In Canto Three of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) calls 1958 “a year of Tempests” and mentions Mars:
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)
Hazel Shade (the poet’s daughter) drowned in Lake Omega in March 1957. In O marte (“On March”), the first part of his humorous Filologicheskie zametki (“Philological Notes,” 1885), Chekhov points out that March was named after Mars (the Roman god of war) and mentions Mars’ visiting card:
Месяц март получил своё название от Марса, который, если верить учебнику Иловайского, был богом войны. Формулярный список этого душки-военного затерян, а посему о личности его почти ничего не известно. Судя по характеру его амурных предприятий и кредиту, которым пользовался он у Бахуса, следует думать, что он, занимая должность бога войны, был причислен к армейской пехоте и имел чин не ниже штабс-капитана. Визитная карточка его была, вероятно, такова: «Штабс-капитан Марс, бог войны».
According to Chekhov, Mars’ visiting card looked probably like this: “Staff captain Mars, god of war.” Gradus (Shade’s murderer) calls the inscription in a privy in the garden of Joe Lavender’s villa “a fine visiting card:”
Although the house possessed at least half-a-dozen water closets, Mr. Lavender, in fond memory of his grandfather's Delaware farm, had installed a rustic privy under the tallest poplar of his splendid garden, and for chosen guests, whose sense of humor could stand it, he would unhook from the comfortable neighborhood of the billiard room fireplace a heart-shaped, prettily embroidered bolster to take with them to the throne.
The door was open and across its inner side a boy's hand had scrawled in charcoal: The King was here.
"That's a fine visiting card," remarked Gradus with a forced laugh. "By the way, where is he now, that king?"
"Who knows," said the boy striking his flanks clothed in white tennis shorts, "that was last year. I guess he was heading for the Côte d'Azur, but I am not sure."
Dear Gordon lied, which was nice of him. He knew perfectly well that his big friend was no longer in Europe; but dear Gordon should not have brought up the Riviera matter which happened to be true and the mention of which caused Gradus, who knew that Queen Disa had a palazzo there, to mentally slap his brow. (note to Line 408)
In a letter of April 23, 1890, to his sister Chekhov (who left Moscow on April 21 and was on his way to Sakhalin) says that an inexperienced person, like Ivanenko, can easily mistake the water-closet on the steamer (that took Chekhov from Yaroslavl to Perm) for a royal throne:
Пароход неважный. Самое лучшее в нём — это ватерклозет. Стоит он высоко, имея под собою четыре ступени, так что неопытный человек вроде Иваненко легко может принять его за королевский трон. Самое худшее на пароходе — это обед. Сообщаю меню с сохранением орфографии: щи зеле, сосиськи с капу, севрюшка фры, кошка запеканка; кошка оказалась кашкой. Так как деньги у меня нажиты по́том и кровью, то я желал бы, чтобы было наоборот, т. е. чтобы обед был лучше ватерклозета, тем более что после корнеевского сантуринского у меня завалило всё нутро, и я до самого Томска обойдусь без ватера.
A friend of Chekhov’s family, Ivanenko was a flutist. In a letter of Oct. 14, 1889, to Tchaikovsky (the composer) Chekhov says that the three cigarettes from a cigarette case forgotten by Tchaikovsky were smoked by the cellist (Semashko), the flutist (Ivanenko) and the teacher (Chekhov’s brother Ivan):
Очень, очень тронут, дорогой Пётр Ильич, и бесконечно благодарю Вас. Посылаю Вам и фотографию, и книги, и послал бы даже солнце, если бы оно принадлежало мне.
Вы забыли у меня портсигар. Посылаю Вам его. Трёх папирос в нём не хватает: их выкурили виолончелист, флейтист и педагог.
Sending to Tchaikovsky his photograph and books, Chekhov adds that he would have sent even the sun, had it belonged to him.
At the beginning of a letter of March 16, 1890, to Modest Tchaikovsky (the composer’s brother, librettist) Chekhov asks the permission to scratch off the thirteenth lastochka (swallow) on the notepaper:
Позвольте зачеркнуть тринадцатую ласточку, дорогой Модест Ильич: несчастливое число.
The maiden name of Sofia Botkin (the “real” name of both Sybil Shade, the poet’s wife, and Queen Disa, the wife of Charles the Beloved) is Sofia Lastochkin.
According to Miss Baud (Gordon’s governess), Gordon is a musical prodigy:
The music stopped as Gradus, confused by the whimsical shape of the house, hesitated before a glassed-in porch. An elderly footman in green appeared from a green side door and led him to another entrance. With a show of carelessness not improved by laborious repetition, Gradus asked him, first in mediocre French, then in worse English, and finally in fair German, if there were many guests staying in the house; but the man only smiled and bowed him into the music room. The musician had vanished. A harplike din still came from the grand piano upon which a pair of beach sandals stood as on the brink of a lily pond. From a window seat a gaunt jet-glittering lady stiffly arose and introduced herself as the governess of Mr. Lavender's nephew. Gradus mentioned his eagerness to see Lavender's sensational collection: this aptly defined its pictures of lovemaking in orchards, but the governess (whom the King had always called to her pleased face Mademoiselle Belle instead of Mademoiselle Baud) hastened to confess her total ignorance of her employer's hobbies and treasures and suggested the visitor's taking a look at the garden: "Gordon will show you his favorite flowers" she said, and called into the next room "Gordon!"
Rather reluctantly there came out a slender but strong-looking lad of fourteen or fifteen dyed a nectarine hue by the sun. He had nothing on save a leopard-spotted loincloth. His closely cropped hair was a tint lighter than his skin: His lovely bestial face wore an expression both sullen and sly. Our preoccupied plotter did not register any of these details and merely experienced a general impression of indecency.
"Gordon is a musical prodigy," said Miss Baud, and the boy winced. "Gordon, will you show the garden to this gentleman?" (note to Line 408)
In his Index Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) calls Gordon Krummholz “a musical prodigy and an amusing pet.” In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister whom Ada calls “pet”) calls her governess, Mlle Larivière, “Belle.” Lucette’s music teacher, Philip Rack (one of Ada’s lovers) is a flutist. Poisoned by his jealous wife, poor Rack dies in Ward Five (where hopeless cases are kept) of the Kalugano hospital (where Van recovers from a wound received in a pistol duel with Captain Tapper). In his essay on Chekhov (the author of “The Duel,” 1891, and “Ward Six,” 1892), Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), the philosopher Lev Shestov calls Chekhov pevets beznadezhnosti (a poet of hopelessness):
Чтобы в двух словах определить его тенденцию, я скажу: Чехов был певцом безнадежности. Упорно, уныло, однообразно в течение всей своей почти 25-летней литературной деятельности Чехов только одно и делал: теми или иными способами убивал человеческие надежды. В этом, на мой взгляд, сущность его творчества.
To define his tendency in a word, I would say that Chekhov was the poet of hopelessness. Stubbornly, sadly, monotonously, during all the years of his literary activity, nearly a quarter of a century long, Chekhov was doing one alone: by one means or another he was killing human hopes. Herein, I hold, lies the essence of his work. (I)
Shestov’s essay on Chekhov has for epigraph a line from Baudelaire’s poem Le Goût du néant (“The Taste for Nothingness”):
Résigne-toi, mon cœur, dors ton sommeil de brute.
(Resign yourself, my heart; sleep your brutish sleep.)
The name of Gordon’s governess, Mademoiselle Baud, seems to hint at Baudelaire. In a discarded variant (quoted by Kinbote in his Commentary) Shade mentions pets and poor Baudelaire:
A beautiful variant, with one curious gap, branches off at this point in the draft (dated July 6):
Strange Other World where all our still-born dwell,
And pets, revived, and invalids, grown well,
And minds that died before arriving there:
Poor old man Swift, poor —, poor Baudelaire
What might that dash stand for? Unless Shade gave prosodic value to the mute e in “Baudelaire,” which I am quite certain he would never have done in English verse (cp. “Rabelais,” line 501), the name required here must scan as a trochee. Among the names of celebrated poets, painters, philosophers, etc., known to have become insane or to have sunk into senile imbecility, we find many suitable ones. Was Shade confronted by too much variety with nothing to help logic choose and so left a blank, relying upon the mysterious organic force that rescues poets to fill it in at its own convenience? Or was there something else—some obscure intuition, some prophetic scruple that prevented him from spelling out the name of an eminent man who happened to be an intimate friend of his? Was he perhaps playing safe because a reader in his household might have objected to that particular name being mentioned? And if it comes to that, why mention it at all in this tragical context? Dark, disturbing thoughts. (note to Line 231)
Kinbote is afraid that this dash stands for his name. Actually, it stands for Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name). 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 means “hope.” There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin’s epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again.
Describing his squabble with Tapper, Van Veen (the narrator and main character in Ada) mentions the visiting cards:
The captain picked up his cap and lunged at the white-faced, black-haired young fop. Simultaneously Van felt somebody embrace him from behind in well-meant but unfair restraint. Not bothering to turn his head he abolished the invisible busybody with a light ‘piston blow’ delivered by the left elbow, while he sent the captain staggering back into his own luggage with one crack of the right hand. By now several free-show amateurs had gathered around them; so, breaking their circle, Van took his man by the arm and marched him into the waiting room. A comically gloomy porter with a copiously bleeding nose came in after them carrying the captain’s three bags, one of them under his arm. Cubistic labels of remote and fabulous places color-blotted the newer of the valises. Visiting cards were exchanged. ‘Demon’s son?’ grunted Captain Tapper, of Wild Violet Lodge, Kalugano. ‘Correct,’ said Van. ‘I’ll put up, I guess, at the Majestic; if not, a note will be left for your second or seconds. You’ll have to get me one, I can’t very well ask the concierge to do it.’ (1.42)
The hotel’s name brings to mind “the majestic touch” mentioned by Shade in Canto Three of his poem:
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)
In his Commentary Kinbote speaks of the impossibility to transform at one stroke "mountain" into "fountain" in other languages and mentions a series of misprints in a Russian text that finds a parallel in a similar series in English:
Translators of Shade's poem are bound to have trouble with the transformation, at one stroke, of "mountain" into "fountain:" it cannot be rendered in French or German, or Russian, or Zemblan; so the translator will have to put it into one of those footnotes that are the rogue's galleries of words. However! There exists to my knowledge one absolutely extraordinary, unbelievably elegant case, where not only two, but three words are involved. The story itself is trivial enough (and probably apocryphal). A newspaper account of a Russian tsar's coronation had, instead of korona (crown), the misprint vorona (crow), and when next day this apologetically "corrected," it got misprinted a second time as korova (cow). The artistic correlation between the crown-crow-cow series and the Russian korona-vorona-korova series is something that would have, I am sure, enraptured my poet. I have seen nothing like it on lexical playfields and the odds against the double coincidence defy computation. (note to Line 803)
In the same letter of Apr. 23, 1890, to his sister Chekhov calls the cows on the green banks of the Volga klassnye damy (“class ladies,” school chaperons, whose duty was to sit in the classroom while the girls were receiving instruction from a master):
На берегу бродят классные дамы и щиплют зелёную травку, слышится изредка пастушеский рожок.
Class ladies wander about on the banks, nipping at the green grass. The shepherd’s horn can be heard now and then.
In Chekhov’s story Dushechka (“The Darling,” 1899) the word pokhorony (funeral) in the telegram telling Olenka about the death of her husband is misprinted khokhorony (“fufuneral”).
A member of the Do-Re-La country club, Tapper (Van’s adversary in a pistol duel) brings to mind Chekhov’s story Tapyor (“The Ballroom Pianist,” 1885). Tapper’s second, Arwin Birdfoot is a lieutenant in the Guards:
He found them sitting in the lounge and requested them to settle matters rapidly — he had more important business than that. ‘Ne grubit’ sekundantam’ (never be rude to seconds), said Demon’s voice in his mind. Arwin Birdfoot, a lieutenant in the Guards, was blond and flabby, with moist pink lips and a foot-long cigarette holder. Johnny Rafin, Esq., was small, dark and dapper and wore blue suede shoes with a dreadful tan suit. Birdfoot soon disappeared, leaving Van to work out details with Johnny, who, though loyally eager to assist Van, could not conceal that his heart belonged to Van’s adversary. (1.42)
Guards is an anagram of Gradus. The name Arwin brings to mind Puteshestvie Darvina (Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle), a book mentioned by Chekhov in the same letter of Apr. 23, 1890, to his sister:
Кундасовой отдашьте французский атлас и путешествие Дарвина, стоящее на полке. Это по части Ивана.
The surname Birdfoot suggests bird ringing and brings to mind Shade’s parents (both of whom were ornithologists). In Canto One of his poem Shade mentions a pheasant’s footprints on the snow:
And then the gradual and dual blue
As night unites the viewer and the view,
And in the morning, diamonds of frost
Express amazement: Whose spurred feet have crossed
From left to right the blank page of the road?
Reading from left to right in winter's code:
A dot, an arrow pointing back; repeat:
Dot, arrow pointing back... A pheasant's feet!
Torquated beauty, sublimated grouse,
Finding your China right behind my house.
Was he in Sherlock Holmes, the fellow whose
Tracks pointed back when he reversed his shoes? (ll. 17-27)
The characters in VN’s novel Podvig (“Glory,” 1932) include Darwin, Martin’s best friend at Cambridge. Martin’s and Sonya’s Zoorland resembles Kinbote’s Zembla. At the end of VN’s novel Martin Edelweiss goes to Riga and then to “Zoorland,” crossing the Soviet-Latvian border. According to Kinbote, Jakob Gradus is the son of Martin Gradus (a Protestant minister in Riga).
The name Gordon seems to hint at Byron. When Byron was born (in 1788), he suffered from lameness and a twisted foot. After May Gray (Byron's nurse whose name brings to mind Gradus and Chekhov's story "On May") was fired (in 1799, the year of Pushkin's birth), Byron was put in the care of a "trussmaker to the General hospital", a man named Lavender, in hopes that he could be cured; however, Lavender instead abused the boy and would occasionally use him as a servant. After Byron exposed Lavender as a fool, Gordon took her son to visit Doctor Matthew Baillie in London. They took up residence at Sloane Terrace during the summer of 1799, and there Byron started to receive treatment, such as specially designed boots. Trussmaker makes orthopaedic boots. According to Kinbote (the author of a book on surnames), Botkin is one who makes bottekins (fancy footwear).
In a letter of Nov. 25, 1892, to Suvorin Chekhov says that the works of contemporary artists lack the alcohol that would intoxicate the reader/viewer, modestly compares his story “Ward Six” to lemonade and mentions Byron:
Ну-с, теперь об уме. Григорович думает, что ум может пересилить талант. Байрон был умён, как сто чертей, однако же талант его уцелел. Если мне скажут, что Икс понес чепуху оттого, что ум у него пересилил талант, или наоборот, то я скажу: это значит, что у Икса не было ни ума, ни таланта.
And now as to intellect, Sir Grigorovich (the author of “The Gutta-Percha Boy,” 1883, a story about a little circus acrobat) thinks that intellect can overwhelm talent. Byron was as smart as a hundred devils; nevertheless, his talent has survived intact. If we say that X talked nonsense because his intellect overwhelmed his talent or vice versa, then I say X had neither brains nor talent.
In his “Ode to Count Khvostov” (1825) Pushkin in jest compares Khvostov to Byron. The surname Khvostov comes from khvost (tail). In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol mentions the Italian sonet s khvostom (tailed sonnet), says that the Italian word for “tail” is coda and points out that a coda can be longer than the sonnet itself. 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 Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). In fact, 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.
Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) of Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Alexander Blok. According to G. Ivanov, to his question “does the sonnet need a coda” Blok replied that he did not know what a coda is.
In his poem Tyomnykh uz zemnogo zatochen'ya... ("The dark bonds of earthly imprisonment..." 1910) Mandelshtam says that he is pursued by a double:
Иногда со мной бывает нежен
И меня преследует двойник:
Как и я — он так же неизбежен
И ко мне внимательно приник.
According to G. Ivanov, he and Mandelshtam were so close and inseparable that they had a common visiting card (“Georgiy Ivanov and O. Mandelshtam”):
Я очень рад за Мандельштама, что молодые парижские стихотворцы его любят и еще больше рад за них: эта любовь многих из них больше приближает к поэзии, чем их собственные стихи. Но и я, право, чрезвычайно люблю поэзию Мандельштама и, кроме того, на моей стороне есть ещё то преимущество, что и его самого, чудаковатого, смешного, странного — неотделимого от его стихов, — люблю не меньше, и очень давно, очень близко знаю. Были времена, когда мы были настолько неразлучны, что у нас имелась, должно быть, единственная в мире, — визитная карточка: «Георгий Иванов и О. Мандельштам». Конечно, заказать такую карточку пришло в голову Мандельштаму, и, конечно, одному ему и могло прийти это в голову.
И разве не слышали наши «молодые поэты», что высокое и смешное, самое высокое и самое смешное, часто бывают переплетены так, что не разобрать, где начинается одно и кончается другое? Приведу для наглядности пример из жизни того же «чудака», «ангела», «комического персонажа» — из жизни поэта Мандельштама.
В «Tristia» (книге Мандельштама) есть крымские стихи: кто «Tristia» читал, тот уж, наверное, их помнит: одно из лучших стихотворений Мандельштама — одно из лучших русских стихотворений:
...Где обрывается Россия
Над морем чёрным и глухим.
...Как скоро ты смуглянкой стала
И к Спасу бедному пришла —
Не отрываясь, целовала,
А строгою в Москве была.
Нам остаётся только имя,
Блаженный звук, короткий срок,
Прими ж ладонями моими
Так вот — это написано в Крыму, написано до беспамятства влюблённым поэтом. Но поклонники Мандельштама, вообразив по этим данным (Крым, море, любовь, поэзия) картину, достойную кисти Айвазовского (есть, кстати, у Айвазовского такая картина, и прескверная: «Пушкин прощается с морем»), — поклонники эти несколько ошибутся.
The memoirist quotes (with gross mistakes) Mandelshtam’s poem composed in the Crimea and mentions Aivazovsky’s wretched painting “Pushkin’s Farewell to the Sea.” Aivazovsky's villa Shah-Mamai brings to mind Shahs in Canto Three of Shade's poem (“Mars glowed. Shahs married. Gloomy Russians spied”).
In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN says that in August 1888 his mother’s aunt Praskovia met Chekhov at dinner in Ayvazovski’s villa near Feodosia:
One of my mother’s happier girlhood recollections was having traveled one summer with her aunt Praskovia to the Crimea, where her paternal grandfather had an estate near Feodosia. Her aunt and she went for a walk with him and another old gentleman, the well-known seascape painter Ayvazovski. She remembered the painter saying (as he had said no doubt many times) that in 1836, at an exhibition of pictures in St. Petersburg, he had seen Pushkin, “an ugly little fellow with a tall handsome wife.” That was more than half a century before, when Ayvazovski was an art student, and less than a year before Pushkin’s death. She also remembered the touch nature added from its own palette—the white mark a bird left on the painter’s gray top hat. The aunt Praskovia, walking beside her, was her mother’s sister, who had married the celebrated syphilologist V. M. Tarnovski (1839–1906) and who herself was a doctor, the author of works on psychiatry, anthropology and social welfare. One evening at Ayvazovski’s villa near Feodosia, Aunt Praskovia met at dinner the twenty-eight-year-old Dr. Anton Chekhov whom she somehow offended in the course of a medical conversation. She was a very learned, very kind, very elegant lady, and it is hard to imagine how exactly she could have provoked the incredibly coarse outburst Chekhov permits himself in a published letter of August 3, 1888, to his sister. Aunt Praskovia, or Aunt Pasha, as we called her, often visited us at Vyra. She had an enchanting way of greeting us, as she swept into the nursery with a sonorous “Bonjour, les enfants!” She died in 1910. My mother was at her bedside, and Aunt Pasha’s last words were: “That’s interesting. Now I understand. Everything is water, vsyo—voda.” (Chapter Three, 3)
In a letter of July 22 (August 3 by the New Style), 1888, to his sister Chekhov writes:
Вчера я ездил в Шах-мамай, именье Айвазовского, за 25 вёрст от Феодосии. Именье роскошное, несколько сказочное; такие имения, вероятно, можно видеть в Персии. Сам Айвазовский, бодрый старик лет 75, представляет из себя помесь добродушного армяшки с заевшимся архиереем; полон собственного достоинства, руки имеет мягкие и подает их по-генеральски. Недалёк, но натура сложная и достойная внимания. В себе одном он совмещает и генерала, и архиерея, и художника и армянина, и наивного деда, и Отелло. Женат на молодой и очень красивой женщине, которую держит в ежах. Знаком с султанами, шахами и эмирами. Писал вместе с Глинкой «Руслана и Людмилу». Был приятелем Пушкина, но Пушкина не читал. В своей жизни он не прочел ни одной книги. Когда ему предлагают читать, он говорит: «Зачем мне читать, если у меня есть свои мнения?» Я у него пробыл целый день и обедал. Обед длинный, тягучий, с бесконечными тостами. Между прочим, на обеде познакомился я с женщиной-врачом Тарновской, женою известного профессора. Это толстый, ожиревший комок мяса. Если её раздеть голой и выкрасить в зелёную краску, то получится болотная лягушка. Поговоривши с ней, я мысленно вычеркнул её из списка врачей...
. . . Yesterday we went to Shah-Mamai Aivazovsky’s estate, twenty-five versts from Feodosia. It is a magnificent estate, rather like fairyland; such estates may probably be seen in Persia. Aivazovsky himself, a vigorous old man of seventy-five, is a mixture of a good-natured Armenian and an overfed bishop; he is full of dignity, has soft hands, and offers them like a general. He is not very intelligent, but is a complex nature worthy of attention. He combines in himself a general, a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old peasant, and an Othello. He is married to a young and very beautiful woman whom he rules with a rod of iron. He is friendly with Sultans, Shahs, and Amirs. He collaborated with Glinka in writing “Ruslan and Lyudmila.” He was a friend of Pushkin, but has never read him. He has not read a single book in his life. When it is suggested to him that he should read something he answers, “Why should I read when I have opinions of my own?” I spent a whole day in his house and had dinner there. The dinner was fearfully long, with endless toasts. By the way, at that dinner I was introduced to the lady doctor, wife of the well-known professor. She is a fat, bulky piece of flesh. If she were undressed and painted green she would look just like a frog. After talking to her I mentally scratched her off the list of women doctors. . . .
Aunt Pasha’s last words bring to mind the rack to which, according to G. Ivanov, Mandelshtam was put in Koktebel:
Мандельштам жил в Коктебеле. И так как он не платил за пансион и, несмотря на требования хозяев съехать или уплатить, — выезжать тоже не желал, то к нему применялась особого рода пытка, возможная только в этом «живописном уголке Крыма», — ему не давали воды. Вода в Коктебель привозилась издалека и продавалась бочками. — Ни реки, ни колодца не было — и Мандельштам хитростью и угрозами с трудом добивался от сурового хозяина или мегеры-служанки, чтобы ему дали графин воды: получив его, он выпивал, конечно, всё сразу и опять начиналась мука...
According to the (extremely unreliable) memoirist, Mandelshtam’s landlords did not give him water. At the end of his Commentary Kinbote quotes the words of his Zemblan nurse:
Many years ago - how many I would not care to say - I remember my Zemblan nurse telling me, a little man of six in the throes of adult insomnia: "Minnamin, Gut mag alkan, Pern dirstan" (my darling, God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty). Well, folks, I guess many in this fine hall are as hungry and thirsty as me, and I'd better stop, folks, right here. (note to Line 1000)
Zemblan for “devil,” Pern seems to hint at Perun (the Slavic god of thunder). Perunu (“To Perun,” 1913) is a poem by Khlebnikov, the author of Tam, gde zhili sviristeli… (“There where the waxwings lived…” 1908).
In Pushkin’s Podrazhaniya koranu (“Imitations of the Koran,” 1824), a cycle of nine poems, the last poem begins as follows:
И путник усталый на Бога роптал:
Он жаждой томился и тени алкал.
And the tired traveler grumbled at God:
he was thirsty and craved for a shade (teni alkal).
Pushkin is the author of a homoerotic poem Podrazhanie arabskomu (“Imitation of the Arabic,” 1835):
Отрок милый, отрок нежный,
Не стыдись, навек ты мой;
Тот же в нас огонь мятежный,
Жизнью мы живём одной.
Не боюся я насмешек:
Мы сдвоились меж собой,
Мы точь в точь двойной орешек
Под единой скорлупой.
Sweet lad, tender lad,
Have no shame, you’re mine for good;
We share a sole insurgent fire,
We live in boundless brotherhood.
I do not fear the gibes of men;
One being split in two we dwell,
The kernel of a double nut
Embedded in a single shell.
(transl. Michael Green)
Dvoynoy oreshek pod edinoy skorlupoy (a double nut embedded in a single shell) brings to mind not only Shade and Kinbote (or Kinbote and one of his catamites), but also Hazel Shade (who, as Kinbote admits, resembled him in certain respects). A Thousand and One Nights (a collection of fairy tales in Arabic) reminds one of 1001 lines of Shade’s poem.
The author of an offensive article on Sirin (VN's Russian nom de plume) in the Paris émigré review Chisla ("Numbers," 1930, #1), G. Ivanov died in August 1958. In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron, o bez sozhalen'ya... ("Like Byron to Greece, o without regret..." 1927) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon' (pale fire). At the beginning of his essay Chetvyortoe izmerenie ("The Fourth Dimension," 1929) G. Ivanov says that spiritualists are always a little funny and mentions the author of the "immortal" Sherlock Holmes who recently called spiritualism a religion:
Над спиритами смеются - и действительно, спириты всегда смешноваты. Таинственное у них тесно перепутано с комическим. Чего стоит хотя бы король бульварных романистов, автор <бессмертного> Шерлока Холмса в роли из великого мастера, объявивший, кстати, недавно спиритизм на каком-то конгрессе - excusez du peu - религией.
In a letter of March 23, 1903, to Gilyarovski Chekhov says that Gilyarovski's feuilleton Lyudi chetvyortogo izmereniya ("People of the Fourth Dimension") is superb and that he could not help laughing when he read it:
Милый дядя Гиляй, твои <Люди четвёртого измерения> великолепны, я читал и всё время смеялся. Молодец, дядя!
By "people of the fourth dimension" Gilyarovski means the symbolist poets (Balmont, Bryusov and their pupils):
Сцена наполнилась. Налево сели гг. К. Д. Бальмонт и В. Я. Брюсов - солидные, серьёзные. Напротив, в глубине, на семи стульях поместились семь "новых поэтов", семь "подбрюсков".
In his memoir essay "Bryusov" (1925) Hodasevich compares the relationships between Bryusov and Balmont to those between Salieri and Mozart in Pushkin's "Mozart and Salieri" (1830):
Его неоднократно подчёркнутая любовь к Бальмонту вряд ли может быть названа любовью. В лучшем случае это было удивление Сальери перед Моцартом.
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 free art. (Scene II)
Nikto b is Botkin (Shade's, Kinbote's and Gradus' "real" name) in reverse.