Pink, Sybil Shade & Queen Disa in Pale Fire; Eugene & Lara in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Tue, 02/05/2019 - 17:07

Describing a conversation at the Faculty Club, Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) calls one of the interlocutors “Pink:”


Pictures of the King had not infrequently appeared in America during the first months of the Zemblan Revolution. Every now and then some busybody on the campus with a retentive memory, or one of the clubwomen who were always after Shade and his eccentric friend, used to ask me with the inane meaningfulness adopted in such cases if anybody had told me how much I resembled that unfortunate monarch. I would counter with something on the lines of "all Chinese look alike" and change the subject. One day, however, in the lounge of the Faculty Club where I lolled surrounded by a number of my colleagues, I had to put up with a particularly embarrassing onset. A visiting German lecturer from Oxford kept exclaiming, aloud and under his breath, that the resemblance was "absolutely unheard of," and when I negligently observed that all bearded Zemblans resembled one another - and that, in fact, the name Zembla is a corruption not of the Russian zemlya, but of Semblerland, a land of reflections, of "resemblers" - my tormentor said: "Ah, yes, but King Charles wore no beard, and yet it is his very face! I had [he added] the honor of being seated within a few yards of the royal box at a Sport Festival in Onhava which I visited with my wife, who is Swedish, in 1956. We have a photograph of him at home, and her sister knew very well the mother of one of his pages, an interesting woman. Don't you see [almost tugging at Shade's lapel] the astounding similarity of features - of the upper part of the face, and the eyes, yes, the eyes, and the nose bridge?"

"Nay, sir" [said Shade, refolding a leg and slightly rolling in his armchair as wont to do when about to deliver a pronouncement] "there is no resemblance at all. I have seen the King in newsreels, and there is no resemblance. Resemblances are the shadows of differences. Different people see different similarities and similar differences."
Good Netochka, who had been looking singularly uncomfortable during this exchange, remarked in his gentle voice how sad it was to think that such a "sympathetic ruler" had probably perished in prison.
A professor of physics now joined in. He was a so-called Pink, who believed in what so-called Pinks believe in (Progressive Education, the Integrity of anyone spying for Russia, Fall-outs occasioned solely by US-made bombs, the existence in the near past of a McCarthy Era, Soviet achievements including Dr. Zhivago, and so forth): "Your regrets are groundless" [said he]. "That sorry ruler is known to have escaped disguised as a nun; but whatever happens, or has happened to him, cannot interest the Zemblan people. History has denounced him, and that is his epitaph."
Shade: "True, sir. In due time history will have denounced everybody. The King may be dead, or he may be as much alive as you and Kinbote, but let us respect facts. I have it from him [pointing to me] that the widely circulated stuff about the nun is a vulgar pro-Extremist fabrication. The Extremists and their friends invented a lot of nonsense to conceal their discomfiture; but the truth is that the King walked out of the palace, and crossed the mountains, and left the country, not in the black garb of a pale spinster but dressed as an athlete in scarlet wool."
"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.
"I would rather say," remarked Mr. Pardon--American History--"that she looks like Judge Goldsworth" ("One of us," interposed Shade inclining his head), "especially when he is real mad at the whole world after a good dinner."
"I heard," hastily began Netochka, "that the Goldsworths are having a wonderful time--"
"What a pity I cannot prove my point," muttered the tenacious German visitor. "If only there was a picture here. Couldn't there be somewhere--"
"Sure," said young Emerald and left his seat.
Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or Botkine?"
Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla [sarcastically stressing the "Nova"].
"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?" asked my dear Shade.
"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).
Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English translation?"
"Oxford, 1956," I replied.
"You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other day, talking to--what's his name--oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing his lips].
Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].
Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for 'tire': punoo."
Shade: "Why, sir, I am afraid you have only punctured the difficulty" [laughing uproariously].
"Flatman," quipped I. "Yes," I went on, turning to Pardon, "I certainly do speak Russian. You see, it was the fashionable language par excellence, much more so than French, among the nobles of Zembla at least, and at its court. Today, of course, all this has changed. It is now the lower classes who are forcibly taught to speak Russian."
"Aren't we, too trying to teach Russian in our schools?" said Pink.
In the meantime, at the other end of the room, young Emerald had been communing with the bookshelves. At this point he returned with the the T-Z volume of an illustrated encyclopedia.
"Well," said he, "here he is, that king. But look, he is young and handsome" ("Oh, that won't do," wailed the German visitor.) "Young, handsome, and wearing a fancy uniform," continued Emerald. "Quite the fancy pansy, in fact."
"And you," I said quietly, "are a foul-minded pup in a cheap green jacket."
"But what have I said?" the young instructor inquired of the company, spreading out his palms like a disciple in Leonardo's Last Supper.
"Now, now," said Shade. "I'm sure, Charles, are young friend never intended to insult your sovereign and namesake."
"He could not, even if he had wished," I observed placidly, turning it all into a joke.
Gerald Emerald extended his hand--which at the moment of writing still remains in that position. (note to Line 894)

Pink brings to mind oblatka rozovaya (the pink wafer) that in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (Three: XXXII: 1-7) dries on Tatiana’s fevered tongue while she lingers to seal her letter to Onegin:

Татьяна то вздохнёт, то охнет
Письмо дрожит в её руке:
Облатка розовая сохнет
На воспалённом языке.

К плечу головушкой склонилась.
Сорочка лёгкая спустилась
С её прелестного плеча...

By turns Tatiana sighs and ohs.
The letter trembles in her hand;
the pink wafer dries
on her fevered tongue.
Her poor head shoulderward she has inclined;
her light chemise has slid
down from her charming shoulder.


In his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 397) VN writes:


Oblatka rozovaya: This was before the invention of envelopes; the folded letter was sealed by means of an adhesive disk of dried paste, colored pink in the present case. To this a personal seal might be added by letting a drop of gaudy wax fall upon the paper and impressing one’s monogram upon it (see XXXIII: 3-4).


“A drop of gaudy wax” brings to mind the waxwing mentioned by Shade in the first line of his poem: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain.”


Tatiana, who knew Russian badly, wrote her letter to Onegin in French. According to Pink, “we too are trying to teach Russian in our schools.”


Describing the beginning of Demon’s affair with Marina, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions Demon’s pink velvet chair and Marina’s pink dress:


Marina’s affair with Demon Veen started on his, her, and Daniel Veen’s birthday, January 5, 1868, when she was twenty-four and both Veens thirty.

As an actress, she had none of the breath-taking quality that makes the skill of mimicry seem, at least while the show lasts, worth even more than the price of such footlights as insomnia, fancy, arrogant art; yet on that particular night, with soft snow falling beyond the plush and the paint, la Durmanska (who paid the great Scott, her impresario, seven thousand gold dollars a week for publicity alone, plus a bonny bonus for every engagement) had been from the start of the trashy ephemeron (an American play based by some pretentious hack on a famous Russian romance) so dreamy, so lovely, so stirring that Demon (not quite a gentleman in amorous matters) made a bet with his orchestra-seat neighbor, Prince N., bribed a series of green-room attendants, and then, in a cabinet reculé (as a French writer of an earlier century might have mysteriously called that little room in which the broken trumpet and poodle hoops of a forgotten clown, besides many dusty pots of colored grease, happened to be stored) proceeded to possess her between two scenes (Chapter Three and Four of the martyred novel). In the first of these she had undressed in graceful silhouette behind a semitransparent screen, reappeared in a flimsy and fetching nightgown, and spent the rest of the wretched scene discussing a local squire, Baron d’O., with an old nurse in Eskimo boots. Upon the infinitely wise countrywoman’s suggestion, she goose-penned from the edge of her bed, on a side table with cabriole legs, a love letter and took five minutes to reread it in a languorous but loud voice for no body’s benefit in particular since the nurse sat dozing on a kind of sea chest, and the spectators were mainly concerned with the artificial moonlight’s blaze upon the lovelorn young lady’s bare arms and heaving breasts.

Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the message, Demon Veen had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded to win the wager, the success of his enterprise being assured by the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin, had been in love with him since their last dance on New Year’s Eve. Moreover, the tropical moonlight she had just bathed in, the penetrative sense of her own beauty, the ardent pulses of the imagined maiden, and the gallant applause of an almost full house made her especially vulnerable to the tickle of Demon’s moustache. She had ample time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had goofed — the word ‘samovars’ may have got garbled in the agent’s aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent dance called kurva or ‘ribbon boule’ in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.’s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat.

His heart missed a beat and never regretted the lovely loss, as she ran, flushed and flustered, in a pink dress into the orchard, earning a claque third of the sitting ovation that greeted the instant dispersal of the imbecile but colorful transfigurants from Lyaska — or Iveria. Her meeting with Baron O., who strolled out of a side alley, all spurs and green tails, somehow eluded Demon’s consciousness, so struck was he by the wonder of that brief abyss of absolute reality between two bogus fulgurations of fabricated life. Without waiting for the end of the scene, he hurried out of the theater into the crisp crystal night, the snowflakes star-spangling his top hat as he returned to his house in the next block to arrange a magnificent supper. By the time he went to fetch his new mistress in his jingling sleigh, the last-act ballet of Caucasian generals and metamorphosed Cinderellas had come to a sudden close, and Baron d’O., now in black tails and white gloves, was kneeling in the middle of an empty stage, holding the glass slipper that his fickle lady had left him when eluding his belated advances. The claqueurs were getting tired and looking at their watches when Marina in a black cloak slipped into Demon’s arms and swan-sleigh.

They reveled, and traveled, and they quarreled, and flew back to each other again. By the following winter he began to suspect she was being unfaithful to him, but could not determine his rival. In mid-March, at a business meal with an art expert, an easy-going, lanky, likeable fellow in an old-fashioned dress-coat, Demon screwed in his monocle, unclicked out of its special flat case a small pen-and-wash and said he thought (did not doubt, in fact, but wished his certitude to be admired) that it was an unknown product of Parmigianino’s tender art. It showed a naked girl with a peach-like apple cupped in her half-raised hand sitting sideways on a convolvulus-garlanded support, and had for its discoverer the additional appeal of recalling Marina when, rung out of a hotel bathroom by the phone, and perched on the arm of a chair, she muffled the receiver while asking her lover something that he could not make out because the bath’s voice drowned her whisper. Baron d’Onsky had only to cast one glance at that raised shoulder and at certain vermiculated effects of delicate vegetation to confirm Demon’s guess. D’Onsky had the reputation of not showing one sign of esthetic emotion in the presence of the loveliest masterpiece; this time, nonetheless, he laid his magnifier aside as he would a mask, and allowed his undisguised gaze to caress the velvety apple and the nude’s dimpled and mossed parts with a smile of bemused pleasure. Would Mr Veen consider selling it to him there and then, Mr Veen, please? Mr Veen would not. Skonky (a oneway nickname) must content himself with the proud thought that, as of today, he and the lucky owner were the sole people to have ever admired it en connaissance de cause. Back it went into its special integument; but after finishing his fourth cup of cognac, d’O. pleaded for one last peep. Both men were a little drunk, and Demon secretly wondered if the rather banal resemblance of that Edenic girl to a young actress, whom his visitor had no doubt seen on the stage in ‘Eugene and Lara’ or ‘Lenore Raven’ (both painfully panned by a ‘disgustingly incorruptible’ young critic), should be, or would be, commented upon. It was not: such nymphs were really very much alike because of their elemental limpidity since the similarities of young bodies of water are but murmurs of natural innocence and double-talk mirrors, that’s my hat, his is older, but we have the same London hatter. (1.2)


Eugene and Lara (the trashy ephemeron in which Marina played the heroine) seems to be a cross between Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (1957), a novel that Pink believes to be one of the Soviet achievements. On Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Pasternak’s novel is known as Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor, and Mertvago Forever (2.5).


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Les amours du Dr Mertvago: play on 'Zhivago' ('zhiv' means in Russian 'alive' and 'mertv' dead’).


In her essay Epos i lirika sovremennoy Rossii ("The Epic and Lyric Poetry of Contemporary Russia: Vladimir Mayakovski and Boris Pasternak," 1932) Marina Tsvetaev speaks of Proust and uses the words zhiv and mertv:


Когда я на каком-нибудь французском литературном собрании слышу все имена, кроме Пруста, и на своё невинное удивление: "Et Proust?" - "Mais Proust est mort, nous parlons des vivants", - я каждый раз точно с неба падаю; по какому же признаку устанавливают живость и умершесть писателя? Неужели X. жив, современен и действенен потому, что он может прийти на это собрание, а Марсель Пруст потому, что никуда уже ногами не придёт, - мертв? Так судить можно только о скороходах.

"Is X alive because he can attend this meeting and Marcel Proust dead, because he will never come anywhere with his feet? One can speak in such terms only of fast runners."


In her essay Marina Tsvetaev compares the reader's attempts to talk with Pasternak to the dialogues in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:


Попытка беседы читателя с Пастернаком мне напоминает диалоги из "Алисы в стране чудес", где на каждый вопрос следует либо запаздывающий, либо обскакивающий, либо вовсе не относящийся к делу ответ, - очень точный бы, ежели бы, - но здесь неуместный. Сходство объясняется введением в "Алисе" другого времени, времени сна, из которого никогда не выходит Пастернак.

According to Marina Tsvetaev, the resemblance can be explained by the fact that a different kind of time is introduced in Alice, the time of a dream within which Pasternak always remains.


On Antiterra Lewis Carroll’s books are known as Palace in Wonderland and Alice in the Camera Obscura:


A pointer of sunlight daubed with greener paint a long green box where croquet implements were kept; but the balls had been rolled down the hill by some rowdy children, the little Erminins, who were now Van's age and had grown very nice and quiet.
'As we all are at that age,' said Van and stooped to pick up a curved tortoiseshell comb - the kind that girls use to hold up their hair behind; he had seen one, exactly like that, quite recently, but when, in whose hairdo?
'One of the maids,' said Ada. 'That tattered chapbook must also belong to her, Les Amours du Docteur Mertvago, a mystical romance by a pastor.'
'Playing croquet with you,' said Van, 'should be rather like using flamingoes and hedgehogs.'
'Our reading lists do not match,' replied Ada. 'That Palace in Wonderland was to me the kind of book everybody so often promised me I would adore, that I developed an insurmountable prejudice toward it. (1.8)


Is there any mental uranium whose dream-delta decay might be used to measure the age of a recollection? The main difficulty, I hasten to explain, consists in the experimenter not being able to use the same object at different times (say, the Dutch stove with its little blue sailing boats in the nursery of Ardis Manor in 1884 and 1888) because of the two or more impressions borrowing from one another and forming a compound image in the mind; but if different objects are to be chosen (say, the faces of two memorable coachmen: Ben Wright, 1884, and Trofim Fartukov, 1888), it is impossible, insofar as my own research goes, to avoid the intrusion not only of different characteristics but of different emotional circumstances, that do not allow the two objects to be considered essentially equal before, so to speak, their being exposed to the action of Time. I am not sure, that such objects cannot be discovered. In my professional work, in the laboratories of psychology, I have devised myself many a subtle test (one of which, the method of determining female virginity without physical examination, today bears my name). Therefore we can assume that the experiment can be performed — and how tantalizing, then, the discovery of certain exact levels of decreasing saturation or deepening brilliance — so exact that the ‘something’ which I vaguely perceive in the image of a remembered but unidentifiable person, and which assigns it ‘somehow’ to my early boyhood rather than to my adolescence, can be labeled if not with a name, at least with a definite date, e.g., January 1, 1908 (eureka, the ‘e.g.’ worked — he was my father’s former house tutor, who brought me Alice in the Camera Obscura for my eighth birthday). (Part Four)


“That tattered chapbook" belongs to Blanche, a French handmaid at Ardis who is associated with Cendrillon. In her Povest' o Sonechke ("The Tale about Little Sonya," 1937) Marina Tsvetaev compares Sonya Gollidey to Zolushka (Cinderella):


А вы - Золушка, которая должна золу золить, пока другие танцуют.


In the night of the Burning Barn (when Van and Ada make love for the first time) Blanche cries “au feu!”:


A sort of hoary riddle (Les Sophismes de Sophie by Mlle Stopchin in the Bibliothèque Vieux Rose series): did the Burning Barn come before the Cockloft or the Cockloft come first. Oh, first! We had long been kissing cousins when the fire started. In fact, I was getting some Château Baignet cold cream from Ladore for my poor chapped lips. And we both were roused in our separate rooms by her crying au feu! July 28? August 4?

Who cried? Stopchin cried? Larivière cried? Larivière? Answer! Crying that the barn flambait?

No, she was fast ablaze — I mean, asleep. I know, said Van, it was she, the hand-painted handmaid, who used your watercolors to touch up her eyes, or so Larivière said, who accused her and Blanche of fantastic sins.

Oh, of course! But not Marina’s poor French — it was our little goose Blanche. Yes, she rushed down the corridor and lost a miniver-trimmed slipper on the grand staircase, like Ashette in the English version. (1.19)


Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): Mlle Stopchin: a representative of Mme de Ségur, née Rostopchine, author of Les Malheurs de Sophie (nomenclatorially occupied on Antiterra by Les Malheurs de Swann).


In her Povest' o Sonechke Marina Tsvetaev praises Mme de Segur's Nouveaux Contes de Fees published in the Bibliothèque Rose series:


Графиня де Сегюр - большая писательница, имевшая глупость вообразить себя бабушкой и писать только для детей. Прошу обратить внимание на её сказки <Nouveaux Contes de Fees> (Bibliotheque Rose) - лучшее и наименее известное из всего ею написанного - сказки совершенно-исключительные, потому что совершенно единоличные (без ни единого заимствования - хотя бы из народных сказок). Сказки, которым я верна уже четвёртый десяток, сказки, которые я уже здесь в Париже четырежды дарила и трижды сохранила, ибо увидеть их в витрине для меня - неизбежно - купить).


Sonya and Sonechka are diminutives of Sofia. The “real” name of both Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) and Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to be Sofia Botkin, born Lastochkin. Sivilla (“Sybil,” 1922-23) is a cycle of three poems by Marina Tsvetaev. Marina Tsvetaev’s poem Ne samozvanka – ya prishla domoy… (“I’m not an impostor, I came home…” 1918), in which she addresses her vozlyublennyi (beloved), ends in the line ya lastochka tvoya – Psikheya (I’m your swallow – Psyche):


Не самозванка — я пришла домой,
И не служанка — мне не надо хлеба.
Я — страсть твоя, воскресный отдых твой,
Твой день седьмой, твоё седьмое небо.


Там на земле мне подавали грош
И жерновов навешали на шею.
— Возлюбленный! — Ужель не узнаёшь?
Я ласточка твоя — Психея!


…My beloved! Don’t you recognize me?

I’m your swallow – Psyche!


Psyche is the Greek term for "soul" or "spirit." In his essay Taynyi smysl tragedii “Otello” (“The Secret Meaning of the tragedy Othello,” 1919) Alexander 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 спасть от хаоса.


Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone, Queen Disa seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Desdemona, Othello’s wife in Shakespeare’s Othello. Describing a conversation at the Faculty Club, Kinbote mentions Leonardo’s Last Supper. Taynaya vecherya (“The Last Supper,” 1937) is a poem by Mandelshtam. In his poem Kogda Psikheya-zhizn’ spusketsya k tenyam… (“When Psyche-life comes down to the shades…” 1920) Mandelshtam mentions slepaya lastochka (a blind swallow):


Когда Психея-жизнь спускается к теням
В полупрозрачный лес, вослед за Персефоной,
Слепая ласточка бросается к ногам
С стигийской нежностью и веткою зелёной.


At the end of his poem Net, ne spryatat'sya mne ot velikoy mury... ("No, I can't hide myself from the great nonsense..." 1931) Mandelshtam mentions kurva Moskva (Moscow the whore). According to  Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’), “raspberries; ribbon” are allusions to ludicrous blunders in Lowell’s versions of Mandelshtam’s poems (in the N.Y. Review, 23 December 1965).


Mertvago Forever brings to mind nadolgo… navsegda (for long… for ever), a phrase used by Pushkin at the end of EO (Eight: XLVIII: 10):


Она ушла. Стоит Евгений,
Как будто громом поражен.
В какую бурю ощущений
Теперь он сердцем погружен!
Но шпор незапный звон раздался,
И муж Татьянин показался,
И здесь героя моего,
В минуту, злую для него,
Читатель, мы теперь оставим,
Надолго... навсегда. За ним
Довольно мы путём одним
Бродили по свету. Поздравим
Друг друга с берегом. Ура!
Давно б (не правда ли?) пора!


She has gone. Eugene stands

as if by thunder struck.

In what a tempest of sensations

his heart is now immersed!

But there resounds a sudden clink of spurs,

and there appears Tatiana's husband,

and here my hero,

at an unfortunate minute for him,

reader, we now shall leave

for long... forever.... After him

sufficiently along one path

we've roamed the world. Let us congratulate

each other on attaining land. Hurrah!

It long (is it not true?) was time.


At the end of Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830) Salieri says ty zasnyosh’ nadolgo, Motsart (your sleep will be a long one, Mozart):


Ты заснёшь
Надолго, Моцарт! Но ужель он прав,
И я не гений? Гений и злодейство
Две вещи несовместные. Неправда:
А Бонаротти? Или это сказка
Тупой, бессмысленной толпы — и не был
Убийцею создатель Ватикана?


Your sleep
Will be a long one, Mozart. But is he right,
And I’m no genius? Genius and villainy
Are two things incompatible. Not true:
What about Buonarotti? Or is that just
A fable of stupid, senseless crowd,
And the Vatican’s creator was no murderer? (scene II)


Describing Demon’s sword duel with Baron d’Onsky, Van mentions smart little Vatican, a Roman spa:


Upon being questioned in Demon’s dungeon, Marina, laughing trillingly, wove a picturesque tissue of lies; then broke down, and confessed. She swore that all was over; that the Baron, a physical wreck and a spiritual Samurai, had gone to Japan forever. From a more reliable source Demon learned that the Samurai’s real destination was smart little Vatican, a Roman spa, whence he was to return to Aardvark, Massa, in a week or so. (1.2)


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


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


If 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)


In her essay Poety s istoriey i poety bez istorii (“Poets with a History and Poets without a History,” 1933) Marina Tsvetaev mentions a poet’s ya (I), “Faust or simply a poem of thousand lines,” Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri and twice repeats the word nikto (nobody):


Я поэта есть я сновидца плюс я словотворца. Поэтическое я — это я мечтателя, пробуждённое вдохновенной речью и в этой речи явленное…

Поэты с историей прежде всего поэты воли. Речь не о воле, осуществляющей деяние: никто не усомнится, что такая физическая громада, как “Фауст” или просто поэма в тысячу строк, не может возникнуть сама по себе. Без усилий воли могут возникнуть восемь, шестнадцать, редко двадцать строк — лирический прилив чаще всего приносит к нашим ногам осколки — хотя бы и самые драгоценные. Говорю о воле выбора, о воле — выборе. О решимости не только стать иным, но и именно таким иным. О решимости расстаться с сегодняшним собой. Решить, подобно герою сказки: направо, налево или прямо (но, подобно герою той же сказки, — никогда назад!). Пушкин, проснувшись однажды утром, решает: “Сегодня пишу Моцарта!” Воля выбора Моцарта — отказ от множества других видений и дел, жертва. Поэт с историей отбрасывает всё, что не лежит на линии его “стрелы” — его личности, его дара, его истории. Выбирает его непогрешимый инстинкт главного. И после завершения пушкинского пути у нас остается ощущение, что Пушкин не мог не создать того, что создал, и написать то, что он не написал. И никто из нас не жалеет, что он отказался от замысла “Мёртвых душ”, которые находились на гоголевской генеральной линии. (Поэт с историей имеет ещё и ясный взгляд на других. И Пушкин обладал таким взглядом.)


According to Marina Tsvetaev, a poet’s I is a dreamer’s I plus a wordsmith’s I. Shade and Kinbote teach at Wordsmith University.


Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin (nikto b in reverse). An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus (the poet’s murderer) after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). In his poem Net, ya ne Bayron, ya drugoy… (“No, I’m not Byron, I’m another…” 1832) that ends in the word nikto Lermontov mentions nadezhd razbitykh gruz (a load of broken hopes) that lies in his soul as in the ocean. In “Poets with a History and Poets without a History” Marina Tsvetaev mentions, among other great lyrical poets, Byron, Shelley and Lermontov:


Кто может рассказать о поэтическом пути (беру самых великих и бесспорных лириков) Гейне, Байрона, Шелли, Верлена, Лермонтова? Они заполонили мир своими чувствами, воплями, вздохами и видениями, залили его своими слезами, воспламенили со всех четырёх сторон своим негодованием…

Учимся ли мы у них? Нет. Мы из-за них и за них страдаем.

Так на мой русский лад перекраивается французская пословица: Les heureux nont pas dhistoire.


In his poem “The Nature of Electricity” (quoted by Kinbote in his Commentary) Shade mentions Shelley’s incandescent soul:


The dead, the gentle dead—who knows?—
In tungsten filaments abide,
And on my bedside table glows
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. (note to Line 347)


On Antiterra electricity was banned after the L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century (1.3). In her memoir essay on Maximilian Voloshin, Zhivoe o zhivom ("A Living Word about a Living Man," 1932), Marina Tsvetaev uses the phrases au beau milieu (right in the middle) and sem’ gradusov (seven degrees):


И внезапно – au beau milieu Victor Hugo Наполеону II – уже не вкрадчиво, а срочно: – А нельзя ли будет пойти куда-нибудь в другое место? – Можно, конечно, вниз тогда, но там семь градусов и больше не бывает.


After his duel with Demon d’Onsky (Skonky) married the Bohemian lady:


The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish — a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston — a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2)


Marina Tsvetaev’s poem Bohème (1917) begins as follows:


Помнишь плащ голубой,
Фонари и лужи?
Как играли с тобой
Мы в жену и мужа.

Do you remember the blue cloak,
Street lamps and puddles?
How we played
In wife and husband.