sure, sure in Pale Fire & in Speak, Memory

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 10/15/2021 - 08:01

In a conversation with 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) Shade repeats the word “sure” twice and then says "Oh, sure" again:


When in the course of an evening stroll in May or June, 1959, I offered Shade all this marvelous material, he looked at me quizzically and said: "That's all very well, Charles. But there are just two questions. How can you know that all this intimate stuff about your rather appalling king is true? And if true, how can one hope to print such personal things about people who, presumably, are still alive?"

"My dear John," I replied gently and urgently, "do not worry about trifles. Once transmuted by you into poetry, the stuff will be true, and the people will come alive. A poet's purified truth can cause no pain, no offense. True art is above false honor."

"Sure, sure," said Shade. "One can harness words like performing fleas and make them drive other fleas. Oh, sure."

"And moreover," I continued as we walked down the road right into a vast sunset, "as soon as your poem is ready, as soon as the glory of Zembla merges with the glory of your verse, I intend to divulge to you an ultimate truth, an extraordinary secret, that will put your mind completely at rest." (note to Lines 433-434)


Shade’s “sure, sure” brings to mind the words of a fellow lepidopterist in VN’s autobiography Speak, Memory (1951):


Uncle Konstantin was in the diplomatic service and, in the last stage of his career in London, conducted a bitter and unsuccessful struggle with Sablin as to which of them would head the Russian mission. His life was not particularly eventful, but he had had a couple of nice escapes from a fate less tame than the draft in a London hospital, which killed him in 1927. Once, in Moscow, on February 17, 1905, when an older friend, the Grand Duke Sergey, half a minute before the explosion, offered him a lift in his carriage, and my uncle said no, thanks, he’d rather walk, and away rolled the carriage to its fatal rendezvous with a terrorist’s bomb; and the second time, seven years later, when he missed another appointment, this one with an iceberg, by chancing to return his Titanic ticket. We saw a good deal of him in London after we had escaped from Lenin’s Russia. Our meeting at Victoria Station in 1919 is a vivid vignette in my mind: my father marching up to his prim brother with an unfolding bear hug; he, backing away and repeating: “Mï v Anglii, mï v Anglii [we are in England].” His charming little flat was full of souvenirs from India such as photographs of young British officers. He is the author of The Ordeal of a Diplomat (1921), easily obtainable in large public libraries, and of an English version of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov; and he is portrayed, goatee and all (together with Count Witte, the two Japanese delegates and a benevolent Theodore Roosevelt), in a mural of the signing of the Portsmouth Treaty on the left side of the main entrance hall of the American Museum of Natural History—an eminently fit place to find my surname in golden Slavic characters, as I did the first time I passed there—with a fellow lepidopterist, who said “Sure, sure” in reply to my exclamation of recognition. (Chapter Three, 1)


The Grand Duke Sergey Alexandrovich (the uncle of Nicholas II) was assassinated on February 17, 1905 (the Grand Duke's carriage was blown up by a bomb thrown by the terrorist Ivan Kaliayev in the Kremlin). According to Kinbote, he was introduced to Shade on February 16, 1959:


A few days later, however, namely on Monday, February 16, I was introduced to the old poet at lunch time in the faculty club. "At last presented credentials," as noted, a little ironically, in my agenda. I was invited to join him and four or five other eminent professors at his usual table, under an enlarged photograph of Wordsmith College as it was, stunned and shabby, on a remarkably gloomy summer day in 1903. His laconic suggestion that I "try the pork" amused me. I am a strict vegetarian, and I like to cook my own meals. Consuming something that had been handled by a fellow creature was, I explained to the rubicund convives, as repulsive to me as eating any creature, and that would include - lowering my voice - the pulpous pony-tailed girl student who served us and licked her pencil. Moreover, I had already finished the fruit brought with me in my briefcase, so I would content myself, I said, with a bottle of good college ale. My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. The usual questions were fired at me about eggnogs and milkshakes being or not being acceptable to one of my persuasion. Shade said that with him it was the other way around: he must make a definite effort to partake of a vegetable. Beginning a salad, was to him like stepping into sea water on a chilly day, and he had always to brace himself in order to attack the fortress of an apple. I was not yet used to the rather fatiguing jesting and teasing that goes on among American intellectuals of the inbreeding academic type and so abstained from telling John Shade in front of all those grinning old males how much I admired his work lest a serious discussion of literature degenerate into mere facetiation. Instead I asked him about one of my newly acquired students who also attended his course, a moody, delicate, rather wonderful boy; but with a resolute shake of his hoary forelock the old poet answered that he had ceased long ago to memorize faces and names of students and that the only person in his poetry class whom he could visualize was an extramural lady on crutches. "Come, come," said Professor Hurley, "do you mean, John, you really don't have a mental or visceral picture of that stunning blonde in the black leotard who haunts Lit. 202?" Shade, all his wrinkles beaming, benignly tapped Hurley on the wrist to make him stop. Another tormentor inquired if it was true that I had installed two ping-pong tables in my basement. I asked, was it a crime? No, he said, but why two? "Is that a crime?" I countered, and they all laughed. (Foreword)


At the end of his poem Shade twice uses the phrase "reasonably sure:"


I'm reasonably sure that we survive

And that my darling somewhere is alive,

As I am reasonably sure that I

Shall wake at six tomorrow, on July

The twenty-second, nineteen fifty-nine,

And that the day will probably be fine;

So this alarm clock let me set myself,

Yawn, and put back Shade's "Poems" on their shelf. (ll. 977-984)


Shade’s poem is almost finished when the author is killed by Gradus. The day of Shade’s death, July 21 is the 202nd day of the year. The stunning blonde in the black leotard who haunts Lit. 202 brings to mind blondinka-devushka (the blond girl) in Sasha Chyorny’s poem Amur i Psikheya (“Amor and Psyche,” 1910) and the widower’s two wives (both of whom are blond) mentioned by Shade in Canto Three of his poem:


Time means succession, and succession, change:

Hence timelessness is bound to disarrange

Schedules of sentiment. We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives; both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another. Time means growth.

And growth means nothing in Elysian life.

Fondling a changeless child, the flax-haired wife

Grieves on the brink of a remembered pond

Full of a dreamy sky. And, also blond,

But with a touch of tawny in the shade,

Feet up, knees clasped, on a stone balustrade

The other sits and raises a moist gaze

Toward the blue impenetrable haze.

How to begin? Which first to kiss? What toy

To give the babe? Does that small solemn boy

Know of the head-on crash which on a wild

March night killed both the mother and the child?

And she, the second love, with instep bare

In ballerina black, why does she wear

The earrings from the other's jewel case?

And why does she avert her fierce young face? (ll. 567-588)


In Canto Three of his poem Shade describes his heart attack (that practically coincided with the disguised king’s arrival in America), his visit to Mrs. Z. (who saw a white mountain during her heart attack) and mentions Life Everlasting based on a misprint. In his poem Anemony ("Anemones," 1911) Sasha Chyorny (the author of “Immortality,” 1911) says that he is stubbornly correcting the misprints in the crazy book of being. According to Chyorny, to count them is as difficult as to count fleas in Poland at the end of July:


Сорвавши белые перчатки

И корчась в гуще жития,

Упорно правлю опечатки

В безумной книге бытия.

Увы, их с каждой мыслью больше

Их так же трудно сосчитать,

Как блох в конце июля в Польше —

Поймал одну, а рядом пять…

Но всех больней одна кусает:

Весь смрадный мусор низких сил

Себя вовеки не узнает,

Ни здесь, ни в прочном сне могил!

Всю жизнь насилуя природу

И запятнав неправдой мир,

Они, тучнея год от году,

Как боги, кончат злой свой пир…

И, как лесные анемоны,

С невинным вздохом отойдут…

Вот мысль страшней лица Горгоны!

Вот вечной мести вечный спрут!


The title of Sasha Chyorny’s poem brings to mind “verbal anemia” mentioned by VN in Speak, Memory:


Apart from credulous inexperience, a young Russian versificator had to cope with a special handicap. In contrast to the rich vocabulary of satirical or narrative verse, the Russian elegy suffered from a bad case of verbal anemia. Only in very expert hands could it be made to transcend its humble origin—the pallid poetry of eighteenth-century France. True, in my day a new school was in the act of ripping up the old rhythms, but it was still to the latter that the conservative beginner turned in search of a neutral instrument—possibly because he did not wish to be diverted from the simple expression of simple emotions by adventures in hazardous form. Form, however, got its revenge. The rather monotonous designs into which early nineteenth-century Russian poets had twisted the pliant elegy resulted in certain words, or types of words (such as the Russian equivalents of fol amour or langoureux et rêvant) being coupled again and again, and this later lyricists could not shake off for a whole century. (Chapter Eleven, 3)


and in “The Gift,” the English version of VN’s novel Dar (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)


Severyanin borrowed the title of his collection, Gromokipyashchiy kubok (The Thunder-Bubbling Cup), from Tyutchev’s poem Vesennyaya groza (“The Spring Thunderstorm,” 1829). In Tyutchev’s poem vetrenaya Geba (frivolous Hebe) spills on Earth her thunder-boiling cup:


Ты скажешь: ветреная Геба,
Кормя Зевесова орла,
Громокипящий кубок с неба,
Смеясь, на землю пролила.

You’d say: capricious Hebe,
feeding Zeus’ eagle,
had spilled on Earth, laughing,
a thunder-boiling goblet.


Hebe’s Cup is Shade’s third collection of poetry:


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)


In his poem To One in Paradise (1843) E. A. Poe compares the Past to a dim gulf:


Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! on!”—but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!


In Stéphane Mallarmé's sonnet Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe (“The Grave of Edgar Poe”) the last word is le futur (the future):


Tel qu’en Lui-même enfin l’éternité le change,
Le Poëte suscite avec un glaive nu
Son siècle épouvanté de n’avoir pas connu
Que la mort triomphait dans cette voix étrange !

Eux, comme un vil sursaut d’hydre oyant jadis l’ange
Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu
Proclamèrent très haut le sortilège bu
Dans le flot sans honneur de quelque noir mélange.

Du sol et de la nue hostiles, ô grief !
Si notre idée avec ne sculpte un bas-relief
Dont la tombe de Poe éblouissante s’orne
Calme bloc ici-bas chu d’un désastre obscur
Que ce granit du moins montre à jamais sa borne
Aux noirs vols du Blasphème épars dans le futur.


Mallarmé’s sonnet was translated into Russian (as Grobnitsa Edgara Po) by Innokentiy Annenski. In Annenski’s version Mallarmé’s sonnet has fifteen lines (the so-called "sonnet with a coda”):


Сквозь ризу бренную бессмертьем осиянный,
Грозя подъемлет он сверкающий свой меч
Над непознавшими, что та больная речь
Царю гробов была ликующей осанной.

Как гидра некогда отпрянула виясь
От блеска истины в божественном глаголе,
Так вопияли вы, над гением глумясь,
Что яд философа топил он в алкоголе.

О если меж стихий рождая только гнев,
Идее не дано отлиться в барельеф,
Чтоб просияла им забвенная могила,

Хоть ты, о чёрный прах от смерти золотой,
Обломок лишнего в гармонии светила,
На прах Эдгара По перенесён мечтой,
Для крыльев дьявола отныне будь метой.


In its unfinished form Shade’s poem consists of 999 lines. 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 and a poem (1904) by Nik. T-o (I. Annenski’s penname). In Speak, Memory VN mentions the writer Dostoevski, author of The Double, etc.:


According to my father’s first cousin Vladimir Viktorovich Golubtsov, a lover of Russian antiquities, whom I consulted in 1930, the founder of our family was Nabok Murza (floruit 1380), a Russianized Tatar prince in Muscovy. My own first cousin, Sergey Sergeevich Nabokov, a learned genealogist, informs me that in the fifteenth century our ancestors owned land in the Moscow princedom. He refers me to a document (published by Yushkov in Acts of the XIII-XVII Centuries, Moscow, 1899) concerning a rural squabble which in the year 1494, under Ivan the Third, squire Kulyakin had with his neighbors, Filat, Evdokim, and Vlas, sons of Luka Nabokov. During the following centuries the Nabokovs were government officials and military men. My great-great-grandfather, General Aleksandr Ivanovich Nabokov (1749–1807), was, in the reign of Paul the First, chief of the Novgorod garrison regiment called “Nabokov’s Regiment” in official documents. The youngest of his sons, my great-grandfather Nikolay Aleksandrovich Nabokov, was a young naval officer in 1817, when he participated, with the future admirals Baron von Wrangel and Count Litke, under the leadership of Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Vasiliy Mihaylovich Golovnin, in an expedition to map Nova Zembla (of all places) where “Nabokov’s River” is named after my ancestor. The memory of the leader of the expedition is preserved in quite a number of place names, one of them being Golovnin’s Lagoon, Seward Peninsula, W. Alaska, from where a butterfly, Parnassius phoebus golovinus (rating a big sic), has been described by Dr. Holland; but my great-grandfather has nothing to show except that very blue, almost indigo blue, even indignantly blue, little river winding between wet rocks; for he soon left the navy, n’ayant pas le pied marin (as says my cousin Sergey Sergeevich who informed me about him), and switched to the Moscow Guards. He married Anna Aleksandrovna Nazimov (sister of the Decembrist). I know nothing about his military career; whatever it was, he could not have competed with his brother, Ivan Aleksandrovich Nabokov (1787–1852), one of the heroes of the anti-Napoleon wars and, in his old age, commander of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg where (in 1849) one of his prisoners was the writer Dostoevski, author of The Double, etc., to whom the kind general lent books. Considerably more interesting, however, is the fact that he was married to Ekaterina Pushchin, sister of Ivan Pushchin, Pushkin’s schoolmate and close friend. Careful, printers: two “chin” ’s and one “kin.” (Chapter Three, 1)


Describing IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) in Canto Three of his poem, Shade mentions fra Karamazov (Ivan Karamazov, a character in Dostoevski’s novel “Brothers Karamazov,” 1880) mumbling his inept all is allowed:


In later years it started to decline:
Buddhism took root. A medium smuggled in
Pale jellies and a floating mandolin.
Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept
All is allowed, into some classes crept;
And to fulfill the fish wish of the womb,
A school of Freudians headed for the tomb. (ll. 638-644)


According to Kinbote, Shade listed Dostoevski among Russian humorists:


Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 172)


The “real” name of the poet Shade, his commentator Kinbote and his murderer Gradus seems to be Botkin. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade’s “real” name). There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (a target of Pushkin’s epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again.


In his essay Ob Annenskom (“On Annenski,” 1921) Hodasevich compares Annenski to Ivan Ilyich Golovin (the main character in Tolstoy’s story “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” 1886) and points out that Annenski regarded his penname Nik. T-o (“Mr. Nobody”) as a translation of Greek Outis (the pseudonym under which Odysseus conceals his identity from Polyphemus, the Cyclops in Homer’s Odyssey):


Чего не додумал Иван Ильич, то знал Анненский. Знал, что никаким директорством, никаким бытом и даже никакой филологией от смерти по-настоящему не загородиться. Она уничтожит и директора, и барина, и филолога. Только над истинным его "я", над тем, что отображается в "чувствах и мыслях", над личностью -- у неё как будто нет власти. И он находил реальное, осязаемое отражение и утверждение личности -- в поэзии. Тот, чьё лицо он видел, подходя к зеркалу, был директор гимназии, смертный никто. Тот, чьё лицо отражалось в поэзии, был бессмертный некто. Ник. Т-о -- никто -- есть безличный действительный статский советник, которым, как видимой оболочкой, прикрыт невидимый некто. Этот свой псевдоним, под которым он печатал стихи, Анненский рассматривал как перевод греческого "утис", никто, -- того самого псевдонима, под которым Одиссей скрыл от циклопа Полифема своё истинное имя, свою подлинную личность, своего некто. Поэзия была для него заклятием страшного Полифема -- смерти. Но психологически это не только не мешало, а даже способствовало тому, чтобы его вдохновительницей, его Музой была смерть.


In "Art," a little poem from Night Rote, Shade mentions mammoth hunts and Odysseys:


I remember one little poem from Night Rote (meaning "the nocturnal sound of the sea") that happened to be my first contact with the American poet Shade. A young lecturer on American Literature, a brilliant and charming boy from Boston, showed me that slim and lovely volume in Onhava, in my student days. The following lines opening this poem, which is entitled "Art," pleased me by their catchy lilt and jarred upon the religious sentiments instilled in me by our very "high" Zemblan church.


From mammoth hunts and Odysseys

And Oriental charms

To the Italian goddesses

With Flemish babes in arms. (note to Line 957)


According to Hodasevich, Annenski’s Muse was death. Just before Shade’s death Kinbote asks him, if the muse was kind to him:


"Well," I said, "has the muse been kind to you?"
"Very kind," he replied, slightly bowing his hand-propped head: "Exceptionally kind and gentle. In fact, I have here (indicating a huge pregnant envelope near him on the oilcloth) practically the entire product. A few trifles to settle and [suddenly striking the table with his fist] I've swung it, by God." (note to Line 991)


In Pushkin's drama Boris Godunov (1825) that VN's uncle Konstantin Dmitrievich translated into English the Impostor mentions latinskie stikhi (verses in Latin) and latinskaya muza (Latin Muse):


Что вижу я? Латинские стихи!
Стократ священ союз меча и лиры,
Единый лавр их дружно обвивает.
Родился я под небом полунощным,
Но мне знаком латинской Музы голос,
И я люблю парнасские цветы.
Я верую в пророчества пиитов.
Нет, не вотще в их пламенной груди
Кипит восторг: благословится подвиг,
Его ж они прославили заране!
Приближься, друг. В моё воспоминанье
Прими сей дар.
(Даёт ему перстень)
Когда со мной свершится
Судьбы завет, когда корону предков
Надену я; надеюсь вновь услышать
Твой сладкий глас, твой вдохновенный гимн
Musa gloriam coronat, gloriaque musam.
Итак, друзья, до завтра, до свиданья.


P r e t e n d e r
What do I see? Verses in Latin!
Blessed is the holy union of sword and lyre,
One laurel friendly twines them round.
Under the midnight heaven I was born,
The voice of Latin Muse, however,
Is familiar to me.
I love the flowers of Parnassus
And I believe in prophecy of poets.
It's not in vain, delight boils in their flaming chests:
Blessed is the feat: they've glorified it in advance!
Come here, my friend. Accept this gift
and you'll remember me.
(Gives him a ring)
When covenant of my fate is done for me
When I put on the crown of my fathers,
I hope to hear your sweet voice and your inspired hymn again.
Musa gloriam coronat, gloriaque musam.
And so, friends, till tomorrow, goodbye.
(transl. A. Vagapov)


Musa gloriam coronat, gloriaque musam (the muse crowns glory, glory crowns the muse) and korona predkov (the crown of my fathers) bring to mind the korona-vorona-korova (crown-crow-cow) series of misprint in Kinbote's Commentary:


Translators of Shade's poem are bound to have trouble with the transformation, at one stroke, of "mountain" into "fountain": it cannot be rendered in French or German, or Russian, or Zemblan; so the translator will have to put in it into one of those footnotes that are the rogue's galleries of words. However! There exists to my knowledge one absolutely extraordinary, unbelievably elegant case, where not only two, but three words are involved. The story itself is trivial enough (and probably apocryphal). A newspaper account of a Russian tsar's coronation had, instead of korona (crown), the misprint vorona (crow), and when next day this was apologetically "corrected," it got misprinted a second time as korova (cow). The artistic correlation between the crown-crow-cow series and the Russian korona-vorona-korova series is something that would have, I am sure, enraptured my poet. I have seen nothing like it on lexical playfields and the odds against the double coincidence defy computation. (note to Line 803)