Karlik & Wagner record in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 05/15/2021 - 07:09

According to Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), on his deathbed Conmal (the King’s uncle, Zemblan translator of Shakespeare) called his nephew “Karlik:”

 

To return to the King: take for instance the question of personal culture. How often is it that kings engage in some special research? Conchologists among them can be counted on the fingers of one maimed hand. The last king of Zembla—partly under the influence of his uncle Conmal, the great translator of Shakespeare (see notes to lines 39-40 and 962), had become, despite frequent migraines, passionately addicted to the study of literature. At forty, not long before the collapse of his throne, he had attained such a degree of scholarship that he dared accede to his venerable uncle’s raucous dying request: “Teach, Karlik!” Of course, it would have been unseemly for a monarch to appear in the robes of learning at a university lectern and present to rosy youths Finnegans Wake as a monstrous extension of Angus MacDiarmid's "incoherent transactions" and of Southey's Lingo-Grande ("Dear Stumparumper," etc.) or discuss the Zemblan variants, collected in 1798 by Hodinski, of the Kongsskugg-sio (The Royal Mirror), an anonymous masterpiece of the twelfth century. Therefore he lectured under an assumed name and in a heavy make-up, with wig and false whiskers. All brown-bearded, apple-checked, blue-eyed Zemblans look alike, and I who have not shaved now for a year, resemble my disguised king (see also note to line 894). (note to Line 12)

 

In the Prologue to his poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) Alexander Blok mentions Siegfried's sword Notung and Mime, karlik litsemernyi (Mime, the hypocritical dwarf) who falls in confusion at Siegfried’s feet:

 

Так Зигфрид правит меч над горном:
То в красный уголь обратит,
То быстро в воду погрузит —
И зашипит, и станет чёрным
Любимцу вверенный клинок…
Удар — он блещет, Нотунг верный,
И Миме, карлик лицемерный,
В смятеньи падает у ног!

 

Siegfried is the third of the four music dramas that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen (“The Ring of the Nibelung”), by Richard Wagner. Describing his insomnias, Kinbote mentions a Wagner record:

 

The Goldsworth château had many outside doors, and no matter how thoroughly I inspected them and the window shutters downstairs at bedtime, I never failed to discover next morning something unlocked, unlatched, a little loose, a little ajar, something sly and suspicious-looking. One night the black cat, which a few minutes before I had seen rippling down into the basement where I had arranged toilet facilities for it in an attractive setting, suddenly reappeared on the threshold of the music room, in the middle of my insomnia and a Wagner record, arching its back and sporting a neck bow of white silk which it could certainly never have put on all by itself. I telephoned 11111 and a few minutes later was discussing possible culprits with a policeman who relished greatly my cherry cordial, but whoever had broken in had left no trace. It is so easy for a cruel person to make the victim of his ingenuity believe that he has persecution mania, or is really being stalked by a killer, or is suffering from hallucinations. Hallucinations! Well did I know that among certain youthful instructors whose advances I had rejected there was at least one evil practical joker; I knew it ever since the time I came home from a very enjoyable and successful meeting of students and teachers (at which I had exuberantly thrown off my coat and shown several willing pupils a few of the amusing holds employed by Zemblan wrestlers) and found in my coat pocket a brutal anonymous note saying: "You have hal..... s real bad, chum," meaning evidently "hallucinations," although a malevolent critic might infer from the insufficient number of dashes that little Mr. Anon, despite teaching Freshman English, could hardly spell. (note to Line 62)

 

The Black Cat (1845) is a story by E. A. Poe. The epigraph to Blok’s poem Osenniy vecher byl. Pod zvuk dozhdya steklyannyi... (“It was an autumnal evening. To the glass sound of rain…” 1912) is from Poe’s poem The Raven:

 

Ночь без той, зовут кого

Светлым именем: Ленора.

                               Эдгар По

 

Осенний вечер был. Под звук дождя стеклянный

Решал всё тот же я — мучительный вопрос,

Когда в мой кабинет, огромный и туманный,

Вошёл тот джентльмен. За ним — лохматый пёс.

 

На кресло у огня уселся гость устало,

И пёс у ног его разлегся на ковёр.

Гость вежливо сказал: «Ужель ещё вам мало?

Пред Гением Судьбы пора смириться, со:р».

 

«Но в старости — возврат и юности, и жара...» -

Так начал я... но он настойчиво прервал:

«Она — всё та ж: Линор безумного Эдгара.

Возврата нет. — Ещё? Теперь я всё сказал».

 

И странно: жизнь была — восторгом, бурей, адом,

А здесь — в вечерний час — с чужим наедине -

Под этим деловым, давно спокойным взглядом,

Представилась она гораздо проще мне...

 

Тот джентльмен ушёл. Но пёс со мной бессменно.

В час горький на меня уставит добрый взор,

И лапу жёсткую положит на колено,

Как будто говорит: Пора смириться, со:р.

 

Blok’s poem is mentioned by Fyodor in VN's novel Dar ("The Gift," 1937):

 

Мой отец мало интересовался стихами, делая исключение только для Пушкина: он знал его, как иные знают церковную службу, и, гуляя, любил декламировать. Мне иногда думается, что эхо "Пророка" ещё до сих пор дрожит в каком-нибудь гулко-переимчивом азиатском ущелье. Ещё он цитировал, помнится, несравненную "Бабочку" Фета и тютчевские "Тени сизые"; но то, что так нравилось нашей родне, жиденькая, удобозапоминаемая лирика конца прошлого века, жадно ждущая переложения на музыку, как избавления от бледной немочи слов, проходило совершенно мимо него. Поэзию же новейшую он считал вздором, -- и я при нем не очень распространялся о моих увлечениях в этой области. Когда он однажды перелистал, с готовой уже усмешкой, книжки поэтов, рассыпанные у меня на столе, и как раз попал на самое скверное у самого лучшего из них (там, где появляется невозможный, невыносимый "джентльмен" и рифмуется "ковер" и "сöр"), мне стало до того досадно, что я ему быстро подсунул "Громокипящий Кубок", чтобы уж лучше на нем он отвел душу. Вообще же мне казалось, что если бы он на время забыл то, что я, по глупости, называл "классицизмом", и без предубеждения вник бы в то, что я так любил, он понял бы новое очарование, появившееся в чертах русской поэзии, очарование, чуемое мной даже в самых нелепых ее проявлениях. Но когда я подсчитываю, что теперь для меня уцелело из этой новой поэзии, то вижу, что уцелело очень мало, а именно только то, что естественно продолжает Пушкина, между тем, как пёстрая шелуха, дрянная фальшь, маски бездарности и ходули таланта -- все то, что когда-то моя любовь прощала и освещала по-своему, а что отцу моему казалось истинным лицом новизны, -- "мордой модернизма", как он выражался, -- теперь так устарело, так забыто, как даже не забыты стихи Карамзина; и когда мне попадается на чужой полке иной сборник стихов, когда-то живший у меня как брат, то я чувствую в них лишь то, что тогда, вчуже, чувствовал мой отец. Его ошибка заключалась не в том, что он свально охаял всю "поэзию модерн", а в том, что он в ней не захотел высмотреть длинный животворный луч любимого своего поэта.

 

My father took little interest in poetry, making an exception only for Pushkin: he knew him as some people know the liturgy, and liked to declaim him while out walking. I sometimes think that an echo of Pushkin’s “The Prophet” still vibrates to this day in some resonantly receptive Asian gully. He also quoted, I remember, the incomparable “Butterfly” by Fet, and Tyutchev’s “Now the dim-blue shadows mingle”; but that which our kinsfolk liked, the watery, easily memorized poesy of the end of the last century, avidly waiting to be set to music as a cure for verbal anemia, he ignored utterly. As to avant-garde verse, he considered it rubbish—and in his presence I did not publicize my own enthusiasms in this sphere. Once when with a smile of irony already prepared he leafed through the books of poets scattered on my desk and as luck would have it happened on the worst item by the best of them (that famous poem by Blok where there appears an impossible, unbearable dzhentelmen representing Edgar Poe, and where kovyor, carpet, is made to rhyme with the English “Sir” transliterated as syor), I was so annoyed that I quickly pushed Severyanin’s The Thunder-Bubbling Cup into his hand so that he could better unburden his soul upon it. In general I considered that if he would forget for the nonce the kind of poetry I was silly enough to call “classicism” and tried without prejudice to grasp what it was I loved so much, he would have understood the new charm that had appeared in the features of Russian poetry, a charm that I sensed even in its most absurd manifestations. But when today I tote up what has remained to me of this new poetry I see that very little has survived, and what has is precisely a natural continuation of Pushkin, while the motley husk, the wretched sham, the masks of mediocrity and the stilts of talent—everything that my love once forgave or saw in a special light (and that seemed to my father to be the true face of innovation—“the mug of modernism” as he expressed it), is now so old-fashioned, so forgotten as even Karamzin’s verses are not forgotten; and when on someone else’s shelf I come across this or that collection of poems which had once lived with me as brother, I feel in them only what my father then felt without actually knowing them. His mistake was not that he ran down all “modern poetry” indiscriminately, but that he refused to detect in it the long, life-giving ray of his favorite poet. (Chapter Three)

 

Tyutchev’s dim-blue shadows bring to mind the Shadows, a regicidal organization of which Gradus (Shade’s murderer who appears in police records as Ravus and Ravenstone) is a member. The title of Severyanin’s collection that Fyodor pushed into his father’s hand was borrowed from Tyutchev’s poem Vesennyaya groza (“The Spring Thunderstorm,” 1829). In Tyutchev's poem frivolous Hebe spills on the Earth her thunder-bubbling cup. Hebe’s Cup is Shade’s third book:

 

Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote

Came next; then Hebe's Cup, my final float

In that damp carnival, for now I term

Everything "Poems," and no longer squirm.

(But this transparent thingum does require

Some moondrop title. Help me, Will! Pale Fire.) (ll. 957-962)

 

The characters in Pushkin’s poem Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820) include the evil dwarf Chernomor (whose long miraculous beard Ruslan cuts off with a magic sword). At the beginning of his great introductory poem to Ruslan and Lyudmila Pushkin mentions the learned cat that day and night walks to and fro along the golden chain around the green oak:

 

У лукоморья дуб зелёный;
Златая цепь на дубе том:
И днём и ночью кот учёный
Всё ходит по цепи кругом;
Идёт направо — песнь заводит,
Налево — сказку говорит.

 

According to Pushkin, it was the learned cat that told him the fairy tale about Ruslan and Lyudmila:

 

И там я был, и мед я пил;
У моря видел дуб зеленый;
Под ним сидел, и кот ученый
Свои мне сказки говорил.
Одну я помню: сказку эту
Поведаю теперь я свету...

 

The epigraph to Pale Fire mentions Samuel Johnson's cat Hodge:

 

This reminds me of the ludicrous account he gave Mr. Langston, of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family. 'Sir, when I heard of
him last, he was running about town shooting cats.' And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, 'But
Hodge shan't be shot: no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.'

- James Boswell, the Life of Samuel Johnson

 

This seems to imply: others may, but I shall not be touched by death. In Canto Two of his poem Shade says:

 

A syllogism: other men die, but I

am not another, therefore I'll not die. (ll. 213-214)

 

In his Commentary Kinbote writes:

 

This may please a boy. Later in life we learn that we are those 'others.' (note to Lines 213-214)

 

In his poem Exegi monumentum (1836) Pushkin says that he will not wholly die, that his soul in the sacred lyre is to survive his dust, etc. and, in the poem's last line, asks the Muse not contradict the fool. In his Eugene Onegin Commentary VN points out that in Exegi monumentum Pushkin line for line parodies Derzhavin’s poem Pamyatnik (“The Monument,” 1795), an imitation of Horace’s Ode 30. But the last line of Pushkin’s poem, I ne osporivay gluptsa (And do not contradict the fool), slyly implies that only fools believe in their immortality.

 

The dwarf Mime also brings to mind a mimeographed letter circulated by Professor Hurley after Shade's death:

 

Lines 376-377: was said in English Lit to be

 

This is replaced in the draft by the more significant - and more tuneful - variant:

 

the Head of our Department deemed

 

Although it may be taken to refer to the man (whoever he was) who occupied this post at the time Hazel Shade was a student, the reader cannot be blamed for applying it to Paul H., Jr., the fine administrator and inept scholar who since 1957 headed the English Department of Wordsmith College. We met now and then (see Forward and note to line 894) but not often. The Head of the Department to which I belonged was Prof. Nattochdag - "Netochka" as we called the dear man. Certainly the migraines that have lately tormented me to such a degree that I once had to leave in the midst of a concert at which I happened to be sitting beside Paul H., Jr., should not have been a stranger's business. They apparently were, very much so. He kept his eye on me, and immediately upon John Shade's demise circulated a mimeographed letter that began:

 

Several members of the Department of English are painfully concerned over the fate of a manuscript poem, or parts of a manuscript poem, left by the late John Shade. The manuscript fell into the hands of a person who not only is unqualified for the job of editing it, belonging as he does to another department, but is known to have a deranged mind. One wonders whether some legal action, etc.

 

"Legal action," of course, might be taken by somebody else too. But no matter; one's just anger is mitigated by the satisfaction of foreknowing that the engagé gentleman will be less worried about the fate of my friend's poem after reading the passage commented here. Southey liked a roasted rat for supper - which is especially comic in view of the rats that devoured his Bishop.

 

and Mimo, chitatel', mimo (Pass by, reader, pass by), a phrase used by Turgenev (the author of Mumu, 1854) in his novel Dym (“Smoke,” 1867). In Chapter Three "The Gift" Fyodor mentions a Turgenevian odour of heliotrope in his first love's bedroom:

 

По вечерам я провожал её домой. Эти прогулки мне когда-нибудь пригодятся. В её спальне был маленький портрет царской семьи, и пахло по-тургеневски гелиотропом. Я возвращался за-полночь, благо гувернер уехал в Англию, -- и никогда я не забуду того чувства лёгкости, гордости, восторга и дикого ночного голода (особенно хотелось простокваши с чёрным хлебом), когда я шёл по нашей преданно и даже льстиво шелестевшей аллее к тёмному дому (только у матери -- свет) и слышал лай сторожевых псов.

 

Those walks will come in handy sometime. In her bedroom there was a little picture of the Tsar's family and a Turgenevian odour of heliotrope. I used
to return long after midnight (my tutor, fortunately, had gone back to England), and I shall never forget that feeling of lightness, pride, rapture and wild night hunger (I particularly yearned for curds-and-whey with black bread) as I walked along our faithfully and even fawningly soughing avenue toward the dark house (only Mother had a light on) and heard the barking of the watchdogs.

 

Turgenev's phrase Mimo, chitatel', mimo is misquoted by Ilya Borisovich in VN's story Usta k ustam ("Lips to Lips," 1931), a satire on the editors of the Paris émigré review Chisla ("Numbers"), and by Van Veen in VN's novel Ada (1969):

 

On the first floor, a yellow drawing room hung with damask and furnished in what the French once called the Empire style opened into the garden and now, in the late afternoon, was invaded across the threshold by the large leaf shadows of a paulownia tree (named, by an indifferent linguist, explained Ada, after the patronymic, mistaken for a second name or surname of a harmless lady, Anna Pavlovna Romanov, daughter of Pavel, nicknamed Paul-minus-Peter, why she did not know, a cousin of the non-linguist’s master, the botanical Zemski, I’m going to scream, thought Van). A china cabinet encaged a whole zoo of small animals among which the oryx and the okapi, complete with scientific names, were especially recommended to him by his charming but impossibly pretentious companion. Equally fascinating was a five-fold screen with bright paintings on its black panels reproducing the first maps of four and a half continents. We now pass into the music room with its little-used piano, and a corner room called the Gun Room containing a stuffed Shetland pony which an aunt of Dan Veen’s, maiden name forgotten, thank Log, once rode. On the other, or some other, side of the house was the ballroom, a glossy wasteland with wallflower chairs. ‘Reader, ride by’ (‘mimo, chitatel’,’ as Turgenev wrote). The ‘mews,’ as they were improperly called in Ladore County, were architecturally rather confusing in the case of Ardis Hall. A latticed gallery looked across its garlanded shoulder into the garden and turned sharply toward the drive. Elsewhere, an elegant loggia, lit by long windows, led now tongue-tied Ada and intolerably bored Van into a bower of rocks: a sham grotto, with ferns clinging to it shamelessly, and an artificial cascade borrowed from some brook or book, or Van’s burning bladder (after all the confounded tea). (1.6)

 

In the same chapter of Ada Van mentions "a dwarf Haydn" (a toy barrel organ that went into action with a stumbling little minuet) and Marina's set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays:

 

Ada showed her shy guest the great library on the second floor, the pride of Ardis and her favorite ‘browse,’ which her mother never entered (having her own set of a Thousand-and-One Best Plays in her boudoir), and which Red Veen, a sentimentalist and a poltroon, shunned, not caring to run into the ghost of his father who had died there of a stroke, and also because he found nothing so depressing as the collected works of unrecollected authors, although he did not mind an occasional visitor’s admiring the place’s tall bookcases and short cabinets, its dark pictures and pale busts, its ten chairs of carved walnut, and two noble tables inlaid with ebony. In a slant of scholarly sunlight a botanical atlas upon a reading desk lay open on a colored plate of orchids. A kind of divan or daybed covered in black velvet, with two yellow cushions, was placed in a recess, below a plate-glass window which offered a generous view of the banal park and the man-made lake. A pair of candlesticks, mere phantoms of metal and tallow, stood, or seemed to stand, on the broad window ledge. (ibid.)

 

Shade’s poem is almost finished when the author is killed by Gradus. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade's poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). Dvoynik (“The Double”) is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski, a poem (1862) by Polonski, a poem (1904) by Annenski and a poem (1909) by Blok. In VN's story "Lips to Lips" Ilya Borisovich wants to publish his novel under the penname I. Annenski. In Chapter One of "Retribution" Blok mentions Dostoevski and Polonski (the guests at Anna Vrevski's soirées):

 

На вечерах у Анны Вревской
Был общества отборный цвет.
Больной и грустный Достоевский
Ходил сюда на склоне лет
Суровой жизни скрасить бремя,
Набраться сведений и сил
Для «Дневника». (Он в это время
С Победоносцевым дружил).
С простёртой дланью вдохновенно
Полонский здесь читал стихи.
Какой-то экс-министр смиренно
Здесь исповедовал грехи.