Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027153, Thu, 18 Aug 2016 15:56:24 +0300

Milton, Flatman & Altamira animals in Pale Fire
A slow worker, he [Kinbote's uncle Conmal] needed half a century to
translate the works of him whom he called "dze Bart," in their entirety.
After this, in 1930, he went on to Milton and other poets, steadily drilling
through the ages, and had just completed Kipling's "The Rhyme of the Three
Sealers" ("Now this is the Law of the Muscovite that he proved with shot and
steel") when he fell ill and soon expired under his splendid painted bed
ceil with its reproductions of Altamira animals, his last words in his last
delirium being "Comment dit-on 'mourir' en anglais?"--a beautiful and
touching end. (note to Line 962)

John Milton (1608-74) is the author of Paradise Lost (1667). In his article
O Mil'tone i Shatobrianovom perevode poteryannogo raya ("On Milton and
Chateaubriand's translation of Paradise Lost," 1836) Pushkin says that in
his tragedy Cromwell (1827) Victor Hugo offended velikaya ten' (a great
shade) by making Milton zhalkiy bezumets (a wretched madman) and nichtozhnyi
pustomelya (a paltry windbag):

Вот каким жалким безумцем, каким ничтожным пустомелей выведен Мильтон
человеком, который, вероятно, сам не ведал, что творил, оскорбляя великую
тень! В течение всей трагедии, кроме насмешек и ругательства, ничего иного
Мильтон не слышит; правда и то, что и сам он, во всё время, ни разу не
вымолвит дельного слова. Это старый шут, которого все презирают и на
которого никто не обращает никакого внимания.

Нет, г. Юго! Не таков был Джон Мильтон, друг и сподвижник Кромвеля, суровый
фанатик, строгий творец <Иконокласта> и книги Defensio populi! Не таким
языком изъяснялся бы с Кромвелем тот, который написал ему свой славный
пророческий сонет "Cromwel, our chief, etс."

Pushkin mentions Milton's "prophetic sonnet" to Cromwell that begins:

Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud

Not of war only, but detractions rude,

Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,

To peace and truth thy glorious way hast plough'd:

In the same note to Line 962 of Shade's poem Kinbote quotes the beginning of
a sonnet that Conmal composed directly in English:

English being Conmal's prerogative, his Shakspere remained invulnerable
throughout the greater part of his long life. The venerable Duke was famed
for the nobility of his work; few dared question its fidelity. Personally, I
had never the heart to check it. One callous Academician who did, lost his
seat in result and was severely reprimanded by Conmal in an extraordinary
sonnet composed directly in colorful, if not quite correct, English,

I am not slave! Let be my critic slave.
I cannot be. And Shakespeare would not want thus.
Let drawing students copy the acanthus,
I work with Master on the architrave!

In Canto Four of his poem Shade mentions old Zembla's fields that he ploughs
with his razor and slaves who make hay as he shaves the space between his
mouth and nose:

And while the safety blade with scrap and screak
Travels across the country of my cheek,
Cars on the highway pass, and up the steep
Incline big trucks around my jawbone creep,
And now a silent liner docks, and now
Sunglassers tour Beirut, and now I plough
Old Zembla's fields where my gray stubble grows,
And slaves make hay between my mouth and nose. (ll. 931-938)

Kinbote does not conceal his disappointment after reading these lines:

I am a weary and sad commentator today.

Parallel to the left-hand side of this card (his seventy-sixth) the poet has
written, on the eve of his death, a line (from Pope's Second Epistle of the
Essay on Man) that he may have intended to cite in a footnote:

At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where

So this is all treacherous old Shade could say about Zembla--my Zembla?
While shaving his stubble off? Strange, strange... (note to Line 937)

As he speaks of shaving, Kinbote mentions two English poets whose name is

Alfred Housman (1859-1939), whose collection The Shropshire Lad vies with
the In Memoriam of Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) in representing, perhaps (no,
delete this craven "perhaps"), the highest achievement of English poetry in
a hundred years, says somewhere (in a foreword?) exactly the opposite: The
bristling of thrilled little hairs obstructed his barbering; but since both
Alfreds certainly used an Ordinary Razor, and John Shade an ancient
Gillette, the discrepancy may have been due to the use of different
instruments. (note to Line 920)

In his article on Chateaubriand's translation of Milton's Paradise Lost
Pushkin criticizes not only Victor Hugo's play Cromwell but also Alfred de
Vigny's novel Cinq Mars (1826) in which Milton appears as a character:

От неровного, грубого Виктора Юго и его уродливых драм перейдём к чопорному
манерному графу Виньи и к его облизанному роману.

Альфред де Виньи в своём <Сен-Марсе> также выводит перед нами Мильтона и вот
в каких обстоятельствах:

У славной Марии Делорм, любовницы кардинала Ришелье, собирается общество
придворных и учёных. Скюдери толкует им свою аллегорическую карту любви.
Гости в восхищении от крепости Красоты, стоящей на реке Гордости, от деревни
Записочек, от гавани Равнодушия и проч. и проч. Все осыпают г-на Скюдери
напыщенными похвалами, кроме Мольера, Корнеля и Декарта, которые тут же
находятся. Вдруг хозяйка представляет обществу молодого путешествующего
англичанина, по имени Джона Мильтона, и заставляет его читать гостям отрывки
из <Потерянного Рая>. Хорошо; да как же французы, не зная английского языка,
поймут Мильтоновы стихи? Очень просто: места, которые он будет читать,
переведены на французский язык, переписаны на особых листочках и списки
розданы гостям. Мильтон будет декламировать, а гости следовать за ним. Да
зачем же ему беспокоиться, если уже стихи переведены? Стало быть, Мильтон
великий декламатор, - или звуки английского языка чрезвычайно как любопытны?
А какое дело графу де Виньи до всех этих нелепых несообразностей? Ему
надобно, чтоб Мильтон читал в парижском обществе свой <Потерянный Рай> и
чтоб французские умники над ним посмеялись и не поняли духа великого поэта
(разумеется, кроме Мольера, Корнеля и Декарта), а из этого выйдет следующая
эффектная сцена.

Pushkin says that Chateaubriand's literary translation of Paradise Lost to
some extent makes up for the sins of young French writers who so innocently
but so cruelly offended a great shade:

Перевод, изданный Шатобрианом, заглаживает до некоторой степени прегрешения
молодых французских писателей, так невинно, но так жестоко оскорбивших
великую тень. Мы сказали уже, что Шатобриан переводил Мильтона почти слово в
слово, так близко, как только то мог позволить синтаксис французского языка:
труд тяжёлый и неблагодарный, незаметный для большинства читателей и который
может быть оценён двумя, тремя знатоками!

According to Pushkin, most readers will not notice Chateaubriand's difficult
and ungrateful task that only two or three connoisseurs can appreciate. VN
is the author of the literary English translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin
and of the two-volume Commentary. In his poem On Translating "Eugene Onegin"
(1955) written after the meter and rhyme scheme of the EO stanza ("patterned
on a sonnet") VN mentions the parasites who are pardoned, if he (VN) has
Pushkin's pardon:

What is translation? On a platter

A poets pale and glaring head,

A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,

And profanation of the dead.

The parasites you were so hard on

Are pardoned if I have your pardon,

O, Pushkin, for my stratagem:

I traveled down your secret stem,

And reached the root, and fed upon it;

Then, in a language newly learned,

I grew another stalk and turned

Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,

Into my honest roadside prose--

All thorn, but cousin to your rose.

According to Kinbote, Sybil Shade (whose grandfather was a first cousin of
John Shade's maternal grandmother) used to call him "the monstrous parasite
of a genius:"

From the very first I tried to behave with the utmost courtesy toward my
friend's wife, and from the very first she disliked and distrusted me. I was
to learn later that when alluding to me in public she used to call me "an
elephantine tick; a king-sized botfly; a macaco worm; the monstrous parasite
of a genius." I pardon her--her and everybody. (note to Line 247)

In his Commentary Kinbote describes a conversation in the lounge of the
Faculty Club and mentions Professor Pardon (who teaches American history):

Professor Pardon now spoke to me: "I was under the impression that you were
born in Russia, and that your name was a kind of anagram of Botkin or

Kinbote: "You are confusing me with some refugee from Nova Zembla
[sarcastically stressing the "Nova"].

"Didn't you tell me, Charles, that kinbote means regicide in your language?"
asked my dear Shade.

"Yes, a king's destroyer," I said (longing to explain that a king who sinks
his identity in the mirror of exile is in a sense just that).

Shade [addressing the German visitor]: "Professor Kinbote is the author of a
remarkable book on surnames. I believe [to me] there exists an English

"Oxford, 1956," I replied.

"You do know Russian, though?" said Pardon. "I think I heard you, the other
day, talking to--what's his name--oh, my goodness" [laboriously composing
his lips].

Shade: "Sir, we all find it difficult to attack that name" [laughing].

Professor Hurley: "Think of the French word for 'tire': punoo."

Shade: "Why, sir, I am afraid you have only punctured the difficulty"
[laughing uproariously].

"Flatman," quipped I. "Yes," I went on, turning to Pardon, "I certainly do
speak Russian. You see, it was the fashionable language par excellence, much
more so than French, among the nobles of Zembla at least, and at its court.
Today, of course, all this has changed. It is now the lower classes who are
forcibly taught to speak Russian." (note to Line 894)

In Kinbote's Index to PF there is an entry Flatman, Thomas:

Flatman, Thomas, 1637-88, English poet, scholar, and miniaturist, not known
to old fraud,
<http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/commentary.html#comline894> 894.

The author of A Panegyric To His Renowned Majestie, Charles the Second, King
of Great Britaine, &c. (1660) and of a Pindaric ode written twenty-five
years later, On the Much Lamented Death of Our Late Sovereign Lord King
Charles II. Of Blessed Memory, Thomas Flatman (Milton's contemporary) was
born in 1635. Kinbote deliberately changes the year of Flatman's birth,
because Pushkin died in 1837, two hundred years later. Pushkin's article "On
Milton and Chateaubriand's translation of Paradise Lost" was published in
the first issue of Sovremennik (The Contemporary No. V, 1837) that came out
after the poet's death. In the same issue of "The Contemporary" Pushkin's
poem Byla pora: nash prazdnik molodoy: ("The was a time: our young
celebration:" 1836) appeared under the title Litseyskaya godovshchina ("The
Lyceum Anniversary"). In the poem's opening stanza nevezhdy (pl. of
nevezhda, "ignoramus") rhymes with nadezhdy (gen. of nadezhda, "hope"):

Была пора: наш праздник молодой
Сиял, шумел и розами венчался,
И с песнями бокалов звон мешался,
И тесною сидели мы толпой.
Тогда, душой беспечные невежды,
Мы жили все и легче и смелей,
Мы пили все за здравие надежды
И юности и всех её затей.

According to Pushkin, at the Lyceum he and his schoolmates drank za zdravie
nadezhdy (to the health of hope). In Chapter Four of VN's novel Dar ("The
Gift," 1937), Zhizn' Chernyshevskogo ("The Life of Chernyshevski"), Fyodor
says that the students who drank to the author of Chto delat'? (What to Do?)
drank za velikuyu ten' (to a great shade):

О, да, разумеется: "Выпьем мы за того, кто "Что делать?" писал..." Но ведь
мы пьём за прошлое, за прошлый блеск и соблазн, за великую тень, -- а кто
станет пить за дрожащего старичка с тиком, где-то в легендарной дали и глуши
делающего плохие бумажные кораблики для якутских детей?

Oh yes, oh yes, no doubt students for years sang the song: "Let us drink to
him who wrote What to Do? :" But it was to the past they drank, to past
glamour and scandal, to a great shade: but who would drink to a tremulous
little old man with a tic, making clumsy paper boats for Yakut children
somewhere in those fabulous backwoods?

Chernyshevski (the author of What to Do?) died in 1889, at the age of
sixty-one. Shade (who, according to Sybil, is forbidden to touch alcohol) is
sixty-one, when he is killed by Gradus (whose whole clan seems to have been
in the liquor business).

In the third stanza of his poem "Byla pora: nash prazdnik molodoy:" Pushkin
says that twenty-five years have passed since the day when the Lyceum was

Всему пора: уж двадцать пятый раз
Мы празднуем лицея день заветный.
Прошли года чредою незаметной,
И как они переменили нас!
Недаром - нет! - промчалась четверть века!
Не сетуйте: таков судьбы закон;
Вращается весь мир вкруг человека, -
Ужель один недвижим будет он?

There is dar in nedarom (not in vain), the word used Pushkin in the line
Nedarom - net! - promchalas' chetvert' veka! ("A quarter of century has
flown by not in vain, oh no!"). And, vice versa, there is mir (world; peace)
- a word used by Pushkin in the line vrashshaetsya ves' mir vkrug cheloveka
("the whole world turns around man") - in Altamira (cf. "Altamira animals"
mentioned by Kinbote, an allusion to cave paintings in the Cave of Altamira
in Spain) and in umirat' ("to die;" cf. Conmal's last words: Comment dit-on
'mourir' en anglais?), a verb used by Pushkin in the fourth line, zaviduya
tomu, kto umirat' ("envying those who [went] to die"), of the fifth stanza
of his poem "Byla pora: nash prazdnik molodoy:":

Вы помните: текла за ратью рать,
Со старшими мы братьями прощались
И в сень наук с досадой возвращались,
Завидуя тому, кто умирать
Шёл мимо нас... и племена сразились,
Русь обняла кичливого врага,
И заревом московским озарились
Его полкам готовые снега.

Moskovskoe zarevo (the glow of the Moscow fire) in the stanza's penultimate
line brings to mind "the Law of the Muscovite" in Kipling's poem quoted by

In the penultimate line of his unfinished poem Pushkin mentions zemlya

И над землёй сошлися новы тучи,
И ураган их...

And the new thunderclouds gathered over Earth,

and their hurricane:

The phrase vkrug cheloveka (around man) in the line vrashshaetsya ves' mir
vkrug cheloveka ("the whole world turns around man") brings to mind Pope's
Essay on Man (1733-34) in which Zembla is mentioned.

In Pushkin's famous epigram on Count Vorontsov, Polu-milord, polu-kupets:
("Half-milord, half-merchant:" 1824), polu-nevezhda (half-ignoramus) rhymes
with nadezhda. According to the poet, there is nadezhda (a hope) that one
day Vorontsov will be "full" at last. Kinbote completes his work on Shade's
poem and commits suicide on Oct. 19, 1959 (the Lyceum anniversary). There is
a hope that, after Kinbote's suicide, Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American
scholar of Russian descent who went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus
after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda) will be "full" again.

In my recent post on Dr. Oscar Nattochdag ("Netochka") I forgot to mention
Dostoevski's novella Belye nochi ("The White Nights," 1848).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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