of the Three Sealers" ("Now this is the Law of the Muscovite that he proves with shot and steel") when he fell ill and soon expired under his splendid painted bed ceil with its reproductions of Altamira animals, his last words in his last delirium being "Comment dit-on 'mourir' en anglais?" - a beautiful and touching end.

It is easy to sneer at Conmal's faults. They are the naive failings of a great pioneer. He lived too much in his library, too little among boys and youths. Writers should see the world, pluck its figs and peaches, and not keep constantly meditating in a tower of yellow ivory - which was also John Shade's mistake, in a way.

We should not forget that when Conmal began his stupendous task no English author was available in Zemblan except Jane de Faun, a lady novelist in ten volumes whose works, strangely enough, are unknown in England, and some fragments of Byron translated from French versions.

A large, sluggish man with no passions save poetry, he seldom moved from his warm castle and its fifty thousand crested books, and had been known to spend two years in bed reading and writing after which, much refreshed, he went for the first and only time to London, but the weather was foggy, and he could not understand the language, and so went back to bed for another year.

English being Conmal's prerogative, his Shakspere remained invulnerable throughout the greater part of his long life. The venerable Duke was famed for the nobility of his work; few dared question its fidelity. Personally, I had never the heart to check it. One callous Academician who did, lost his seat in result and was severely reprimanded by Conmal in an extraordinary sonnet composed directly in colorful, if not quite correct, English, beginning:


I am not slave! Let be my critic slave.

I cannot be. And Shakespeare would not want thus.

Let drawing students copy the acanthus,

I work with Master on the architrave!


In the same diary entry of Oct. 22, 1920, Blok mentions Mikhail Lozinsky, a translator superior to Zhukovski (in Gumilyov's opinion):


М. Лозинский перевёл из Леконта де Лилля — Мухаммед Альмансур, погребённый в саване своих побед. Глыбы стихов высочайшей пробы. Гумилёв считает его переводчиком выше Жуковского.


In his EO Commentary (vol. II, pp. 235-236) VN points out that "gentle Zhukovski made (in 1818, Lesnoy tsar') a miserable hash of Goethe's hallucinatory Erlkönig (as Lermontov was to do, in 1840, Gornye vershiny, of the marvelous Über allen Gipfeln). On the other hand, there are readers who prefer Pushkin's Scene from Faust (1825) to the whole of Goethe's Faust, in which they distinguish a queer strain of triviality impairing the pounding of its profundities." Gogol famously said that Pushkin's Scene from Faust was better than the whole of Goethe's Faust, the words to which VN would probably subscribe.


Goethe's poem Über allen Gipfeln ("Above all summits") ends in the lines:


Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.


Just wait, soon
you will rest as well.


This seems to suggest that, immediately after writing the date under his Foreword ("Oct. 19, 1959, Cedarn, Utana"), Kinbote commits suicide. In “The Secret of Three. Egypt and Babylon” Merezhkovski quotes the words of Goethe who said (in his conversations with Eckermann), laughing, that three (the Trinity) would never be one. There is a hope that, after Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin's epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again.