Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024920, Sun, 22 Dec 2013 23:42:00 +0300

certicle storms in Ada
'What was that?' exclaimed Marina, whom certicle storms terrified even more than they did the Antiamberians of Ladore County.
'Sheet lightning,' suggested Van.
'If you ask me,' said Demon, turning on his chair to consider the billowing drapery, 'I'd guess it was a photographer's flash. After all, we have here a famous actress and a sensational acrobat.'
Ada ran to the window. From under the anxious magnolias a white-faced boy flanked by two gaping handmaids stood aiming a camera at the harmless, gay family group. But it was only a nocturnal mirage, not unusual in July. Nobody was taking pictures except Perun, the unmentionable god of thunder. (1.38)

In his poem Groza momental'naya navek ("The Thunderstorm Instantaneous Forever") included in Sestra moya zhizn' (My Sister Life) Pasternak, too, has grom (thunder) take pictures:

Sto slepyashchikh fotografiy
Noch'yu snyal na pamyat' grom.
In memory [of summer] the thunder took at night
a hundred blinding photographs.

In his Vysokaya bolezn' ("The Sublime Disease") Pasternak compares Lenin's govorok (speech) to shorokh moln'i sharovoy (the rustle of a ball lightning).

Certicle is an anagram of electric. On Antiterra (Earth's twin planet on which Ada is set) electricity is banned after the L disaster. L is Lenin's (and Lucette's, and Lolita's*) initial. Bliznets v tuchakh ("A Twin in the Thunderclouds," 1914) was Pasternak's first book of poetry. Bliznetsy ("The Twins," 1852) is a poem by Tyutchev. In Tyutchev's poem Nochnoe nebo tak ugryumo... ("Nocturnal sky is so gloomy..." 1865) the sheet lightnings converse, like deaf-mute demons:

Ночное небо так угрюмо,
Заволокло со всех сторон.
То не угроза и не дума,
То вялый, безотрадный сон.
Одни зарницы огневые,
Воспламеняясь чередой,
Как демоны глухонемые,
Ведут беседу меж собой.

Как по условленному знаку,
Вдруг неба вспыхнет полоса,
И быстро выступят из мраку
Поля и дальние леса.
И вот опять всё потемнело,
Всё стихло в чуткой темноте –
Как бы таинственное дело
Решалось там – на высоте.

Sad night creeps
across an earth beset
neither by thought nor threat
but by joyless, sluggish sleep.
Lightning brightens the scowls,
winking intermittently
like deaf-mute demons
debating heatedly.

A sign has been agreed:
the sky's alight. A sudden surge
snaps from the murk with sudden speed
and fields and distant woods emerge.
Then again they're under shrouds.
You sense it all go darkly still up there,
and if in camera some high affair
they'd ratified above the clouds.
(transl. by Frank Jude)**

Demony glukhonemye ("The Deaf-Mute Demons," 1917) is Voloshin's poem from his book Neopalimaya kupina ("The Burning Bush," 1919):

Они проходят по земле
Слепые и глухонемые
И чертят знаки огневые
В распахивающейся мгле.

Собою бездны озаряя,
Они не видят ничего,
Они творят, не постигая
Предназначенья своего.

Сквозь дымный сумрак преисподней
Они кидают вещий луч...
Их судьбы — это лик Господний,
Во мраке явленный из туч.

Maximilian Voloshin (whom VN met in 1918 in the Crimea) is the author of Rossiya raspyataya ("Russia Crucified," 1920).

‘How did this idiotic conversation start in the first place?’ Ada wished to be told, cocking her head at the partly ornamented dackel or taksik.
‘Mea culpa,’ Mlle Lariviere explained with offended dignity. ‘All I said, at the picnic, was that Greg might not care for ham sandwiches, because Jews and Tartars do not eat pork.’
'The Romans,' said Greg, 'the Roman colonists, who crucified Christian Jews and Barabbits, and other unfortunate people in the old days, did not touch pork either, but I certainly do and so did my grandparents.'
Lucette was puzzled by a verb Greg had used. To illustrate it for her, Van joined his ankles, spread both his arms horizontally, and rolled up his eyes. (1.14)

Grace Erminin's twin brother, Greg mentions "burnberries" that grow in Ardis:

A tall rosy-faced youngster in smart riding breeches dismounted from a black pony.
'It's Greg's beautiful new pony,' said Ada.
Greg, with a well-bred boy's easy apologies, had brought Marina's platinum lighter which his aunt had discovered in her own bag.
'Goodness, I've not even had time to miss it. How is Ruth?'
Greg said that both Aunt Ruth and Grace were laid up with acute indigestion - 'not because of your wonderful sandwiches,' he hastened to add, 'but because of all those burnberries they picked in the bushes.' (ibid.)

Four years later, on Ada's sixteenth birthday, Greg arrives at the picnic site on his new Silentium motorcycle:

Ada had declined to invite anybody except the Erminin twins to her picnic; but she had had no intention of inviting the brother without the sister. The latter, it turned out, could not come, having gone to New Cranton to see a young drummer, her first boy friend, sail off into the sunrise with his regiment. But Greg had to be asked to come after all: on the previous day he had called on her bringing a 'talisman' from his very sick father, who wanted Ada to treasure as much as his grandam had a little camel of yellow ivory carved in Kiev, five centuries ago, in the days of Timur and Nabok.
Van did not err in believing that Ada remained unaffected by Greg's devotion. He now met him again with pleasure - the kind of pleasure, immoral in its very purity, which adds its icy tang to the friendly feelings a successful rival bears toward a thoroughly decent fellow.
Greg, who had left his splendid new black Silentium motorcycle in the forest ride, observed:
'We have company.'
'Indeed we do,' assented Van. 'Kto sii (who are they)? Do you have any idea?' (1.39)

Greg is madly in love with Ada but is too shy to make a declaration:

‘I last saw you thirteen years ago, riding a black pony — no, a black Silentium. Bozhe moy!’
‘Yes — Bozhe moy, you can well say that. Those lovely, lovely agonies in lovely Ardis! Oh, I was absolyutno bezumno (madly) in love with your cousin!’ (3.2)

Silentium is a famous poem by Tyutchev:

Молчи, скрывайся и таи
И чувства и мечты свои —
Пускай в душевной глубине
Встают и заходят оне
Безмолвно, как звезды в ночи, —
Любуйся ими — и молчи.

Как сердцу высказать себя?
Другому как понять тебя?
Поймёт ли он, чем ты живёшь?
Мысль изречённая есть ложь.
Взрывая, возмутишь ключи, —
Питайся ими — и молчи.

Лишь жить в себе самом умей —
Есть целый мир в душе твоей
Таинственно-волшебных дум;
Их оглушит наружный шум,
Дневные разгонят лучи, —
Внимай их пенью — и молчи!..

Speak not, lie hidden, and conceal
the way you dream, the things you feel.
Deep in your spirit let them rise
akin to stars in crystal skies
that set before the night is blurred:
delight in them and speak no word.

How can a heart expression find?
How should another know your mind?
Will he discern what quickens you?
A thought once uttered is untrue.
Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.

Live in your inner self alone
within your soul a world has grown,
the magic of veiled thoughts that might
be blinded by the outer light,
drowned in the noise of day, unheard...
take in their song and speak no word.
(transl. by VN)

The twins in Tyutchev's poem "The Twins" are Smert' i Son (Death and Sleep) and Samoubiystvo i Lyubov' (Suicide and Love). Son being Russian for both "sleep" and "dream," one is reminded of Lermontov's poem Son ("The Dream," 1841) - but also of Dostoevski's story Son smeshnogo cheloveka ("The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," 1877). Its hero and narrator commits suicide in his dream and is brought by an angel to Earth's twin planet whose innocent inhabitants he corrupts. Dostoevski's mock execution on January 3, 1850,*** seems to correspond to the Antiterran L disaster in the beau milieu of the 19th century (1.3). January 3, 1876, is Lucette's birthday (1.1). Poor Lucette commits suicide because of her unrequited love for Van (3.5).

According to my hypothesis, Kim Beauharnais, a kitchen boy and photographer at Ardis who spies on Van and Ada, attempts to blackmail Ada and is blinded by Van, is the son of Arkadiy Dolgorukiy, the hero and narrator in Dostoevski's novel Podrostok (The Adolescent, 1875).****

"Feet of clay," hmm?..

*in VN's Lolita (1955) Humbert Humbert's mother was killed by lightning: My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three... (1.2)

**for those who prefer frankly rhymed paraphrases:

Glum is the sky, by night imprisoned,
As over it the dark clouds creep,
Not menacing or wistful is it,
But plunged in dreary, torpid sleep.
Alone the streaks of lightning, bursting
Through cloud and shadow, seem to be,
As they flare up and blaze, conversing
Like deaf-mute demons soundlessly.

As at a signal, for an instant
A strip of sky is lit, and Lo! —
From out the murk the forests distant
Emerge, set suddenly aglow.
But the light dies, the darkness fleeing
That cloaks the startled, wakeful sky,
And all is still... Is a plot being
Hatched in the silent wastes on high?

***New Style

****see my article "Grattez le Tartar..." in The Nabokovian ## 59, 60

Alexey Sklyarenko

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