Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027141, Wed, 10 Aug 2016 16:55:11 +0000

Racemosa: fluffy flowers of the cheryomuha
Dear List,
In a recent post with the subject "Telephone in Pale Fire and in Pnin," A. Sklyarenko offered a rich anthology related to the word "racemosa."* It brought to my mind former contributions about this word presented at the List a few years ago. At that time I was perplexed about the reason why Nabokov vindicated his coinage or, more precisely, his "reapplication" of the scientific term "racemosa" as an English equivalent for the "bird-cherry"to appear in the Webster's dictionaries.#

Here are a few excerpts from an exchange between Victor Fet, Stan Kelly-Bootle and others ( Thursday, March 05, 2009)

Jansy Mello:"Should the English reader synesthetically read "racemosa" and feel it ? ..."[Cf.https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi.../wa?...] **
Stan K-Bootle: "... I admit to being thrilled [...] when I find Nabokov extolling "The Russian word [for the Padus racemosa] with its fluffy and dreamy syllables, admirably suits this beautiful tree ...***
"V.Fet: [snip]: "...This refers also to the famous VN's image of a ravine where Communists shot people, a ravine overgrown with racemosa that survived through Communist regime: Rossiya, zvezdy, noch' rasstrela/ i ves' v cheremuhe ovrag. 'Some nights, as soon as I'm asleep,/To Russian shores my bed would run;/And now - to the ravine's rip -/Be executed with a gun. .........But you, my heart, would go further.../This you with passion would assume:/Still Russia, stars, the night of murder,/The ravine - the bird-cherry bloom.(Transl. by Boris Leivi) at http://spintongues.msk.ru/nabokov2.html

In "Literary translation and terminological precision: Chekhov and his short stories" [Cf. https://books.google.com.br/books?isbn=8898467052 ] B. Osimo writes: "Vladimir Nabokov was a major translator and theorist. [ ] In an excerpt from a 1959 essay, significantly entitled "Problems of Flora", Nabokov stressed the importance of precision when a literary translator has to render botanical names and comes to the following conclusion: "The translator is entitled to use any available term so long as it is exact." Then he goes on with a disquisition on cheryomuha, a tree that appeared in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin for which Nabokov coined the word "racemosa" based on the scientific name "Padus racemosa," because in English there wasn't a word meaning precisely that tree. The details, even the anatomical, biological and botanical ones, are often overlooked or misinterpreted by critics and translators and consequently by readers."

It was wonderful to return to the VN-L Archives and visit again the exchanges between Victor, Stan and me. Victor Fet recently reminded us of the dark association between Nova Zembla and VN's Zembla. Once again, on looking back, I find that Victor has never forgotten to demarcate that, among VN's ecstatic experiences with natural beauty, there's always a link to witness destruction and death, thereby establishing a contrasting background and a more ample apprehension of "reality."

VN might have liked to learn that there is another Latin word that can be associated to racemosa [he suggested "mimosa" - and its fluffy perfumed flower must be as "dainty" (an approximate translation of "mimosa" into Portuguese) as the "racemosa"]. It's the word "formosa" ( shapely, bonny). byw: Formosa was the original name of Taiwan that had been chosen by the Portuguese.


*: Following A.Sklyarenko (excerpts): "Batyushkov's poem Besedka muz ("The Bower of Muses," 1817) begins as follows [ ]: In the shade of milky racemosas/ And golden-glistening pea trees/I hasten to re-establish the altar of Muses and Graces,/the companions of young life."
"In the Russian version of his autobiography Drugie berega ("Other Shores," 1954) VN speaks of his uncle Vasiliy Ivanovich ("Uncle Ruka") and mentions imeni bezumnogo Batyushkova mlechnaya cheryomukha (milky racemosa of mad Batyushkov's fame) [ ] : "Then, in June again, when the fragrant cheryomuha (racemose old-world bird cherry or simply "racemosa" as I have baptized it in my work on "Onegin") was in foamy bloom, his private flag would be hoisted on his beautiful Rozhestveno house. He traveled with half-a-dozen enormous trunks, bribed the Nord-Express to make a special stop at our little country station, and with the promise of a marvelous present, on small, mincing feet in high-heeled white shoes would lead me mysteriously to the nearest tree and delicately pluck and proffer a leaf, saying, "Pour mon neveu, la chose la plus belle au monde-une feuille verte." (3.3)". In his poem Chto poyut chasy-kuznechik... ("What sings the clock-grasshopper..." 1918) Mandelshtam mentions lastochka i dochka (a swallow and daughter) and cheryomukha (racemosa)[ ]: ... In his poem Eto bylo utrom rano... ("It was early in the morning..." 1954) G. Ivanov (the author of an offensive article on VN in the Paris review Chisla, Numbers) uses Mandelshtam's lines about the racemosa blossom that will hear and, on the bottom of the sea, forgive as the epigraph[ ]: "...Without taking aim and without missing,/ And then slowly walking home.../And the deafened racemosa/ Won't forgive on the bottom of the sea!"
VN's poem Rasstrel ("The Execution," 1927) ends in the lines: Rossiya, zvyozdy, noch' rasstrela / i ves' v cheryomukhe ovrag! ("Russia, stars, night of the execution / and full of racemosas the ravine!") "

# One of the occasions in which V.Nabokov speaks about "racemosa" during a NYT interview:
VNabokov - "I have reached the ultimate south of Portugal in an effort to find a quiet spot (pace the booming surf and rattling wind) where to write.[ ] my traveling companion, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 1970, defines, by the way, "Quassia" as derived from "Quassi," a Surinam Negro slave of the 18th century, who discovered a remedy for worms in white children. On the other hand, none of my own coinages or reapplications appears in this lexicon-- neither "iridule" (a mother-of-pearl cloudlet in Pale Fire), nor "racemosa" (a kind of bird cherry), nor several prosodie terms such as "scud" and "tilt" (see my Commentary to Eugene Onegin)"

**- In Portuguese, particularly when applied in geology to describe an uneven globular surface, the word "racemosa", "racemado" or "racimoso" is employed as an adjective. (Cf. http://www.dicionarioinformal.com.br/racemosa/) It also refers to "concretions that roughly present the aspect of "racemos" or bunch of grapes.

***- A complete quote and commentary related to the EO translation can be found in Brian Boyd's Vladimir Nabokov, The American Years : Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years - https://books.google.com.br/books?isbn=1400884039

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors: mailto:nabokv-l@utk.edu,dana.dragunoiu@gmail.com,shvabrin@humnet.ucla.edu
Zembla: http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/zembla.htm
Nabokv-L policies: http://web.utk.edu/~sblackwe/EDNote.htm
Nabokov Online Journal:" http://www.nabokovonline.com
AdaOnline: "http://www.ada.auckland.ac.nz/
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada: http://vnjapan.org/main/ada/index.html
The VN Bibliography Blog: http://vnbiblio.com/
Search the archive with L-Soft: https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A0=NABOKV-L

Manage subscription options :http://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=NABOKV-L