cicada & Colonel Gusev in Pale Fire; magic carpet in Lolita

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sun, 02/17/2019 - 07:38

In Canto Two of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions a singing cicada:

 

Today I'm sixty-one. Waxwings

Are berry-pecking. A cicada sings. (ll. 181-182)

 

At the end of his poem Solntse (“The Sun,” 1923) translated by DN as Provence VN mentions latinskiy lepet tsikad (cicadas trilling with a Latin lisp):

 

Слоняюсь переулками без цели,

прислушиваюсь к древним временам:

при Цезаре цикады те же пели,

и то же солнце стлалось по стенам.

 

Поёт платан, и ствол в пятнистом блеске;

поёт лавчонка; можно отстранить

легко звенящий бисер занавески:

поёт портной, вытягивая нить.

 

И женщина у круглого фонтана

поёт, полощет синее бельё,

и пятнами ложится тень платана

на камни, на корзину, на неё.

 

Как хорошо в звенящем мире этом

скользить плечом вдоль меловых оград,

быть русским заблудившимся поэтом

средь лепета латинского цикад!

 

I wander aimlessly from lane to lane,

bending a careful ear to ancient times:

the same cicadas sang in Caesar’s reign,

upon the walls the same sun clings and climbs.

 

The plane tree sings: with light its trunk is pied;

the little shop sings: delicately tings

the bead-stringed curtain that you push aside

and, pulling on his thread, the tailor sings.

 

And at a fountain with a rounded rim,

rinsing blue linen, sings a village girl,

and mottle shadows of the plane tree swim

over the stone, the wickerwork, and her.

 

What bliss it is, in this world full of song,

to brush against the chalk of walls, what bliss

to be a Russian poet lost among

cicadas trilling with a Latin lisp!

 

In his essay Mys Guron (“Cape Huron,” 1929) Kuprin says that the Provencal cicada is a creature that certainly suffers from an erotic derangement and mentions a Russian lady who thought that cicada was a bird:

 

Да, провансальская цикада – это существо, которое бесспорно страдает эротическим умопомешательством. От раннего света до последнего света и даже позднее они бесстыдно кричат о любви. Никому не известно, когда они успевают покушать. Цикада-самец целый день барабанит своими ножками по каким-то звучащим перепонкам на брюшке, призывая громко и нагло самочку. Оттого-то его жизнь так и недолговечна: всего три дня. Как себя ведут в это время самки, я не знаю, да, по правде сказать, и не интересуюсь. Это дело специалистов. Я не берусь описать неумолчный крик цикад. По-моему, самое лучшее его описание сделал покойный поэт Александр Рославлев. Он говорил, что этот крик похож на тот трещащий звук, который мы слышим, заводя карманные часы. Так вот, вообразите, что триста тысяч опытных, ловких, но нетерпеливых часовщиков заводят наперегонки все часы в своем магазине, но только крик цикад раз в сто громче.

Одна моя знакомая дама сказала мне в Ля-Фавьере:

– Однако какие надоедливые эти птицы – цикады! А когда я поймал и принёс ей эту муху, очень похожую на нашу шпанскую муху, она сказала обиженно:

– Ах, я думала, что это такая птичка. И наружность у неё отвратительна, и голос у неё препротивный! (chapter I)

 

Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla, Kinbote suffers not only from megalomania and persecution mania, but is also sexually abnormal and asks God to rid him of his love for little boys:

 

After winding for about four miles in a general eastern direction through a beautifully sprayed and irrigated residential section with variously graded lawns sloping down on both sides, the highway bifurcates: one branch goes left to New Wye and its expectant airfield; the other continues to the campus. Here are the great mansions of madness, the impeccably planned dormitories - bedlams of jungle music - the magnificent palace of the Administration, the brick walls, the archways, the quadrangles blocked out in velvet green and chrysoprase, Spencer House and its lily pond, the Chapel, New Lecture Hail, the Library, the prisonlike edifice containing our classrooms and offices (to be called from now on Shade Hall), the famous avenue to all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare, a distant droning sound, the hint of a haze, the turquoise dome of the Observatory, wisps and pale plumes of cirrus, and the poplar-curtained Roman-tiered football field, deserted on summer days except for a dreamy-eyed youngster flying - on a long control line in a droning circle - a motor-powered model plane.

Dear Jesus, do something. (note to Lines 47-48)

 

The author of Lyudi-ptitsy ("Men-Birds," 1917), Poteryannoe serdtse ("The Lost Heart," 1931) and a memoir essay (1915) on Utochkin (the sportsman and airman whose name comes from utochka, “little duck”), Kuprin mentions Santos Dumont and his Demoiselle in his story Volshebnyi kovyor ("The Magic Carpet," 1919):

 

Первый настоящий полёт, мы думаем, совершил всё-таки несколько месяцев спустя Сантос Дюмон, очертивший на своём аэроплане "Demoiselle" изящную восьмерку между двумя парижскими вершинами - башней Эйфеля и собором Парижской богоматери.
Надо сказать, что к этому времени он окончательно забыл о волшебном ковре с арабской надписью и о своём сказочном полёте. Но есть, однако, в этом удивительном аппарате, в человеческом мозгу, какие-то таинственные кладовые, в которых, независимо от нашей воли и желания, хранится бережно
всё, что мы когда-либо видели, слышали, читали, думали или чувствовали - всё равно, было ли это во сне, в грёзах или наяву.

 

Kuprin compares Santos Dumont's first flight in Paris, between the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame, to izyashchnaya vos’myorka (an elegant figure of eight) in the sky. In his poem (1904) I. Annenski (who wrote under the penname Nik. T-o, “Mr Nobody”) compares the infinity symbol  to oprokinutoe 8 (a figure of eight toppled over):

 

Девиз Таинственной похож
На опрокинутое 8:
Она - отраднейшая ложь
Из всех, что мы в сознаньи носим.

 

The infinity symbol is sometimes called “lemniscate.” In Canto One of his poem Shade mentions a lemniscate left upon wet sand by nonchalantly deft bicycle tires:

 

In sleeping dreams I played with other chaps

But really envied nothing - save perhaps

The miracle of a lemniscate left

Upon wet sand by nonchalantly deft

Bicycle tires. (ll. 135-139)

 

According to Kuprin, Utochkin was a professional cyclist:

 

В велосипедных состязаниях он выступал, как профессионал, сделал себе громкое имя на русских и заграничных ипподромах, установил в своё время несколько видных рекордов и зарабатывал большие деньги.

 

Describing King Alfin’s passion for flying apparatuses, Kinbote mentions a beloved Santos Dumont Demoiselle:

 

King's 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. 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)

 

Colonel Peter Gusev (whose name comes from gus’, “goose”) was born in 1885. In Kuprin’s story “The Magic Carpet” the action takes place in 1885 (when Santos Dumont, who was born in 1773, is twelve). The title of Kuprin’s story brings to mind the magic carpet mentioned by Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Lolita, 1955) in a poem that he composed in a madhouse after Lolita was abducted from him by Quilty:

 

Where are you riding, Dolores Haze?

What make is the magic carpet?

Is a Cream Cougar the present craze?

And where are you parked, my car pet? (2.25)

 

Lolita is twelve when Humbert Humbert first meets her in Ramsdale in the summer 1947. Humbert Humbert's pun on carpet brings to mind the pun of Kitten’s father in Chekhov’s story Ionych (1898), ya idu po kovru, ty idyosh’ poka vryosh… etc. (“I go on the carpet, you go while you lie, he goes while he lies”):

 

На дворе накрапывал дождь, было очень темно, и только по хриплому кашлю Пантелеймона можно было угадать, где лошади. Подняли у коляски верх.

— Я иду по ковру, ты идёшь, пока врёшь, — говорил Иван Петрович, усаживая дочь в коляску, — он идёт, пока врёт... Трогай! Прощайте пожалуйста!

 

It was spotting with rain; it was very dark, and they could only tell where the horses were by Panteleymon's husky cough. The hood of the carriage was put up.

"I stand upright; you lie down right; he lies all right," said Ivan Petrovich as he put his daughter into the carriage. (chapter III)

 

As she speaks to Dr Startsev (“Ionych”), Kitten mentions Pisemski and his funny patronymic:

 

— Что вы читали на этой неделе, пока мы не виделись? — спросил он теперь. — Говорите, прошу вас.

— Я читала Писемского.

— Что именно?— «Тысяча душ», — ответила Котик. — А как смешно звали Писемского: Алексей Феофилактыч!

 

"What have you been reading this week since I saw you last?" he asked now. "Do please tell me."

"I have been reading Pisemski."

"What exactly?"

"'A Thousand Souls,' "answered Kitten. "And what a funny name Pisemski had -- Alexey Feofilaktych!” (chapter II)

 

The title of Pisemski's novel, Tysyacha dush ("A Thousand Souls," 1858), brings to mind Gogol’s Myortvye dushi ("Dead Souls," 1842) and "A Thousand and One Nights" (an Arabic collection of fairy tales). Chekhov is the author of Tysyacha odna strast’, ili Strashnaya noch’ (“A Thousand and One Passions, or The Terrible Night,” 1880), a parody of Gothic story dedicated to Victor Hugo (the author of Notre Dame de Paris, 1831). At the beginning of his poem Notre Dame (1912) Mandelshtam mentions rimskiy sudiya (the Roman judge) who judged the alien nation:

 

Где римский судия судил чужой народ —
Стоит базилика, и — радостный и первый —
Как некогда Адам, распластывая нервы,
Играет мышцами крестовый лёгкий свод.

 

Kinbote’s landlord, Judge Goldsworth is an authority on Roman law. In Chekhov’s Ionych Ivan Petrovich Turkin (Kitten’s father) mentions rimskoe pravo (Roman law) and his wife Vera Iosifovna tells Dr. Startsev that her husband is an Othello:

 

-- Здравствуйте пожалуйста, -- сказал Иван Петрович, встречая его на крыльце. -- Очень, очень рад видеть такого приятного гостя. Пойдёмте, я представлю вас своей благоверной. Я говорю ему, Верочка, -- продолжал он, представляя доктора жене, -- я ему говорю, что он не имеет никакого римского права сидеть у себя в больнице, он должен отдавать свой досуг обществу. Не правда ли, душенька?

-- Садитесь здесь, -- говорила Вера Иосифовна, сажая гостя возле себя. -- Вы можете ухаживать за мной. Мой муж ревнив, это Отелло, но ведь мы постараемся вести себя так, что он ничего не заметит.

 

"How do you do, if you please?" said Ivan Petrovich, meeting him on the steps. "Delighted, delighted to see such an agreeable visitor. Come along; I will introduce you to my better half. I tell him, Verochka," he went on, as he presented the doctor to his wife --"I tell him that he has no human right* to sit at home in a hospital; he ought to devote his leisure to society. Oughtn't he, darling?"

"Sit here," said Vera Iosifovna, making her visitor sit down beside her. "You can dance attendance on me. My husband is jealous -- he is an Othello; but we will try and behave so well that he will notice nothing." (chapter I)

 

*“he has no Roman law/right” in the original (in Russian pravo means “law” and “right”)

 

In one of his conversations with Kinbote Shade lists Gogol and Chekhov among Russian humorists:

 

Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 172)

 

Pnin is the title character of a novel (1957) by VN. At the beginning of a poem that he contributed to the school magazine Liza Bogolepov’s son Victor (a character in Pnin) mentions Mona Lisa:

 

Leonardo! Strange diseases
strike at madders mixed with lead:
nun-pale now are Mona Lisa's
lips that you had made so red. (Chapter Four, 5)

 

Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Moan, Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Desdemona, Othello’s wife in Shakespeare’s Othello. The “real” name of both Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) and Queen Disa seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin). Hagia Sophia (1912) and Lastochka (“The Swallow,” 1920) are poems by Mandelshtam.

 

In his fragment Rim ("Rome," 1842) Gogol describes a carnival in Rome and mentions the great dead poet (il gran poeta morto) and his sonnet with a coda (sonetto colla coda):

 

Внимание толпы занял какой-то смельчак, шагавший на ходулях вравне с домами, рискуя всякую минуту быть сбитым с ног и грохнуться насмерть о мостовую. Но об этом, кажется, у него не было забот. Он тащил на плечах чучело великана, придерживая его одной рукою, неся в другой написанный на бумаге сонет с приделанным к нему бумажным хвостом, какой бывает у бумажного змея, и крича во весь голос: <Ecco il gran poeta morto. Ecco il suo sonetto colla coda!>

 

In a footnote Gogol says that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as a sonnet with the tail (con la coda) and explains what a coda is:

 

В итальянской 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.

 

Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade's almost finished poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade's poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Alexander Blok. According to G. Ivanov (the author of "The Third Rome" and an offensive article on Sirin in the Paris émigré review "Numbers"), to his question “does a sonnet need a coda” Blok replied that he did not know what a coda is. In his poem Kol’tso sushchestvovan’ya tesno (“The ring of existence is narrow…” 1909) Blok quotes the sayingall 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.

 

In his fragment “Rome” Gogol points out that a coda can be longer than the sonnet itself. Not only the last line of Shade's poem, but Kinbote's entire Foreword, Commentary and Index can be regarded as a coda of Shade's poem.

 

The three main characters in Pale Fire, the poet Shade, his commentator Kinbote and his murderer Gradus 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). There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin’s epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again.

 

I also recommend you the updated version of my previous post, "cicadas, Gradus, onhava-onhava, Izumrudov, Colonel Gusev & Starover Blue in Pale Fire."