Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025222, Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:44:53 +0300

transfigurations in Ada
'All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike,' says a great Russian writer in the beginning of a famous novel (Anna Arkadievitch Karenina, transfigured into English by R. G. Stonelower, Mount Tabor Ltd., 1880). That pronouncement has little if any relation to the story to be unfolded now, a family chronicle, the first part of which is, perhaps, closer to another Tolstoy work, Detstvo i Otrochestvo (Childhood and Fatherland, Pontius Press, 1858). (1.1)

Darkbloom ('Notes to Ada'): All happy families etc: mistranslations of Russian classics are ridiculed here. The opening sentence of Tolstoy's novel is turned inside out and Anna Arkadievna's patronymic given an absurd masculine ending, while an incorrect feminine one is added to her surname. 'Mount Tabor' and 'Pontius' allude to the transfigurations (Mr G. Steiner's term, I believe) and betrayals to which great texts are subjected by pretentious and ignorant versionists.

The miracle of transfiguration and Mount Tabor are also mentioned in Pasternak's poem "August" included in "The Poems of Yuri Zhivago:"

Как обещало, не обманывая,
Проникло солнце утром рано
Косою полосой шафрановою
От занавеси до дивана.

Оно покрыло жаркой охрою
Соседний лес, дома посёлка,
Мою постель, подушку мокрую,
И край стены за книжной полкой.

Я вспомнил, по какому поводу
Слегка увлажнена подушка.
Мне снилось, что ко мне на проводы
Шли по лесу вы друг за дружкой.

Вы шли толпою, врозь и парами,
Вдруг кто-то вспомнил, что сегодня
Шестое августа по старому,
Преображение Господне.

Обыкновенно свет без пламени
Исходит в этот день с Фавора,
И осень, ясная, как знаменье,
К себе приковывает взоры.

И вы прошли сквозь мелкий, нищенский,
Нагой, трепещущий ольшаник
В имбирно-красный лес кладбищенский,
Горевший, как печатный пряник.

С притихшими его вершинами
Соседствовало небо важно,
И голосами петушиными
Перекликалась даль протяжно.

В лесу казённой землемершею
Стояла смерть среди погоста,
Смотря в лицо моё умершее,
Чтоб вырыть яму мне по росту.

Был всеми ощутим физически
Спокойный голос чей-то рядом.
То прежний голос мой провидческий
Звучал, не тронутый распадом:

«Прощай, лазурь преображенская
И золото второго Спаса
Смягчи последней лаской женскою
Мне горечь рокового часа.

Прощайте, годы безвременщины,
Простимся, бездне унижений
Бросающая вызов женщина!
Я — поле твоего сражения.

Прощай, размах крыла расправленный,
Полёта вольное упорство,
И образ мира, в слове явленный,
И творчество, и чудотворство».

As promised and without deception,
The sun passed through in early morning
In a slanting saffron stripe
From the curtain to the sofa.

It covered with burning ochre
The neighboring woods, village houses,
My bed, the wet pillow
And the strip of wall behind the bookshelf.

I remembered for what reason
The pillow was slightly damp.
I dreamed that you were coming to my wake,
One after another through the woods.

You were coming in a crowd, in ones and twos,
Suddenly, someone remembered that it was
August sixth by the old calendar,
The Transfiguration of Christ.

Usually, a light without fire
Pours this day from Mt. Tabor
And autumn, clear as an omen,
Compels the gaze of all.

And you walked through the scant, beggarly
Naked trembling alder grove
Into the ginger-red cemetery woods,
Burning like glazed ginger bread.

A solemn sky verged
Upon its silent heights,
And distance called out
In drawling rooster voices.

In the woods, among the gravestones
Death stood like a government surveyor,
Looking at my dead face
To dig my grave to measure.

All sensed the presence
Of someone's calm voice nearby.
It was my old prophetic voice
That rang, untouched by decay:

"Farewell to the azure of Transfiguration
And the gold of the Second coming.
Soothe the woe of my fatal hour
With a woman's parting caress.

Farewell to the trackless years!
Let's say goodbye, o, woman who hurls
A challenge to the abyss of humiliation.
I am your battlefield.

Farewell to you unfurled wing-span,
Free, persistent flight,
The world's image, captured in a word,
Creative work, and miracle-working.

R. G. Stonelower blends George Steiner with Robert Lowell, but also seems to hint at Nikifor Lapis-Trubetskoy, the poet in Ilf and Petrov's "The Twelve Chairs" (1928). The author of verses about Gavrila (Gabriel) and the phrase "the waves rolled across the pier and fell headlong below like a jack [stremitel'nym domkratom]," Lapis (whose name means in Latin "stone") is nicknamed Lapsus by Persitski.

The father of the twins Aqua and Marina, General Ivan Durmanov was the Commander of Yukon Fortress (1.1). The Trubetskoy bastion is one of the six bastions of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. In his old age General Ivan Nabokov (the brother of VN's great-grandfather Nikolay Aleksandrovich Nabokov) was its commander (Speak, Memory, p. 43).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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