Golos Feniksa, Lute, Altar & Palermontovia in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 04/13/2019 - 09:31

When Andrey Vinelander (in VN’s novel Ada, 1969, Ada’s husband) falls ill, his sister Dorothy reads to him old issues of Golos Feniksa (“The Phoenix Voice,” a Russian-language newspaper in Arizona):


Much to Van’s amusement (the tasteless display of which his mistress neither condoned nor condemned), Andrey was laid up with a cold for most of the week. Dorothy, a born nurser, considerably surpassed Ada (who, never being ill herself, could not stand the sight of an ailing stranger) in readiness of sickbed attendance, such as reading to the sweating and suffocating patient old issues of the Golos Feniksa; but on Friday the hotel doctor bundled him off to the nearby American Hospital, where even his sister was not allowed to Visit him ‘because of the constant necessity of routine tests’ — or rather because the poor fellow wished to confront disaster in manly solitude.

During the next few days, Dorothy used her leisure to spy upon Ada. The woman was sure of three things: that Ada had a lover in Switzerland; that Van was her brother; and that he was arranging for his irresistible sister secret trysts with the person she had loved before her marriage. The delightful phenomenon of all three terms being true, but making nonsense when hashed, provided Van with another source of amusement.

The Three Swans overwinged a bastion. Anyone who called, flesh or voice, was told by the concierge or his acolytes that Van was out, that Madame André Vinelander was unknown, and that all they could do was to take a message. His car, parked in a secluded bosquet, could not betray his presence. In the forenoon he regularly used the service lift that communicated directly with the backyard. Lucien, something of a wit, soon learned to recognize Dorothy’s contralto: ‘La voix cuivrée a téléphoné,’ ‘La Trompette n’était pas contente ce matin,’ et cetera. Then the friendly Fates took a day off. (3.8)


In the last stanza of his poem Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu… (“I go out on the road alone…” 1841) Lermontov mentions sladkiy golos (a sweet voice):


Чтоб всю ночь, весь день мой слух лелея,
Про любовь мне сладкий голос пел,
Надо мной чтоб вечно зеленея
Тёмный дуб склонялся и шумел.


By night and day, my hearing would be soothed

By a sweet voice, singing to me of love.

And over me, forever green,

A dark oak tree would bend and rustle.


In his Foreword to "Paul Verlaine. Poems Selected and Translated by F. Sologub" (1908) Maximilian Voloshin says that he can hear the sounds of intimnyi golos (the intimate voice) in Lermontov's poetry, but does not hear them in Pushkin:


Я слышу, например, звуки интимного голоса у Лермонтова, но не слышу их у Пушкина.

Их нет у Тютчева, но есть у Фета и ещё больше у Полонского.

Из современных поэтов этим даром в наибольшей степени владеет Блок.


Voloshin singles out Alexander Blok as a modern poet whose intimate voice can be heard in his verses. In his essay Golosa poetov (“The Voices of Poets,” 1917) Voloshin quotes Théophile Gautier’s poem Contralto:


Сомнения быть не может: в этой лирике звучит тот волнующий и странный голос, о котором Теофиль Готье сказал:


Que tu me plais, o timbre etrange!
Son double, homme et femme a la fois,
Contralto, bizarre melange,
Hermaphrodite de la voix.


Что по-русски можно перевести так:


Меня пленяет это слиянье
Юноши с девушкой в тембре слов -
Контральто! - странное сочетанье -
Гермафродит голосов!


According to Voloshin, golos (the voice) is vnutrenniy slepok dushi (the inner mould of the soul):


Голос - это самое пленительное и самое неуловимое в человеке. Голос - это внутренний слепок души.


Golos iz khora (“A Voice from Choir,” 1910-14) is a poem by Alexander Blok, the author of Sirin i Alkonost, ptitsy radosti i pechali (“Sirin and Alkonost, the Birds of Joy and Sorrow,” 1899). Sirin was VN’s Russian nom de plume. Like Sirin, Feniks (Phoenix) is a fairy tale bird (that is reborn from its ashes). In his essay Panorama Moskvy (“The Panorama of Moscow,” 1834) Lermontov calls the Kremlin altar’ Rossii (the altar of Russia) and compares it to basnoslovnyi Feniks (the legendary Phoenix):


Он алтарь России, на нем должны совершаться и уже совершались многие жертвы, достойные отечества... Давно ли, как баснословный феникс, он возродился из пылающего своего праха?!


Describing the torments of poor mad Aqua (the twin sister of Marina, Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother), Van mentions Altar (the Antiterran name of Gibraltar) and Palermontovia:


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. She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health (‘just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black’) in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. Of course, Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive... But her real destination was Terra the Fair and thither she trusted she would fly on libellula long wings when she died. Her poor little letters from the homes of madness to her husband were sometimes signed: Madame Shchemyashchikh-Zvukov (‘Heart rending-Sounds’). (1.3)


Palermontovia is a portmanteau that blends Palermo (the biggest city in Sicily that the Romans called Panormus) with Lermontov. Describing the floramors (Eric Veen’s Villa Venus), Van mentions the fabulous Palermontovia:


But on the whole it was the idyllic and the romantic that he favored. English gentlemen of parts found many pleasures in Letchworth Lodge, an honest country house plastered up to its bulleyes, or Itchenor Chat with its battered chimney breasts and hipped gables. None could help admiring David van Veen’s knack of making his brand-new Regency mansion look like a renovated farmhouse or of producing a converted convent on a small offshore island with such miraculous effect that one could not distinguish the arabesque from the arbutus, ardor from art, the sore from the rose. We shall always remember Little Lemantry near Rantchester or the Pseudotherm in the lovely cul-de-sac south of the viaduct of fabulous Palermontovia. We appreciated greatly his blending local banality (that château girdled with chestnuts, that castello guarded by cypresses) with interior ornaments that pandered to all the orgies reflected in the ceiling mirrors of little Eric’s erogenetics. Most effective, in a functional sense, was the protection the architect distilled, as it were, from the ambitus of his houses. Whether nestling in woodland dells or surrounded by a many-acred park, or overlooking terraced groves and gardens, access to Venus began by a private road and continued through a labyrinth of hedges and walls with inconspicuous doors to which only the guests and the guards had keys. Cunningly distributed spotlights followed the wandering of the masked and caped grandees through dark mazes of coppices; for one of the stipulations imagined by Eric was that ‘every establishment should open only at nightfall and close at sunrise.’ A system of bells that Eric may have thought up all by himself (it was really as old as the bautta and the vyshibala) prevented visitors from running into each other on the premises, so that no matter how many noblemen were waiting or wenching in any part of the floramor, each felt he was the only cock in the coop, because the bouncer, a silent and courteous person resembling a Manhattan shopwalker, did not count, of course: you sometimes saw him when a hitch occurred in connection with your credentials or credit but he was seldom obliged to apply vulgar force or call in an assistant. (2.3)


In several poems Alexander Blok mentions shchemyashiy zvuk (a heart-rending sound). "An independent inferno" brings to mind Inferno, the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Like Dante’s poem, Blok’s Pesn’ Ada (“The Song of Hell,” 1909) is written in tercets. In his poem Ravenna from the cycle Ital'yanskie stikhi ("Italian Verses," 1909) Blok mentions med' torzhestvennoy latyni (the copper of solemn Latin) that sings on tombstones, like a trumpet, and Dante's shade with eagle profile that sings to him of the New Life:


А виноградные пустыни,
Дома и люди - всё гроба.
Лишь медь торжественной латыни
Поёт на плитах, как труба.


Лишь в пристальном и тихом взоре

Равеннских девушек, порой,
Печаль о невозвратном море
Проходит робкой чередой.


Лишь по ночам, склонясь к долинам,
Ведя векам грядущим счёт,
Тень Данта с профилем орлиным
О Новой Жизни мне поёт.


In Chapter One of his poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-1921) Blok mentions bezzhalostnyi konets Messiny (the ruthless end of Messina, another Sicilian city) as a result of the 1908 earthquake, one of the apocalyptic events that marked the beginning of the twentieth century:


Двадцатый век… Еще бездомней,
Еще страшнее жизни мгла
(Еще чернее и огромней
Тень Люциферова крыла).
Пожары дымные заката
(Пророчества о нашем дне),
Кометы грозной и хвостатой
Ужасный призрак в вышине,
Безжалостный конец Мессины
(Стихийных сил не превозмочь),
И неустанный рев машины,
Кующей гибель день и ночь,
Сознанье страшное обмана
Всех прежних малых дум и вер,
И первый взлет аэроплана
В пустыню неизвестных сфер…
И отвращение от жизни,
И к ней безумная любовь,
И страсть и ненависть к отчизне…
И черная, земная кровь
Сулит нам, раздувая вены,
Все разрушая рубежи,
Неслыханные перемены,
Невиданные мятежи…


In his epistle to Pushkin (1826) Yazykov calls oranges “the fruits of sweet Messina:”


Пророк изящного! забуду ль,

Как волновалася во мне,

На самой сердца глубине,

Восторгов пламенная удаль,

Когда могущественный ром

С плодами сладостной Мессины,

С немного сахара, с вином,

Переработанный огнем,

Лился в стаканы-исполины?


Old Van’s secretary, Ronald Oranger marries Violet Knox, old Van’s typist whom Ada calls Fialochka (little Violet) and whose name seems to hint at Blok’s poem Nochnaya Fialka (“The Night Violet,” 1906) subtitled Son (“A Dream”). Like Lermontov’s poem Son (1841), Ada is a triple dream (a dream within a dream within a dream). One of the three dreamers in Ada is Eric Veen, the young author of "Villa Venus: an Organized Dream." Vostorgov plamennaya udal' (the fiery boldness of delights) in Yazykov's epistle to Pushkin brings to mind pylkiy otroka vostorgov polnyi son (a lad's ardent dream full of delights) in Pushkin's epistle to Prince Yusupov ("To a Grandee," 1830).


In his poem Yazykov mentions Parnasa vody (the waters of Parnassus):


Теперь, когда Парнаса воды

Хвостовы черпают на оды


Now, when the waters of Parnassus

the Khvostovs scoop for their odes.


According to Mlle Larivière (Lucette's governess who writes fiction under the penname ‘Guillaume de Monparnasse’), the leaving out of the ‘t’ in her gorgeous pseudonym made it more intime:


Yes! Wasn’t that a scream? Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer! A sensational Canadian bestselling author! Her story ‘The Necklace’ (La rivière de diamants) had become a classic in girls’ schools and her gorgeous pseudonym ‘Guillaume de Monparnasse’ (the leaving out of the ‘t’ made it more intime) was well-known from Quebec to Kaluga. As she put it in her exotic English: ‘Fame struck and the roubles rolled, and the dollars poured’ (both currencies being used at the time in East Estotiland); but good Ida, far from abandoning Marina, with whom she had been platonically and irrevocably in love ever since she had seen her in ‘Bilitis,’ accused herself of neglecting Lucette by overindulging in Literature; consequently she now gave the child, in spurts of vacational zeal, considerably more attention than poor little Ada (said Ada) had received at twelve, after her first (miserable) term at school. (1.31).


In his article «В ЧЁМ ЖЕ, НАКОНЕЦ, СУЩЕСТВО РУССКОЙ ПОЭЗИИ И В ЧЁМ ЕЁ ОСОБЕННОСТЬ» ("What is at Last the Essence of Russian Poetry and what is its Peculiarity") included in “Selected Passages from the Correspondence with Friends” (1847) Gogol says that the first time he saw the tears on Pushkin's face (Pushkin never wept, as he admits in his poem "To Ovid") was when he read Yazykov's poem "To Davydov:"


Живо помню восторг его в то время, когда прочитал он стихотворение Языкова к Давыдову, напечатанное в журнале. В первый раз увидел я тогда слёзы на лице Пушкина (Пушкин никогда не плакал; он сам о себе сказал в послании к Овидию: «Суровый славянин, я слёз не проливал, но понимаю их»). Я помню те строфы, которые произвели у него слёзы. Первая, где поэт, обращаясь к России, которую уже было признали бессильною и немощной, взывает так:

Чу! труба продребезжала!
Русь! тебе надменный зов!
Вспомяни ж, как ты встречала
Все нашествия врагов!
Созови от стран далёких
Ты своих богатырей,
Со степей, с равнин широких,
С рек великих, с гор высоких,
От осьми твоих морей.

И потом строфа, где описывается неслыханное самопожертвование — предать огню собственную столицу со всем, что ни есть в ней священного для всей земли:

Пламень в небо упирая,
Лют пожар Москвы ревёт.
Златоглавая, святая,
Ты ли гибнешь? Русь, вперёд!
Громче буря истребленья!
Крепче смелый ей отпор!
Это жертвенник спасенья,
Это пламя очищенья,
Это фениксов костёр.


Lyut pozhar Moskvy ("the ferocious Moscow fire") brings to mind Lute (the Antiterran name of Paris, from Lutèce, the city’s ancient name). Lutetia Parisiorum (1915) is a sonnet by Voloshin. Yazykov’s poem quoted by Gogol ends in the line: Eto Feniksov kostyor (This is the burial fire of Phoenix).


Describing his meeting with Greg Erminin in Paris, Van mentions the Avenue Guillaume Pitt:


On a bleak morning between the spring and summer of 1901, in Paris, as Van, black-hatted, one hand playing with the warm loose change in his topcoat pocket and the other, fawn-gloved, upswinging a furled English umbrella, strode past a particularly unattractive sidewalk café among the many lining the Avenue Guillaume Pitt, a chubby bald man in a rumpled brown suit with a watch-chained waistcoat stood up and hailed him. (3.2)


In his “Ode to Count Khvostov” (1825) Pushkin mentions lyutyi Pit (ferocious Pitt) who is trembling in Styx:


Султан ярится 1. Кровь Эллады
И резвоскачет 2, и кипит.
Открылись грекам древни клады 3,
Трепещет в Стиксе лютый Пит 4.


In footnote 4 Pushkin says: “G. Pitt, the famous English minister and notorious enemy of freedom.”


I also recommend you the updated version of my previous post, “scattering vs. collecting flowers in Ada” (https://thenabokovian.org/node/35671)