something Stygian, Lethe & Tanagra dust in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Mon, 10/18/2021 - 08:28

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), we all know those dreams in which something Stygian soaks through and Lethe leaks in the dreary terms of defective plumbing:

 

We all know those dreams in which something Stygian soaks through and Lethe leaks in the dreary terms of defective plumbing. Following this line, there is a false start preserved in the draft – and I hope the reader will feel something of the chill that ran down my long and supple spine when I discovered this variant:

Should the dead murderer try to embrace
His outraged victim whom he now must face?
Do objects have a soul? Or perish must
Alike great temples and Tanagra dust?

The last syllable of Tanagra and the first three letters of "dust" form the name of the murderer whose shargar (puny ghost) the radiant spirit of our poet was soon to face. "Simple chance!" the pedestrian reader may cry. But let him try to see, as I have tried to see, how many such combinations are possible and plausible. "Leningrad used to be Petrograd?" "A prig rad (obs. past tense of read) us?"

This variant is so prodigious that only scholarly discipline and a scrupulous regard for the truth prevented me from inserting it here, and deleting four lines elsewhere (for example, the weak lines 627-630) so as to preserve the length of the poem.

Shade composed these lines on Tuesday, July 14th. What was Gradus doing that day? Nothing. Combinational fate rests on its laurels. We saw him last on the late afternoon of July 10th when he returned from Lex to his hotel in Geneva, and there we left him.

For the next four days Gradus remained fretting in Geneva. The amusing paradox with these men of action is that they constantly have to endure long stretches of otiosity that they are unable to fill with anything, lacking as they do the resources of an adventurous mind. As many people of little culture, Gradus was a voracious reader of newspapers, pamphlets, chance leaflets and the multilingual literature that comes with nose drops and digestive tablets; but this summed up his concessions to intellectual curiosity, and since his eyesight was not too good, and the consumability of local news not unlimited, he had to rely a great deal on the torpor of sidewalk cafes and on the makeshift of sleep.

How much happier the wide-awake indolents, the monarchs among men, the rich monstrous brains deriving intense enjoyment and rapturous pangs from the balustrade of a terrace at nightfall, from the lights and the lake below, from the distant mountain shapes melting into the dark apricot of the afterglow, from the black conifers outlined against the pale ink of the zenith, and from the garnet and green flounces of the water along the silent, sad, forbidden shoreline. Oh my sweet Boscobel! And the tender and terrible memories, and the shame, and the glory, and the maddening intimation, and the star that no party member can ever reach.

On Wednesday morning, still without news, Gradus telegraphed headquarters saying that he thought it unwise to wait any longer and that he would be staying at Hotel Lazuli, Nice. (note to Line 596)

 

“Something Stygian” brings to mind s nezhnost’yu stigiyskoy (with Stygian tenderness) in Mandelshtam’s poem Kogda Psikheya-zhizn’ spuskaetsya k tenyam (“When Psyche-Life descends to the shades,” 1920):

 

Когда Психея-жизнь спускается к теням
В полупрозрачный лес, вослед за Персефоной,
Слепая ласточка бросается к ногам
С стигийской нежностью и веткою зеленой.

 

Навстречу беженке спешит толпа теней,
Товарку новую встречая причитаньем,
И руки слабые ломают перед ней
С недоумением и робким упованьем.

 

Кто держит зеркальце, кто баночку духов, —
Душа ведь женщина, ей нравятся безделки,
И лес безлиственный прозрачных голосов
Сухие жалобы кропят, как дождик мелкий.

 

И в нежной сутолке не зная, что начать,
Душа не узнает прозрачные дубравы,
Дохнет на зеркало и медлит передать
Лепешку медную с туманной переправы.

 

When Psyche-Life descends to the shades
To half-translucent woods, following Persephone,
A blind swallow flings itself at one’s feet
With Stygian tenderness and a green bough.

 

A crowd of shades hurries toward the refugee,
Meeting the new companion with dirges,
And wring their powerless hands in front of her,
In bafflement and timid aspiration.

 

One holds a pocket mirror, another a perfume tin —
Since Psyche is female, she must love the trappings,
And the leafless wood of transparent voices
Is sprinkled by dry grievances, as by a light rain.

 

And, in the tender hustle lost as to how to start,
The soul doesn’t recognize the transparent oak dells,
She mists the pocket mirror and hesitates to hand in
The cake of copper from the foggy ferryboat.

(tr. N. Bershadsky)


Slepaya lastochka (a blind swallow) that flings itself at one’s feet with Stygian tenderness and a green bough makes one think of Sybil Swallow, as Kinbote calls Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife):

 

John Shade and Sybil Swallow (see note to line 247) were married in 1919, exactly three decades before King Charles wed Disa, Duchess of Payn. Since the very beginning of his reign (1936-1958) representatives of the nation, salmon fishermen, non-union glaziers, military groups, worried relatives, and especially the Bishop of Yeslove, a sanguineous and saintly old man, had been doing their utmost to persuade him to give up his copious but sterile pleasures and take a wife. It was a matter not of morality but of succession. As in the case of some of his predecessors, rough alderkings who burned for boys, the clergy blandly ignored our young bachelor's pagan habits, but wanted him to do what an earlier and even more reluctant Charles had done: take a night off and lawfully engender an heir. (note to Line 275)

 

John Shade's wife, nee Irondell (which comes not from a little valley yielding iron ore but from the French for "swallow"). She was a few months his senior. I understand she came of Canadian stock, as did Shade's maternal grandmother (a first cousin of Sybil's grandfather, if I am not greatly mistaken).

From the very first I tried to behave with the utmost courtesy toward my friend's wife, and from the very first she disliked and distrusted me. I was to learn later that when alluding to me in public she used to call me "an elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macaco worm; the monstrous parasite of a genius." I pardon her - her and everybody. (note to Line 247)

 

The “real” name of both Sybil Shade and Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to be Sofia Botkin, born Lastochkin. Aya-Sofia (“Hagia Sophia,” 1912) and Leningrad (1930) are poems by Mandelshtam. Mandelshtam’s poem Dekabrist (“The Decembrist,” 1917) ends in the line Rossiya, Leta, Loreleya (Russia, Lethe, Lorelei):

 

Все перепуталось, и некому сказать,

Что, постепенно холодея,

Все перепуталось, и сладко повторять:

Россия, Лета, Лорелея.

 

All is muddled, and there's no one to recount

That everything grows gradually cold,

All is muddled, yet how lovely to repeat:

Russia, Lethe, Lorelei.

 

Hagia Sophia is a great temple in Constantinople (also called in Russian Tsargrad). Tanagra dust in Shade’s variant brings to mind pyl’naya vaza Tanagra (a dusty pseudo-Tanagra vase) mentioned by Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev in VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937):

 

Это была очень небольшая, пошловато обставленная, дурно освещённая комната с застрявшей тенью в углу и пыльной вазой танагра на недосягаемой полке, и когда наконец прибыл последний гость, и Александра Яковлевна, ставшая на минуту – как это обычно бывает – замечательно похожа на свой же (синий с бликом) чайник, начала разливать чай, теснота помещения претворилась в подобие какого-то трогательного уездного уюта. На диване, среди подушек – все неаппетитных, заспанных цветов – подле шелковой куклы с бескостными ногами ангела и персидским разрезом очей, которую оба сидящих поочередно мяли, удобно расположились: огромный, бородатый, в довоенных носках со стрелками, Васильев и худенькая, очаровательно дохлая, с розовыми веками барышня – в общем вроде белой мыши; ее звали Тамара (что лучше пристало бы кукле), а фамилия смахивала на один из тех немецких горных ландшафтов, которые висят у рамочников. Около книжной полки сидел Федор Константинович и, хотя в горле стоял кубик, старался казаться в духе. Инженер Керн, близко знавший покойного Александра Блока, извлекал из продолговатой коробки, с клейким шорохом, финик. Внимательно осмотрев кондитерские пирожные на большой тарелке с плохо нарисованным шмелем, Любовь Марковна, вдруг скомкав выбор, взяла тот сорт, на котором непременно бывает след неизвестного пальца: пышку. Хозяин рассказывал старинную первоапрельскую проделку медика первокурсника в Киеве… Но самым интересным из присутствующих был сидевший поодаль, сбоку от письменного стола, и не принимавший участия в общем разговоре, за которым, однако, с тихим вниманием следил, юноша… чем-то действительно напоминавший Федора Константиновича: он напоминал его не чертами лица, которые сейчас было трудно рассмотреть, но тональностью всего облика, – серовато-русым оттенком круглой головы, которая была коротко острижена (что по правилам поздней петербургской романтики шло поэту лучше, чем лохмы), прозрачностью больших, нежных, слегка оттопыренных ушей, тонкостью шеи с тенью выемки у затылка. Он сидел в такой же позе, в какой сиживал и Федор Константинович, – немножко опустив голову, скрестив ноги и не столько скрестив, сколько поджав руки, словно зяб, так что покой тела скорее выражался острыми уступами (колено, локти, щуплое плечо) и сжатостью всех членов, нежели тем обычным смягчением очерка, которое бывает, когда человек отдыхает и слушает. Тень двух томов, стоявших на столе, изображала обшлаг и угол лацкана, а тень тома третьего, склонившегося к другим, могла сойти за галстук. Он был лет на пять моложе Федора Константиновича и, что касается самого лица, то, судя по снимкам на стенах комнаты и в соседней спальне (на столике, между плачущими по ночам постелями), сходства, может быть, и не существовало вовсе, ежели не считать известной его удлиненности при развитости лобных костей, да темной глубины глазниц – паскальевой, по определению физиогномистов, – да ещё, пожалуй, в широких бровях намечалось что-то общее… но нет, дело было не в простом сходстве, а в одинаковости духовной породы двух нескладных по-разному, угловато-чувствительных людей. Он сидел, этот юноша, не поднимая глаз, с чуть лукавой чертой у губ, скромно и не очень удобно, на стуле, вдоль сидения которого блестели медные кнопки, слева от заваленного словарями стола, и, – как бы теряя равновесие, с судорожным усилием, Александр Яковлевич снова открывал взгляд на него, продолжая рассказывать всё то молодецки смешное, чем обычно прикрывал свою болезнь.

 

It was a smallish, rather tastelessly furnished, badly lighted room with a shadow lingering in one corner and a pseudo-Tanagra vase standing on an unattainable shelf, and when at last the final guest had arrived and Mme. Chernyshevski, becoming for a moment—as usually happens—remarkably similar to her own (blue, gleaming) teapot, began to pour tea, the cramped quarters assumed the guise of a certain touching, provincial coziness. On the sofa, among cushions of various hue—all of them unappetizing and blurry—a silk doll with an angel’s limp legs and a Persian’s almond-shaped eyes was being squeezed alternately by two comfortably settled persons: Vasiliev, huge, bearded, wearing prewar socks arrowed above the ankle; and a fragile, charmingly debilitated girl with pink eyelids, in general appearance rather like a white mouse; her first name was Tamara (which would have better suited the doll), and her last was reminiscent of one of those German mountain landscapes that hang in picture-framing shops. Fyodor sat by the bookshelf and tried to simulate good spirits, despite the lump in his throat. Kern, a civil engineer, who prided himself on having been a close acquaintance of the late Alexander Blok (the celebrated poet), was producing a gluey sound as he extracted a date from an oblong carton. Lyubov Markovna carefully examined the pastries on a large plate with a poorly pictured bumblebee and, suddenly botching her investigation, contented herself with a bun—the sugar-powdered kind that always bears an anonymous fingerprint. The host was telling an ancient story about a medical student’s April Fool’s prank in Kiev…. But the most interesting person in the room sat a little distance apart, by the writing desk, and did not take part in the general conversation—which, however, he followed with quiet attention. He was a youth somewhat resembling Fyodor—not so much in facial features (which at that moment were difficult to distinguish) but in the tonality of his general appearance: the dunnish auburn shade of the round head which was closely cropped (a style which, according to the rules of latter-day St. Petersburg romanticism, was more becoming to a poet than shaggy locks); the transparency of the large, tender, slightly protruding ears; the slenderness of the neck with the shadow of a hollow at its nape. He sat in the same pose Fyodor sometimes assumed—head slightly lowered, legs crossed, arms not so much crossed as hugging each other, as if he felt chilled, so that the repose of the body was expressed more by angular projections (knee, elbow, thin shoulder) and the contraction of all the members rather than by the general softening of the frame when a person is relaxing and listening. The shadows of two volumes standing on the desk mimicked a cuff and the corner of a lapel, while the shadow of a third volume, which was leaning against the others, might have passed for a necktie. He was about five years younger than Fyodor and, as far as the face itself was concerned, if one judged by the photographs on the walls of the room and in the adjacent bedroom (on the little table between twin beds that wept at night), there was perhaps no resemblance at all, if you discounted a certain elongation of outline combined with prominent frontal bones and the dark depth of the eye sockets—Pascal-like, according to the physiognomists—and also there might have been something in common in the breadth of the eyebrows… but no, it was not a matter of ordinary resemblance, but of generic spiritual similarity between two angular and sensitive boys, each odd in his own way. This youth sat with downcast eyes and a trace of mockery on his lips, in a modest, not very comfortable position, on a chair along whose seat copper tacks glinted, to the left of the dictionary-cluttered desk; and Alexander Yakovlevich Chernyshevski, with a convulsive effort, as if regaining lost balance, would tear his gaze away from that shadowy youth, as he went on with the jaunty banter behind which he tried to conceal his mental sickness. (Chapter I)

 

Poor Alexander Yakovlevich Chernyshevski went mad after the suicide of his son Yasha. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became the poet Shade, his commentator Kinbote and his murderer Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade’s “real” name). Nadezhda was the name of Osip Mandelshtam’s wife. There is nadezhda (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.

 

October 19 is also the anniversary of Jonathan Swift’s death. In another discarded variant Shade mentions poor old man Swift:

 

A beautiful variant, with one curious gap, branches off at this point in the draft (dated July 6):

 

Strange Other World where all our still-born dwell,
And pets, revived, and invalids, grown well,
And minds that died before arriving there:
Poor old man Swift, poor —, poor Baudelaire

 

What might that dash stand for? Unless Shade gave prosodic value to the mute e in “Baudelaire,” which I am quite certain he would never have done in English verse (cp. “Rabelais,” line 501), the name required here must scan as a trochee. Among the names of celebrated poets, painters, philosophers, etc., known to have become insane or to have sunk into senile imbecility, we find many suitable ones. Was Shade confronted by too much variety with nothing to help logic choose and so left a blank, relying upon the mysterious organic force that rescues poets to fill it in at its own convenience? Or was there something else—some obscure intuition, some prophetic scruple that prevented him from spelling out the name of an eminent man who happened to be an intimate friend of his? Was he perhaps playing safe because a reader in his household might have objected to that particular name being mentioned? And if it comes to that, why mention it at all in this tragical context? Dark, disturbing thoughts. (note to Line 231)

 

Strange Other World and IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) described by Shade in Canto Three of his poem bring to mind obshchestvo bor’by s potustoronnim (the Society for Struggle With the Other World) whose Chairman is Alexander Yakovlevich Chernyshevski:

 

"Знаешь, - сказала Елизавета Павловна, осторожно-легко сходя с лестницы и не оборачивая опущенной головы к сыну, - я, кажется, просто куплю гильзы и табак, а то так выходит дороговатенько", - и тотчас добавила тем же голосом: "Господи, как ее жалко". И точно, нельзя было Александру Яковлевну не пожалеть. Её муж вот уже четвертый месяц содержался в приюте для ослабевших душой, в "желтоватом доме", как он сам игриво выражался в минуты просвета. Ещё в октябре Федор Константинович как то и посетил его там. В разумно обставленной палате сидел пополневший, розовый, отлично выбритый и совершенно сумасшедший Александр Яковлевич, в резиновых туфлях, и непромокаемом плаще с куколем. "Как, разве вы умерли?" - было первое, что он спросил, - скорее недовольно, чем удивленно. Состоя "председателем общества борьбы с потусторонним", он всё изобретал различные средства для непропускания призраков (врач, применяя новую систему "логического потворства", не препятствовал этому) и теперь, исходя вероятно из другой ее непроводности, испытывал резину, но повидимому результаты до сих пор получались скорее отрицательные, потому что, когда Федор Константинович хотел было взять для себя стул, стоявший в сторонке, Чернышевский раздраженно сказал: "Оставьте, вы же отлично видите, что там уже сидят двое", - и это "двое", и шуршащий, всплескивающий при каждом его движении плащ, и бессловесное присутствие служителя, точно это было свидание в тюрьме, и весь разговор больного показались Федору Константиновичу невыносимо карикатурным огрублением того сложного, прозрачного, еще благородного, хотя и полубезумного, состояния души, в котором так недавно Александр Яковлевич общался с утраченным сыном. Тем ядрено-балагурным тоном, который он прежде приберегал для шуток - а теперь говорил всерьез, - он стал пространно сетовать, всё почему-то по-немецки, на то, что люди-де тратятся на выдумывание зенитных орудий и воздушных отрав, а не заботятся вовсе о ведении другой, в миллион раз более важной борьбы. У Федора Константиновича была на окате виска запекшаяся ссадина, - утром стукнулся о ребро парового отопления, второпях доставая из-под него закатившийся колпачок от пасты. Вдруг оборвав речь, Александр Яковлевич брезгливо и беспокойно указал пальцем на его висок, "Was haben Sie da?", - спросил он, болезненно сморщась, - а затем нехорошо усмехнулся и, всё больше сердясь и волнуясь, начал говорить, что его не проведешь, - сразу признал, мол, свежего самоубийцу. Служитель подошел к Федору Константиновичу и попросил его удалиться. И идя через могильно-роскошный сад, мимо жирных клумб, где в блаженном успении цвели басисто-багряные георгины, по направлению к скамейке, на которой его ждала Чернышевская, никогда не входившая к мужу, но целые дни проводившая в непосредственной близости от его жилья, озабоченная, бодрая, всегда с пакетами, - идя по этому пестрому гравию между миртовых, похожих на мебель, кустов и принимая встречных посетителей за параноиков, Федор Константинович тревожно думал о том, что несчастье Чернышевских является как бы издевательской вариацией на тему его собственного, пронзенного надеждой горя, - и лишь гораздо позднее он понял всё изящество короллария и всю безупречную композиционную стройность, с которой включалось в его жизнь это побочное звучание.

 

“You know,” said Elizaveta Pavlovna, stepping lightly but cautiously down the stairs and not turning her lowered head toward her son, “I think I’ll just buy cigarette papers and tobacco, otherwise it comes out so dear,” and immediately she added in the same voice: “Goodness, how sorry I am for her.” And indeed, it was impossible not to pity Mme. Chernyshevski. Her husband had been kept over three months already in an institute for the mentally ailing, in “the semi-loony bin” as he himself playfully expressed it in moments of lucidity. As long ago as October Fyodor had once visited him there. In the sensibly furnished ward sat a fatter, rosier, beautifully shaven and completely insane Chernyshevski, in rubber slippers and a waterproof cloak with a hood. “Why, are you dead?” was the first thing he asked, more discontent than surprised. In his capacity as “Chairman of the Society for Struggle With the Other World” he was continually devising methods to prevent permeation by ghosts (his doctor, employing a new system of “logical connivance,” did not oppose this) and now, probably on the basis of its nonconductive quality in another sphere, he was trying out rubber, but evidently the results achieved so far were mainly negative since, when Fyodor was about to take a chair for himself which was standing to one side, Chernyshevski said irritably: “Leave it alone, you see very well there are two sitting on it already,” and this “two,” and the rustling cloak which plashed up with every movement, and the wordless presence of the attendant, as if this had been a meeting in prison, and the whole of the patient’s conversation seemed to Fyodor an unbearable, caricatured vulgarization of that complex, transparent and still noble though half-insane state of mind in which Chernyshevski had so recently communicated with his lost son. With the broad-comedy inflections he had formerly reserved for jokes—but which he now used in earnest—he launched into extensive lamentations, all for some reason in German, over the fact that people were wasting money to invent antiaircraft guns and poison gases and not caring at all about the conduct of another, million times more important, struggle. Fyodor had a healed-over scrape on the side of his temple—that morning he had knocked it against one of the ribs of a radiator in hastily recovering the top of a toothpaste tube which had rolled underneath it. Suddenly breaking off his speech, Chernyshevski pointed squeamishly and anxiously at his temple. “Was haben Sie da?” he asked, with a grimace of pain, and then smiled unpleasantly, and growing more and more angry and agitated, began to say that you could not get by him—he had recognized right away, he said, a recent suicide. The attendant came up to Fyodor and asked him to leave. And walking through the funereally luxuriant garden, past unctuous beds in which bass-toned, dark crimson dahlias were blooming in blessed sleep and eternal repose, toward the bench where he was awaited by Mme. Chernyshevski (who never went in to her husband but spent whole days in the immediate vicinity of his quarters, preoccupied, brisk, always with packages)—walking over the variegated gravel between myrtle shrubs resembling furniture and taking the visitors he passed for paranoiacs, troubled Fyodor kept pondering over the fact that the misfortune of the Chernyshevskis appeared to be a kind of mocking variation on the theme of his own hope-suffused grief, and only much later did he understand the full refinement of the corollary and all the irreproachable compositional balance with which these collateral sounds had been included in his own life. (Chapter Two)

 

The Chernyshevski couple in “The Gift” have the same name and patronymic as goluboy vorishka (the bashful chiseller) and his wife in Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stul’yev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928):

 

Завхоз 2-го дома Старсобеса был застенчивый ворюга. Всё существо его протестовало против краж, но не красть он не мог. Он крал, и ему было стыдно. Крал он постоянно, постоянно стыдился, и поэтому его хорошо бритые щёчки всегда горели румянцем смущения, стыдливости, застенчивости и конфуза. Завхоза звали Александром Яковлевичем, а жену его – Александрой Яковлевной. Он называл её Сашхен, она звала его Альхен. Свет не видывал ещё такого голубого воришки, как Александр Яковлевич.

 

The Assistant Warden of the Second Home of Stargorod Social Security Administration was a shy little thief. His whole being protested against stealing, yet it was impossible for him not to steal. He stole and was ashamed of himself. He stole constantly and was constantly ashamed of himself, which was why his smoothly shaven cheeks always burned with a blush of confusion, shame, bashfulness and embarrassment. The assistant warden's name was Alexander Yakovlevich, and his wife's name was Alexandra Yakovlevna. He used to call her Sashchen, and she used to call him Alchen. The world has never seen such a bashful chiseller as Alexander Yakovlevich. (chapter VIII “The Bashful Chiseller”)

 

According to Kinbote, in a conversation with him Shade mentioned “those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov:”

 

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)

 

At the end of his essay Veer gertsogini (“The Fan of the Duchess,” 1929) Mandelshtam praises Ilf and Petrov’s novel “The Twelve Chairs:”

 

Широчайшие слои сейчас буквально захлебываются книгой молодых авторов Ильфа и Петрова, называемой «Двенадцать стульев». Единственным откликом на этот брызжущий веселой злобой и молодостью, на этот дышащий требовательной любовью к советской стране памфлет было несколько слов, сказанных т. Бухариным на съезде профсоюзов. Бухарину книга Ильфа и Петрова для чего-то понадобилась, а рецензентам пока не нужна. Доберутся, конечно, и до нее и отбреют как следует.

 

The Duchess in Mandelshtam's essay is the Duchesse de Guermantes, a character in Proust's The Guermantes' Way. In Canto Two of his poem Shade mentions the talks with Socrates and Proust in cypress walks:

 

So why join in the vulgar laughter? Why

Scorn a hereafter none can verify:

The Turk's delight, the future lyres, the talks

With Socrates and Proust in cypress walks,

The seraph with his six flamingo wings,

And Flemish hells with porcupines and things?

It isn't that we dream too wild a dream:

The trouble is we do not make it seem

Sufficiently unlikely; for the most

We can think up is a domestic ghost. (ll. 221-230)

 

Socrates brings to mind Olga Sokratovna, Chernyshevvski’s wife in Fyodor’s book “The Life of Chernyshevski” (Chapter Four of “The Gift”).