Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023362, Sat, 6 Oct 2012 01:16:24 +0300

'Oh yes,' answered Van negligently. 'A ribald contemporary of Justinus, the Roman scholar. Yes, great stuff. Blinding blend of subtility and brilliant coarseness. You read it, dear, in the literal French translation with the Greek en regard - didn't you? - but a friend of mine here showed me a scrap of new-found text, which you could not have seen, about two children, a brother and sister, who did it so often that they finally died in each other's limbs, and could not be separated - it just stretched and stretched, and snapped back in place every time the perplexed parents let go. It is all very obscene, and very tragic, and terribly funny.' (Ada, 2.5)

Van to Ada (Van's twelve-year-old sister and lover, who is naked, like her fourteen-year-old brother, and who just mentioned the Stabian flower girl):

'Good for you, Pompeianella (whom you saw scattering her flowers in one of Uncle Dan's picture books, but whom I admired last summer in a Naples museum). Now don't you think we should resume our shorts and shirts and go down, and bury or burn this album [Marina's herbarium*] at once, girl. Right?' (1.1)
Below is Bryusov's poem Pompeyanka (Pompeian Woman, 1901):

«Мне первым мужем был купец богатый,
Вторым поэт, а третьим жалкий мим,
Четвёртым консул, ныне евнух пятый,
Но кесарь сам меня сосватал с ним.

Меня любил империи владыка,
Но мне был люб один нубийский раб,
Не жду над гробом: «casta et pudica»,
Для многих пояс мой был слишком слаб.

Но ты, мой друг, мизиец мой стыдливый!
Навек, навек тебе я предана.
Не верь, дитя, что женщины все лживы:
Меж ними верная нашлась одна!»

Так говорила, не дыша, бледнея,
Матрона Лидия, как в смутном сне,
Забыв, что вся взволнована Помпея,
Что над Везувием лазурь в огне.

Когда ж без сил любовники застыли
И покорил их необорный сон,
На город пали груды серой пыли,
И город был под пеплом погребён.

Века прошли; и, как из алчной пасти,
Мы вырвали былое из земли.
И двое тел, как знак бессмертной страсти,
Нетленными в объятиях нашли.

Поставьте выше памятник священный,
Живое изваянье вечных тел,
Чтоб память не угасла во вселенной
О страсти, перешедшей за предел!

‘My first husband was quite a wealthy merchant,
My next - a poet, third - a piteous mime,
The fourth - a consul, now “five” is a eunuch,
But Caesar married us himself this time.

The master of the empire loved me madly,
but I was fond of one Nubian slave.
My belt undid for many. And I never
Dreamed Casta et Pudica above my grave.

But you, young friend, my shy one from Mysia,
Forever… ever… I am yours alone.
Love, don’t believe that all women are liars;
Among them there was found a faithful one!’

And so she spoke, and she was pale and breathless…
Lydia, a matron, as in some vague dream,
Forgetting that all Pompei was in panic
And that Vesuvius’ sky was flame and steam.

And when the lovers tired and became quiet
And they were overcome with potent sleep,
Masses of gray dust fell upon the city,
And it was buried under ashes deep.

Centuries passed, and as from greedy jawbones,
We tore the past from earth here in this place.
We found a symbol of immortal passion:
Two bodies well-preserved in their embrace.

Erect the sacred monument still higher:
Live sculpture of eternal bodies found!
So memory will keep the world reminded
Of passion which transcended every bound.

*In his essay on Bryusov (in The Silhouettes of Russian Writers) Ayhenvald notes that Bryusov prefers herbarium to live flowers: И, однако, при этом зове к иссушению жизни, при этом предпочтении гербария цветам, Брюсов думает, что

Быть может, всё в жизни - лишь средство
Для ярко-певучих стихов.

Further into the essay, the critic quotes Bryusov's poem in which a tapir's heavy tread is mentioned: замирает на читательских устах слово привета, когда сочинённо именует себя автор "ловцом стоцветных перлов ожиданья" или когда говорит о себе, что он принимает "весь шум, весь говор мира"
От тяжкой поступи тапира
До лёгких трепетов стрекоз, -

этот тапир, из такой искусственной и большой дали призванный исключительно ради рифмы, своею тяжкой поступью топчет всё стихотворение, и не его ли неуклюжему вмешательству обязаны мы и тем, что так трудно выговорить последний стих пьесы: "блеск дня, чернь ночи, вёсны, зимы"?

A few blocks from the schoolgrounds, a widow, Mrs Tapirov, who was French but spoke English with a Russian accent, had a shop of objets d'art and more or less antique furniture... In passing, he [Van] touched a half-opened rose and was cheated of the sterile texture his fingertips had expected when cool life kissed them with pouting lips. 'My daughter,' said Mrs Tapirov, who saw his surprise, 'always puts a bunch of real ones among the fake pour attraper le client. You drew the joker.' (1.4) Before he met Ada (who loves orchids but loathes roses), Van was (platonically) in love with Mrs Tapirov's daughter. He recalls her on the eve of his duel with Tapper:
He stared for a moment at the harps and the guitars and the flowers in silver vases on consoles receding in the dusk of looking-glasses, and recalled the schoolgirl whom he had longed for so keenly half a dozen years ago - Rose? Roza? Was that her name? Would he have been happier with her than with his pale fatal sister? (1.42)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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