Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027123, Sat, 23 Jul 2016 23:30:50 +0300

coda, fountains, camels & Fleur de Fyler in Pale Fire
According to Kinbote, in its finished form Shade’s poem should consist of 1000 lines and Line 1000 is identical to Line 1 (“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But its seems to me that, like some sonnets, Shade’s poem needs a coda, Line 1001 (“By its own double in the windowpane”).

In his article «В чём же наконец существо русской поэзии и в чём её особенность» (“What Finally is the Essence of Russian Poetry and What is its Peculiarity,” 1846) included in The Selected Passages from the Correspondence with Friends (1847) Gogol says that among Italian poets there were nobody who would put the finishing touches and polish to such a perfection his sonnets, as Pushkin did polish his poems:

Ни один итальянский поэт не отделывал так сонетов своих, как обрабатывал он эти лёгкие, по-видимому мгновенные созданья. Какая точность во всяком слове! Какая значительность всякого выраженья! Как всё округлено, окончено и замкнуто! Все они точно перлы; трудно и решить, которое лучше. Словно сверкающие зубы красавицы, которые уподобляет царь Соломон овцам-юницам, только что вышедшим из купели, когда они все как одна и все равно прекрасны.

In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol mentions sonetto colla coda and in a footnote explains that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as “sonnet with the tail” (con la coda), when the idea cannot not be explained in fourteen lines and entails an appendix that can be longer than the sonnet itself:

В италиянской поэзии существует род стихотворенья, известного под именем сонета с хвостом (con la coda), когда мысль не вместилась и ведёт за собою прибавление, которое часто бывает длиннее самого сонета.

Rimskie sonety (“Roman Sonnets,” 1925) is a cycle of nine sonnets by Vyacheslav Ivanov. In Sonnet V (“Двустворку на хвостах клубок дельфиний…”) V. Ivanov mentions Chetyre Fontana (Four Fountains), Gogol and his friend Alexander Ivanov (the painter whose name rhymes with fontanov, Gen. pl. of fontan, “fountain”):

Бернини, — снова наш, — твоей игрой
Я веселюсь, от Четырёх Фонтанов
Бредя на Пинчьо памятной горой,

Где в келью Гоголя входил Иванов,
Где Пиранези огненной иглой
Пел Рима грусть и зодчество Титанов.

In Sonnet VII (“Спит водоём осенний, окроплён…”) fontan rhymes with zybuchiy stan (unsteady figure):

Струя к лучу стремит зыбучий стан.
И в глади опрокинуты зеркальной
Асклепий, клён, и небо, и фонтан.

The epithet zybuchiy used by V. Ivanov brings to mind zybuchie peski (the quicksand). In Arnor’s poem about a miragarl ("mirage girl") quoted by Kinbote in his Commentary tri stana rhymes with tri phantana:

Our Prince was fond of Fleur as of a sister but with no soft shadow of incest or secondary homosexual complications. She had a small pale face with prominent cheekbones, luminous eyes, and curly dark hair. It was rumored that after going about with a porcelain cup and Cinderella's slipper for months, the society sculptor and poet Arnor had found in her what he sought and had used her breasts and feet for his Lilith Calling Back Adam; but I am certainly no expert in these tender matters. Otar, her lover, said that when you walked behind her, and she knew you were walking behind her, the swing and play of those slim haunches was something intensely artistic, something Arab girls were taught in special schools by special Parisian panders who were afterwards strangled. Her fragile ankles, he said, which she placed very close together in her dainty and wavy walk, were the "careful jewels" in Arnor's poem about a miragarl ("mirage girl"), for which "a dream king in the sandy wastes of time would give three hundred camels and three fountains.

/ / / /
On sagaren werem tremkin tri stana
/ / / /
Verbalala wod gev ut tri phantana

(I have marked the stress accents.) (note to Line 80)

The younger daughter of Countess de Fyler (Queen Blenda’s favorite lady-in-waiting), Fleur attempted to seduce young Charles Xavier (the heir to Zemblan throne) after his mother’s death. Her name seems to hint at flyor ot shlyapy (the gauze veil of [her] hat) mentioned by Pushkin in Six: XLI: 11 of Eugene Onegin, but also brings to mind Khlestakov’s credo in Gogol’s play Revizor (“The Inspector,” 1836): sryvat’ tsvety udovol’stviya (to pick the flowers of pleasure).

In his poem Aleksandru Andreevichu Ivanovu (“To Alexander Andreevich Ivanov,” 1858) Vyazemski calls Ivanov (the author of The Appearance of Christ Before the People) svyatoy zemli zhilets zaochnyi (the external inhabitant of the Holy Land) and mentions kozha verblyuda (the camel skin) covering the shoulders of John the Baptist. In the first stanza of his poem Gogol (1853) Vyazemski calls Gogol peresmeshnik nash zabavnyi (our amusing mockingbird) and mentions zemlya (the Earth):

Ты, загадкой своенравной
Промелькнувший на земле,
Пересмешник наш забавный
С думой скорби на челе.

You, who like a willful riddle

Flashed on the Earth,

Our amusing mockingbird

With a thought of grief on your brow.

In Canto One of his poem Shade (a son of the ornithologists) mentions the naïve, the gauzy mockingbird:

TV's huge paperclip now shines instead

Of the stiff vane so often visited
By the naive, the gauzy mockingbird
Retelling all the programs that she had heard;
Switching from chippo-chippo to a clear
To-wee, to-wee; then rasping out: come here,
Come here, come herrr'; flitting her tail aloft,
Or gracefully indulging in a soft
Upward hop-flop, and instantly (to-wee!)
Returning to her perch--the new TV. (ll. 61-70)

Gogol is the author of Strashnaya mest’ (“A Terrible Vengeance,” 1831). A line in VN’s Parizhskaya poema (“The Paris Poem,” 1943), chuden noch’yu Parizh sukhoparyi (wondrous at night is gaunt Paris), is an imitation of the hyperbolic passage in “The Terrible Vengeance” beginning chuden Dnepr pri tikhoy pogode (wondrous is the Dnepr in the windless weather). According to Gogol, redkaya ptitsa doletit do serediny Dnepra (a rare bird will fly to the middle of the Dnepr).

Rara avis (1886) is a story by Chekhov. Chekhov is the author of Tysyacha odna strast’, ili Strashnaya noch’ (“A Thousand and One Passions, or The Terrible Night,” 1880), a parody (dedicated to Victor Hugo) whose title blends One Thousand and One Night with “The Terrible Vengeance.”

Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name seems to be Botkin. In a letter of Dec. 27, 1889, to Suvorin Chekhov mentions Botkin:

Где вырождение и апатия, там половое извращение, холодный разврат, выкидыши, ранняя старость, брюзжащая молодость, там падение искусств, равнодушие к науке, там несправедливость во всей своей форме. Общество, которое не верует в бога, но боится примет и чёрта, которое отрицает всех врачей и в то же время лицемерно оплакивает Боткина и поклоняется Захарьину, не смеет и заикаться о том, что оно знакомо с справедливостью.

Wherever there is degeneration and apathy, there also is sexual perversion, cold depravity, miscarriage, premature old age, grumbling youth, there is a decline in the arts, indifference to science, and injustice in all its forms. A society that does not believe in God but is afraid of tokens and the devil, that denies all doctors, while hypocritically mourning over Botkin [Dr S. P. Botkin who just died] and worshipping Zakharyin [another famous physician], such a society simply has no right to say that it is familiar with justice.

In the same letter Chekhov criticizes the inert Russian intelligentsia that cannot think up a decent sample for their banknotes and believes that den’gi – zlo (money is evil):

Вялая, апатичная, лениво философствующая, холодная интеллигенция, которая никак не может придумать для себя приличного образца для кредитных бумажек, которая не патриотична, уныла, бесцветна, которая пьянеет от одной рюмки и посещает пятидесятикопеечный бордель, которая брюзжит и охотно отрицает всё, так как для ленивого мозга легче отрицать, чем утверждать; которая не женится и отказывается воспитывать детей и т. д. Вялая душа, вялые мышцы, отсутствие движений, неустойчивость в мыслях — и всё это в силу того, что жизнь не имеет смысла, что у женщин бели и что деньги — зло.

Fleur de Fyler (“defiler of flowers”) and the phrase den’gi – zlo bring to mind Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal (“Flowers of Evil”). In a discarded variant Shade mentions “poor Baudelaire:”

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 (note to Line 231)

Poor Botkin (whose name is omitted in the above lines) seems to have changed several countries (Finland, Sweden, France) before he arrived in America. In his poem Slava (“Fame,” 1942) VN says that he “kept changing countries like counterfeit money” and mentions Akakiy Akakievich, the main character in Gogol’s story Shinel’ (“The Overcoat,” 1841). Akakiy Akakievich’s surname, Bashmachkin, comes from bashmachok (little shoe). According to Kinbote (the author of a remarkable book on surnames), Botkin is one who makes bottekins (fancy footwear). (note to Line 71)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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