Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025190, Fri, 14 Mar 2014 00:14:23 +0300

Revelation, Revolution, Altar & Palermontovia in Ada
Revelation can be more perilous than Revolution. Sick minds identified the notion of a Terra planet with that of another world and this 'Other World' got confused not only with the 'Next World' but with the Real World in us and beyond us. Our enchanters, our demons, are noble iridescent creatures with translucent talons and mightily beating wings; but in the eighteen-sixties the New Believers urged one to imagine a sphere where our splendid friends had been utterly degraded, had become nothing but vicious monsters, disgusting devils, with the black scrota of carnivora and the fangs of serpents, revilers and tormentors of female souls... (1.3)

The poet whom the Russian radical critics attacked most violently in the 1860s was Afanasiy Fet (1820-92). Fet's poem Avaddon ("Abaddon," 1883) is a re-telling of Chapter 9 of St. John's Revelation:

Ангел, и лев, и телец, и орёл -
Все шестикрылые - держат престол,
А над престолом, над тем, кто сидит,
Радуга ярким смарагдом горит.
Молнии с громом по небу летят,
И раздаётся из них: 'Свят, свят, свят!'
Вот проносящийся ангел трубит,
С треском звезда к нам на землю летит,
Землю прошибла до бездны глухой,
Вырвался дым, как из печи большой.
Медными крыльями грозно стуча,
Вышла из дыма с коня саранча.
Львиные зубы, коса как у жён,
Хвост скорпионовым жалом снабжён.
Царь её гордой сияет красой,
То Аваддон, ангел бездны земной.
Будут терзать вас и жалить - и вот
Смерть призовете, и смерть не придёт;
Пусть же изведает всякая плоть,
Что испытания хочет господь!

The angel, the lion, the calf and the eagle -
all of them six-winged - hold the throne.
And over the throne and the one who sits in it
Raduga [the rainbow] shines brightly...

Raduga was the Durmanovs' favorite domain:

The Durmanovs' favorite domain, however, was Raduga near the burg of that name, beyond Estotiland proper, in the Atlantic panel of the continent between elegant Kaluga, New Cheshire, U.S.A., and no less elegant Ladoga, Mayne, where they had their town house and where their three children were born: a son, who died young and famous, and a pair of difficult female twins. (1.1)

Lev means "lion" but is also the zodiacal constellation Leo, telets means "calf" but is also the zodiacal constellation Taurus. In his poem Voina ("The War," 1923), in which Apollyon (or Abaddon, "the destroyer") speaks (parts 2 and 3 of the poem), Voloshin points out that the World War I began when the sun was in the constellation Leo:

И видел я: разверзлись двери неба
В созвездьи Льва, и бесы
На землю ринулись...
Сгрудились люди по речным долинам,
Означивши великих царств межи
И вырывши в земле
Ходы, змеиные и мышьи тропы,
Пасли стада прожорливых чудовищ:
И пастыри и пища.

And I saw: the doors of heaven opened wide
in the constellation of Leo, and the demons
rushed to the earth...

Horoscopically, VN (born April 23, 1899, NS) was Telets (Taurus). Aqua Durmanov married Demon Veen "on Shakespeare's [and VN's] birthday:"

On April 23, 1869, in drizzly and warm, gauzy and green Kaluga, Aqua, aged twenty-five and afflicted with her usual vernal migraine, married Walter D. Veen, a Manhattan banker of ancient Anglo-Irish ancestry who had long conducted, and was soon to resume intermittently, a passionate affair with Marina. (ibid.)

On the other hand, "St. Taurus" was Aqua's last hospital:

Marina [pregnant with Ada] had spent a rukuliruyushchiy month with him [Demon Veen] at Kitezh but when she smugly divulged her intentions (just before Aqua's arrival) he threw her out of the house. Still later, on the last short lap of a useless existence, Aqua scrapped all those ambiguous recollections and found herself reading and rereading busily, blissfully, her son's letters in a luxurious 'sanastoria' at Centaur, Arizona.
...The astorium in St Taurus, or whatever it was called (who cares - one forgets little things very fast, when afloat in infinite non-thingness) was, perhaps, more modem, with a more refined desertic view, than the Mondefroid bleakhouse horsepittle, but in both places a demented patient could outwit in one snap an imbecile pedant. (1.3)

Kitezh is a poem (1919) by Voloshin from his book Neopalimaya kupina, stikhi o voine i revolyutsii ("The Burning Bush, the Poems about War and Revolution"). The contemporaries compared Voloshin's appearence to that of Zeus, the god who pops up in Aqua's delirium:

...guide will go on demonstrating as he did this very morning in Florence a silly pillar commemorating, he said, the 'elmo' that broke into leaf when they carried stone-heavy-dead St Zeus by it through the gradual, gradual shade... (1.3)

St. John's Revelation was written in Patmos, an island in the Archipelago where Pan (another Greek god) died. In his poem Evropa ("Europe," 1918) included in Neopalimaya kupina Voloshin speaks of the islands of the Archipelago (the Aegean Sea):

Полярным льдам уста её открыты,
У пояса, среди сапфирных влаг,
Как пчельный рой у чресел Афродиты,
Раскинул острова Архипелаг.
Сюда ведут страстных желаний тропы,
Здесь матерние органы Европы,
Здесь, жгучие дрожанья затая, -
В глубоких влуминах укрытая стихия,
Чувствилище и похотник ея, -
Безумила народы Византия.

According to Voloshin, the islands of the Archipelago are Europe's maternal organs, her chuvstvilishche (sensual center) and pokhotnik (clitoris), where the Byzantine Empire maddened the nations. Poor mad Aqua told her doctor:

'I know you want to examine my pudendron, the Hairy Alpine Rose in her [Marina's] album, collected ten years ago' (showing her ten fingers gleefully, proudly, ten is ten!). ... Jigsaw pieces of sky or wall came apart, no matter how delicately put together, but a careless jolt or a nurse's elbow can disturb so easily those lightweight fragments which became incomprehensible blancs of anonymous objects, or the blank backs of 'Scrabble' counters, which she could not turn over sunny side up, because her hands had been tied by a male nurse with Demon's black eyes. (1.3)

Years later, in a Scrabble game played in Ardis by Van, Ada and Lucette, the latter's six letters form the word KLITOR (clitoris):

'- I got stuck with six Buchstaben in the last round of a Flavita game. Mind you, I was eight and had not studied anatomy, but was doing my poor little best to keep up with two Wunderkinder. You examined and fingered my groove and quickly redistributed the haphazard sequence which made, say, LIKROT or ROTIKL and Ada flooded us both with her raven silks as she looked over our heads, and when you had completed the rearrangement, you and she came simultaneously, si je puis le mettre comme ca (Canady French), came falling on the black carpet in a paroxysm of incomprehensible merriment; so finally I quietly composed ROTIK ('little mouth') and was left with my own cheap initial.' (2.5)

As she talks to Van, Lucette mentions the secret chuvstvilishche (a rare obsolete word used by Voloshin in "Europe") of a top-secret drawer in her grandmother's secretaire:

'Well, that secretaire,' continued Lucette, considering her left shoe, her very chic patent-leather Glass shoe, as she crossed her lovely legs, 'that secretaire enclosed a folded card table and a top-secret drawer. And you thought, I think, it was crammed with our grandmother's love letters, written when she was twelve or thirteen. And our Ada knew, oh, she knew, the drawer was there but she had forgotten how to release the orgasm or whatever it is called in card tables and bureaus.'
Whatever it is called.
'She and I challenged you to find the secret chuvstvilishche (sensorium) and make it work. It was the summer Belle sprained her backside, and we were left to our own devices, which had long lost the particule in your case and Ada's, but were touchingly pure in mine. You groped around, and felt, and felt for the little organ, which turned out to be a yielding roundlet in the rosewood under the felt you felt - I mean, under the felt you were feeling: it was a felted thumb spring, and Ada laughed as the drawer shot out.' (ibid.)

Van's, Ada's and Lucette's maternal grandmother Daria ('Dolly') Durmanov (born Zemski) is the mother of the twins Aqua and Marina.

Actually, Aqua was less pretty, and far more dotty, than Marina. During her fourteen years of miserable marriage she spent a broken series of steadily increasing sojourns in sanatoriums. A small map of the European part of the British Commonwealth - say, from Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia - as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina, might be quite thickly prickled with enameled red-cross-flag pins, marking, in her War of the Worlds, Aqua's bivouacs. (1.3)

Altar hints at Gibraltar. On the other hand, zhivoy altar' mirozdan'ya (the living altar of the cosmos) is mentioned by Fet in one of his most famous poems:

Die Gleichmaessigkeit des Laufes der
Zeit in allen Kopfen beweist mehr, als
irgend etwas, dass wir Alle in denselben
Traum versenkt sind, ja dass es Ein Wesen
ist, welches ihn traumt. Schopenhauer


Измучен жизнью, коварством надежды,
Когда им в битве душой уступаю,
И днём и ночью смежаю я вежды
И как-то странно порой прозреваю.

Ещё темнее мрак жизни вседневной,
Как после яркой осенней зарницы,
И только в небе, как зов задушевный,
Сверкают звёзд золотые ресницы.

И так прозрачна огней бесконечность,
И так доступна вся бездна эфира,
Что прямо смотрю я из времени в вечность
И пламя твоё узнаю, солнце мира.

И неподвижно на огненных розах
Живой алтарь мирозданья курится,
В его дыму, как в творческих грёзах,
Вся сила дрожит и вся вечность снится.

И всё, что мчится по безднам эфира,
И каждый луч, плотской и бесплотный,-
Твой только отблеск, о солнце мира,
И только сон, только сон мимолетный.

И этих грёз в мировом дуновеньи
Как дым несусь я и таю невольно,
И в этом прозреньи, и в этом забвеньи
Легко мне жить и дышать мне не больно.


В тиши и мраке таинственной ночи
Я вижу блеск приветный и милый,
И в звёздном хоре знакомые очи
Горят в степи над забытой могилой.

Трава поблекла, пустыня угрюма,
И сон сиротлив одинокой гробницы,
И только в небе, как вечная дума,
Сверкают звёзд золотые ресницы.

И снится мне, что ты встала из гроба,
Такой же, какой ты с земли отлетела,
И снится, снится: мы молоды оба,
И ты взглянула, как прежде глядела.

By life tormented, and by cunning hope,
When my soul surrenders in its battle with them,
Day and night I press my eyelids closed
And sometimes I'm vouchsafed peculiar visions.

The gloom of quotidian existence deepens,
As after a bright flash of autumn lightning,
And only in the sky, like a call from the heart,
The stars' golden eyelashes sparkle.

And the flames of infinity are so transparent,
And the entire abyss of ether is so close,
That I gaze direct from time into eternity
And recognize your flame, universal sun.

Motionless, encircled by fiery roses,
The living altar of the cosmos smolders
And in its smoke, as in creative slumber,
All forces quiver, eternity's a dream.

And all that rushes through the abyss of ether,
And every ray, embodied or ethereal,-
Is but your reflection, O universal sun,
It is but a dream, but a fleeting dream.

Through the worldly breath of these reveries
I fly like smoke, involuntarily disperse,
And in this vision, in this delirium,
I can live with ease and breathe without pain.

In the darkness and still of a mysterious night
I see a fond and welcoming spark,
From the chorus of spheres, familiar eyes
Shine upon a grave forgotten in the steppe.

The grass has faded, the desert is grim,
A lonely tomb dreams an orphan's dream,
And only in the sky, like an eternal idea,
The stars' golden eyelashes sparkle.

And I dream you've risen from the dead,
Unchanged since you departed the earth,
And I dream a dream: we both are young,
And you've looked at me as you did back then.

The poem's second part "V tishi i mrake tainstvennoy nochi" was, I believe, the favorite piece of poetry of VN's father.

As to "Palermontovia," it blends Palermo, the biggest city in Sicily, with Lermontov, the author of "Demon" (1829-39) and the prophetic Son ("The Dream," 1841). Like Lermontov's poem, VN's Ada seems to be a triple dream (see my article "Ada as a Triple Dream"). Btw., Lermontov (who once signed at the city gate "Skot Churbanov,* a Russian nobleman") believed that he was a descendant of Count Thomas Learmont, a Scottish poet and mystic of the 13th century.

Lermontov became popular after he wrote Smert' poeta ("The Poet's Death," 1837), a poem on Pushkin's death. In his sonnet Poetu ("To a Poet," 1830) Pushkin mentions altar':

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.

A poet! Do not prize the love of people around,
It soon will pass -- the glorifying hum --
And come a court of fools and laughing of cold crowd --
But you must always stay firm, morose and calm.

You're king: live lonesome. Along the freedom's road,
Stride there, to where just shows your free mind,
While modernizing fruits of thoughts, beloved,
And not demanding you to be awarded.

Awards inside of you. You are your highest court;
Severely then all, you value your effort.
Well, are you satisfied, oh, my severe artist?

You're satisfied. Then let the mob condemn your verse,
Spit at the altar, where your fire burns,
And shake your tripod with a childish wildness.
(Transl. Evg. Bonver)

Koleblemyi trenozhnik ("The Shaken Tripod," 1921) is Hodasevich's famous speech on Pushkin. Hodasevich (the author of "European Night," 1927) announced in it that Pushkin was the parole, the password, by which cultured Russians would recognize each other in the “encroaching darkness” of the twilight of civilization.

Pushkin is also the author of Besy ("The Demons," 1830) and Ne dai mne Bog soiti s uma ("The Lord forbid my going mad..." 1833). Several stanzas of the former great poem Dostoevski chose as an epigraph to his novel Besy ("The Possessed," 1872). Its main character, Nikolay Stavrogin, marries Maria Lebyadkin, a lame girl who goes mad. Dostoevski's favorite poem of Pushkin (often recited by the author of The Double) was Prorok ("The Prophet," 1826):

Духовной жаждою томим,
В пустыне мрачной я влачился, -
И шестикрылый серафим
На перепутье мне явился.
Перстами легкими как сон
Моих зениц коснулся он.
Отверзлись вещие зеницы,
Как у испуганной орлицы.
Моих ушей коснулся он, -
И их наполнил шум и звон:
И внял я неба содроганье,
И горний ангелов полет,
И гад морских подводный ход,
И дольней лозы прозябанье.
И он к устам моим приник,
И вырвал грешный мой язык,
И празднословный и лукавый,
И жало мудрыя змеи
В уста замершие мои
Вложил десницею кровавой.
И он мне грудь рассек мечом,
И сердце трепетное вынул,
И угль, пылающий огнем,
Во грудь отверстую водвинул.
Как труп в пустыне я лежал,
И бога глас ко мне воззвал:
"Восстань, пророк, и виждь, и внемли,
Исполнись волею моей,
И, обходя моря и земли,
Глаголом жги сердца людей".

My lonely heart athirst, I trod
A barren waste when, so 'twas fated,
A six-wing'd seraph 'fore me stood:
Where crossed the desert roads he waited.
Upon my orbs of sightless clay
His fingers lightly he did lay.
And like a startled eagle round me
I gazed and saw the earth surrounded,
Hemmed in by sky... He touched my ear,
Then t'other, and, most marked and clear,
There came to me the gentle flutter
Of angels' wings, I heard the vine
Push through the earth and skyward climb,
The deep-sea monsters in the water
Like tiny fishes glide... And o'er
Me calm he bent and out he tore
My sinful tongue... Not once withdrawing
His gaze from mine, he pushed, unseen,
A serpent's clever sting between
My ice-cold lips... Then, swiftly drawing
His shining sword, he clove my breast,
Plucked out my quivering heart, and, sombre
And grim of aspect, coolly thrust
Into the gaping hole an ember
That ran with flame... I lay there, dead,
And God, God spake, and this He said:
"Arise, O sage! My summons hearing,
Do as I bid, by naught deterred;
Stride o'er the earth, a prophet, searing
The hearts of men with righteous word."
(transl. by Irina Zheleznov)

Note the six-winged seraph and the wise sting of a serpent!

*Brute Blockhead

Alexey Sklyarenko

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