Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025918, Thu, 1 Jan 2015 12:40:55 -0200

Elm, Lime, Oak and Nostalgia

Vladimir Nabokov in "The Art of Translation" (1941) pointed out that “Tampering with foreign major or minor masterpieces may involve an innocent third party in the farce [ ]…the Poe-less poem will go on being balmontized until, perhaps, the “Bells” become “Silence.” Something still more grotesque happened to Baudelaire’s exquisitely dreamy “Invitation au Voyage” (“Mon amie, ma soeur, connais-tu la douceur”) The Russian version was due to the pen of Merejkovsky, who had even less poetical talent than Balmont. It began like this:My sweet little bride./Let's go for a ride; Promptly it begot a rollicking tune and was adopted by all organ-grinders of Russia. I like to imagine a future French translator of Russian folksongs re-Frenchifying it into: Viens, mon p'tit,/A Nijni and so on, ad malinfinitum.[ <http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/the-art-translation> http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/the-art-translation ].

Baudelaire’s “soeur” (rhyming with sweetness, “douceur”) was mistranslated into the Russian equivalent of “sweet bride”. Although in ADA, “sister” is only related to Chateaubriand and to Tchekov, I feel there’s a ring of Baudelaire in it, too (as in the quote above).

When I tried to check the “soeurs/sestra” in the novel I found a superfluous and imprecise note by Darkbloom to Van Veen’s show off, as if the “mad prompter” had been unable to refrain from a poor word play (finestra - sestra). I wonder if the intention at this point is to suggest an association of the sounds of “sinister” and “sister”.

“— by the way what’s the Italian for "window"?’

‘Finestra, sestra,’ said Van, mimicking a mad prompter.

‘Irina (sobbing): "Where, where has it all gone? Oh, dear, oh, dear! All is forgotten, forgotten, muddled up in my head — I don’t remember the Italian for ‘ceiling’ or, say, ‘window.’"’

‘No, "window" comes first in that speech,’ said Van, ‘because she looks around, and then up; in the natural movement of thought.’”
[…] Naturally, as would-every fine player, mother improvised quite a bit, bless her soul. And moreover her voice — in young tuneful Russian! — is substituted for Lenore’s corny brogue.’

Van had seen the picture and had liked it. An Irish girl, the infinitely graceful and melancholy Lenore Colline —

Oh! qui me rendra ma colline

Et le grand chêne and my colleen!*

Darkbloom notes: p.336. finestra, sestra: Ital., window, sister.


* p.111. Ma soeur te souvient-il encore: first line of the third sextet of Chateaubriand’s Romance à Hélène (‘Combien j’ai douce souvenance’) composed to an Auvergne tune that he heard during a trip to Mont Dore in 1805 and later inserted in his novella Le Dernier Abencerage. The final (fifth) sextet begins with ‘Oh! qui me rendra mon Hélène. Et ma montagne et le grand chêne’ — one of the leitmotivs of the present novel.

p.111. sestra moya etc.: my sister, do you remember the mountain, and the tall oak, and the Ladore?

p.111. oh! qui me rendra etc.: oh who will give me back my Aline, and the big oak, and my hill?

(Darkbloom notes)

Sisters, mountains and a great oak are “one of the leitmotivs” of Ada. Darkbloom doesn’t add “nostalgia” to it… I found a note, by Brian Boyd, that refers to it as “a personal motif”, emphasizing the importance of intonation:

<http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/ada18.htm#50.06> 50.06: and the mountain, and the great oak: An echo of l. 26 (“Et ma montagne, et le grand chêne,” “And my mountain, and the great oak”) of <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/308chateaubriand.htm> Chateaubriand’s “Romance à Hélène” (see 5.07n and 138.01-139.04 and n.), which will become a personal motif for Van and Ada later in the summer. Cf. 53.34: “we are supposed to go and look at the grand chêne” and 109.11-15: “‘And do you remember, a tï pomnish’, et te souviens-tu’ (invariably with that implied codetta of ‘and,’ introducing the bead to be threaded in the torn necklace).” // There is in fact neither a “mountain” in this scene (it is identified as a hill, 138.09-16, 398.28), nor an oak (as Ada points out at 53.34-54.01, the tree is an elm): Mlle Larivière, who seems unaware of the Chateaubriand echo, is as vague an observer as Nabokov’s own French governess was a remembrer (see SM 107). The “and . . . and . . . ” intonation--apparently derived from Chateaubriand’s poem-- served Nabokov as a personal stylistic sign of memorial attachment, of retrospective enumeration and delectation, throughout his work, even more in Russian (“i . . . i . . . “) than in English. MOTIF: <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/motifs.htm#chateaubriand> Chateaubriand; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/motifs.htm#grand> grand chêne; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/motifs.htm#oh> Oh! qui me rendra; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/motifs.htm#romanceahelene> Romance à Hélène; <http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/motifs.htm#wrong> wrong tree.

The differentiation of elm and oak can be found in Ada, ch.8: “ By then they had reached the rond-point — a small arena encircled by flowerbeds and jasmine bushes in heavy bloom. Overhead the arms of a linden stretched toward those of an oak, like a green-spangled beauty flying to meet her strong father hanging by his feet from the trapeze. Even then did we both understand that kind of heavenly stuff, even then.

‘Something rather acrobatic about those branches up there, no?’ he said, pointing.

‘Yes,’ she answered. ‘I discovered it long ago. The teil is the flying Italian lady, and the old oak aches, the old lover aches, but still catches her every time’ (impossible to reproduce the right intonation while rendering the entire sense — after eight decades! — but she did say something extravagant, something quite out of keeping with her tender age as they looked up and then down).”

What does Van intend to express by “even then did we both understand that kind of heavenly stuff”? It must be some special Romantic mood (Chateaubriand and other writers’s). In the past, in one of my first readings, I was led to an almost hallucinatory connection to Goethe’s lines “Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen bluehen” in Mignon’s song from Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, a novel that speaks of incest, acrobatic feats and nostalgia, including the figure of an old father. Powerful fathers are absent in the rest of “ADA” (except Demon Veen’s contradictory incest interdiction) but here their presence can be felt. The elm is curiously referred to, by Ada, as a “teil” (tilleul, Linden tree, lime).

Wikipedia: “The genus is generally called lime or linden in Britain <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilia#cite_note-1> [1] and linden, lime, or basswood in North America. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilia#cite_note-2> [2]

"Lime" is an altered form of Middle English lind, in the 16th century also line, from Old English feminine lind or linde, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Germanic> Proto-Germanic *lendā, cognate to Latin lentus"flexible" and Sanskrit latā " <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liana> liana". Within <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_languages> Germanic languages, English "lithe", German lind "lenient, yielding" are from the same root.

"Linden" was originally the adjective, "made from lime-wood" (equivalent to "wooden"); from the late 16th century, "linden" was also used as a noun, probably influenced by translations of German romance, as an adoption of Linden, the plural of German Linde. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilia#cite_note-3> [3] Neither the name nor the tree is related to the citrus fruit called " <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lime_(fruit)> lime" (Citrus aurantifolia, family <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutaceae> Rutaceae). Another common name used in North America is basswood, derived from bast, the name for the inner bark (see <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilia#Uses> Uses, below). <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teil_tree> Teil is an old name for the lime tree.

Latin tilia is cognate to Greek πτελέᾱ, ptelea, " <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elm_tree> elm tree", τιλίαι, tiliai, " <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_poplar> black poplar" ( <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hesychius_of_Alexandria> Hes.), ultimately from a <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_language> Proto-Indo-European word *ptel-ei̯ā with a meaning of "broad" (feminine); perhaps "broad-leaved" or similar. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilia#cite_note-4> [4]

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