Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027094, Mon, 4 Jul 2016 12:03:05 +0300

Cedarn & King Alfin in Pale Fire, Alph & Lenore Colline in Ada
Kinbote writes his Foreword, Commentary and Index to Shade’s poem in Cedarn, Utana.

Cedarn is an anagram of nacred, a word that rhymes with sacred. In his poem Kubla Khan (1797) S. T. Coleridge mentions Alph, the sacred river, and a cedarn cover (as pointed out by Tom Bolt in his post of Apr. 26, 1998):

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round:

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted

Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!

According to Kinbote, the name of one of his landlord’s four daughters is Alphina:

Judge Goldsworth had a wife and four daughters. Family photographs met me in the hallway and pursued me from room to room, and although I am sure that Alphina (9), Betty (10), Candida (12), and Dee (14) will soon change from horribly cute little schoolgirls to smart young ladies and superior mothers, I must confess that their pert pictures irritated me to such an extent that finally I gathered them one by one and dumped them all in a closet under the gallows row of their cellophane-shrouded winter clothes. (note to Lines 47-48)

As to Kinbote (alias Charles Xavier Vseslav, surnamed the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) himself, he is the son of King Alfin (also known as “Alfin the Vague,” 1873-1918):

My friend could not evoke the image of his father. Similarly the King, who also was not quite three when his father, King Alfin, died, was unable to recall his face, although oddly he did remember perfectly well the little monoplane of chocolate that he, a chubby babe, happened to be holding in that very last photograph (Christmas 1918) of the melancholy, riding-breeched aviator in whose lap he reluctantly and uncomfortably sprawled. (note to Line 71)

The names of Judge Goldsworth’s daughter and Kinbote’s father bring to mind Alphonse the First of Portugal and his son Alph in VN’s novel Ada (1969):

Mr Sween, lunching with a young fellow who sported a bullfighter’s sideburns and other charms, bowed gravely in the direction of their table; then a naval officer in the azure uniform of the Gulfstream Guards passed by in the wake of a dark, ivory-pale lady and said: ‘Hullo Lucette, hullo, Van.’

‘Hullo, Alph,’ said Van, whilst Lucette acknowledged the greeting with an absent smile: over her propped-up entwined hands she was following with mocking eyes the receding lady. Van cleared his throat as he gloomily glanced at his half-sister.

‘Must be at least thirty-five,’ murmured Lucette, ‘yet still hopes to become his queen.’

(His father, Alphonse the First of Portugal, a puppet potentate manipulated by Uncle Victor, had recently abdicated upon Gamaliel’s suggestion in favor of a republican regime, but Lucette spoke of fragile beauty, not fickle politics.)

‘That was Lenore Colline. What’s the matter, Van?’ (3.3)

Lenore Colline is an Irish actress who bears a physical resemblance to Ada. In the Hollywood film version of Four Sisters (as Chekhov’s play “The Three Sisters” is known on Antiterra) she played Irina, the youngest sister (2.9). Colline is French for “hill.” Lenore Colline’s first name seems to hint at G. A. Bürger’s Lenore (1773). In Eugene Onegin (Eight: IV: 7-8) Pushkin compares his muse to Lenora (the heroine of Bürger’s ballad):

ona Lenoroy pri lune

so mnoy skakala na kone!

Lenorelike, by the moon,

with me she’d gallop on a steed!

These lines in EO bring to mind Pushkin’s poem Al’fons saditsya na konya (“Alphonse is mounting a horse…” 1836), a rendering in verse of a fragment from Jan Potocki’s novel Dix journées de la vie d'Alphonse Van-Worden (“Ten Days from the Life of Alphonse Van-Worden,” 1814).

It took John Shade (who calls his muse “my versipel”) twenty (10 x 2) days to compose his poem:

We possess in result a complete calendar of his work. Canto One was begun in the small hours of July 2 and completed on July 4. He started the next canto on his birthday and finished it on July 11. Another week was devoted to Canto Three. Canto Four was begun on July 19, and as already noted, the last third of its text <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/palefirepoem.html#link949999> (lines 949-999) is supplied by a Corrected Draft. This is extremely rough in appearance, teeming with devastating erasures and cataclysmic insertions, and does not follow the lines of the card as rigidly as the Fair Copy does. Actually, it turns out to be beautifully accurate when you once make the plunge and compel yourself to open your eyes in the limpid depths under its confused surface. It contains not one gappy line, not one doubtful reading. This fact would be sufficient to show that the imputations made (on July 24, 1959) in a newspaper interview with one of our professed Shadeans--who affirmed without having seen the manuscript of the poem that it "consists of disjointed drafts none of which yields a definite text"--is a malicious invention on the part of those who would wish not so much to deplore the state in which a great poet's work was interrupted by death as to asperse the competence, and perhaps honesty, of its present editor and commentator. (Kinbote’s Foreword)

In Lines 977-984 of his poem Shade writes:

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 they day will probably be fine;
so this alarm clock let me set myself,
Yawn, and put back Shade's "Poems" on their shelf.

Shade’s poem remained unfinished because in the evening of July 21 the author was killed by Gradus. It is Gradus (not Kinbote, as Tom Bolt thinks) who can be compared to a Person from Porlock (who interrupted Coleridge in the process act of writing down his great visionary poem).

In his EO Commentary VN points out that Zhukovski twice imitated (in Lyudmila, 1808, and in Svetlana, 1812) Bürger’s Lenore before translating it (as Lenora) in 1831. Zhukovski translated into Russian (as Lesnoy tsar’, “Forest King,” 1818) Goethe’s Erlkönig (1782). The opening lines of Goethe’s poem, Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? / Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind, become a leitmotif in Shade’s Pale Fire:

Who rides so late in the night and the wind?
It is the writer's grief. It is the wild
March wind. It is the father with his child. (Lines 662-664).

At the end of Zhukovski’s dramatical poem Kamoens (“Camoens,” 1839) dying Camoens says: Poeziya est’ Bog v svyatykh mechtakh zemli (“Poetry is God in Earth’s sacred dreams”), Zhukovski’s famous formula and the poem’s last line.

In his Sonet (“The Sonnet,” 1830) Pushkin, among other celebrated sonneteers, mentions Camoens (whom P. read in French). The classical sonnet has fourteen lines. Judge Goldswoth’s eldest daughter, Dee, is fourteen. Her name seems to hint at Delvig, Pushkin’s best friend at the Lyceum who is mentioned in the last tercet of his Sonnet:

У нас ещё его не знали девы,
Как для него уж Дельвиг забывал
Гекзаметра священные напевы.

Our maidens didn’t yet know it [the sonnet],

When Delvig was already forgetting for its sake

Hexameter’s sacred melodies.

In a draft of Anchar (“The Upas Tree,” 1828) Pushkin’s poem (subtitled Drevo yada, “a Tree of Poison”) has the epigraph from Coleridge:

It is a poison-tree, that pierced to the inmost

Weeps only tears of poison.

According to Kinbote (who quotes Shade’s poem The Sacred Tree), “tree” in Zemblan is grados:

Line 49: shagbark

A hickory. Our poet shared with the English masters the noble knack of transplanting trees into verse with their sap and shade. Many years ago Disa, our King's Queen, whose favorite trees were the jacaranda and the maidenhair, copied out in her album a quatrain from John Shade's collection of short poems Hebe's Cup, which I cannot refrain from quoting here (from a letter I received on April 6, 1959, from southern France):


The ginkgo leaf, in golden hue, when shed,

A muscat grape,

Is an old-fashioned butterfly, ill-spread,

In shape.

When the new Episcopal church in New Wye (see note to line 549) was built, the bulldozers spared an arc of those sacred trees planted by a landscaper of genius (Repburg) at the end of the so-called Shakespeare Avenue, on the campus. I do not know if it is relevant or not but there is a cat-and-mouse game in the second line, and "tree" in Zemblan is grados.

Goethe’s poem Ginkgo Biloba (from The West-Eastern Divan) ends in the lines:

Fühlst du nicht an meinen Liedern,
Daß ich eins und doppelt bin?

Don’t you feel in my songs
That I am One and Two?

Ginkgo biloba is also mentioned in Ada:

Maidenhair. Idiot! Percy boy might have been buried by now! Maidenhair. Thus named because of the huge spreading Chinese tree at the end of the platform. Once, vaguely, confused with the Venus’-hair fern. She walked to the end of the platform in Tolstoy’s novel. First exponent of the inner monologue, later exploited by the French and the Irish. N’est vert, n’est vert, n’est vert. L’arbre aux quarante écus d’or, at least in the fall. Never, never shall I hear again her ‘botanical’ voice fall at biloba, ‘sorry, my Latin is showing.’ Ginkgo, gingko, ink, inkog. Known also as Salisbury’s adiantofolia, Ada’s infolio, poor Salisburia: sunk; poor Stream of Consciousness, marée noire by now. Who wants Ardis Hall! (1.41)

Hebe’s Cup (Shade's collection of short poems) hints at the closing lines of Tyutchev’s poem Vesennyaya groza (“The Spring Thunderstorm,” 1828):

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.

Tyutchev is the author of Bliznetsy (“The Twins,” 1852). In his Foreword Kinbote mentions two charming identical twins:

I turned to go, not wishing to listen to a marital scene, but she [Sybil Shade] called me back: "Have a drink with us," she said, "or rather with me, because John is forbidden to touch alcohol." I explained I could not stay long because I was about to have a kind of little seminar at home followed by some table tennis, with two charming identical twins and another boy, another boy.

There are at least three pairs of twins in Ada. It is Greg Erminin (Grace’s twin brother) who tells Van that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four (a hotel in Paris):

Van was about to leave when a smartly uniformed chauffeur came up to inform ‘my lord’ that his lady was parked at the corner of rue Saïgon and was summoning him to appear.

‘Aha,’ said Van, ‘I see you are using your British title. Your father preferred to pass for a Chekhovian colonel.’

‘Maude is Anglo-Scottish and, well, likes it that way. Thinks a title gets one better service abroad. By the way, somebody told me — yes, Tobak! — that Lucette is at the Alphonse Four. I haven’t asked you about your father? He’s in good health?’ (Van bowed,) ‘And how is the guvernantka belletristka?’

‘Her last novel is called L’ami Luc. She just got the Lebon Academy Prize for her copious rubbish.’

They parted laughing. (3.2)

Greg Erminin married Maude Sween:

‘I’m also very fat, yes?’

‘What about Grace, I can’t imagine her getting fat?’

‘Once twins, always twins. My wife is pretty portly, too.’

‘Tak tï zhenat (so you are married)? Didn’t know it. How long?’

‘About two years.’

‘To whom?’

‘Maude Sween.’

‘The daughter of the poet?’

‘No, no, her mother is a Brougham.’ (ibid.)

Van’s dialogue with Greg is a parody of Onegin’s conversation with Prince N. in Chapter Eight of Pushkin’s EO. The name of Greg’s wife brings to mind Shade’s Aunt Maud in Pale Fire.

Btw., Lenore Colline eventually marries her Alph (who gets back his father’s throne):

People were already hurrying home from work. Mademoiselle Addor, in a sweat-stained frock, was climbing the stairs. The streets had been considerably quieter in the sourdine Past. The old Morris pillar, upon which the present Queen of Portugal figured once as an actress, no longer stood at the corner of Chemin de Mustrux (old corruption of the town’s name). Must Trucks roar through Must Rux? (Part Four)

At the end of his Commentary Kinbote says that he may recover his kingdom:

Oh, I may do many things! History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out--somebody has already set out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and presently he will ring at my door--a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus. (note to Line 1000)

Speaking of trees, in my previous post (Burning Barn in Ada vs. Haunted Barn in PF) I forgot to mention the great weeping cedar that grows in Ardis:

The three of them [Van, Ada and Lucette] formed a pretty Arcadian combination as they dropped on the turf under the great weeping cedar, whose aberrant limbs extended an oriental canopy (propped up here and there by crutches made of its own flesh like this book) above two black and one golden-red head as they had above you and me on dark warm nights when we were reckless, happy children. (1.32)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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