Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027163, Sat, 3 Sep 2016 11:53:23 +0300

Gradus, Shade, Sosed & Pope in Pale Fire
The last word in Kinbote’s Commentary to Shade’s poem is Gradus:

God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example
of the other two characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may
assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up
yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, health heterosexual Russian, a
writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but
his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from
Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the
simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an
old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: a lunatic who intends to kill
an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and
a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and
perishes in the clash between the two figments. 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)

Shade’s murderer, Jakob Gradus is also known as Jack Degree. In a letter of
May 16, 1835, to Pushkin Katenin compares Kukolnik (a schoolmate of Gogol)
to Prince Shakhovskoy and says that, contrary to Boileau’s words, il est
bien des degrés du médiocre au pire (there are many degrees from mediocre
to worst):

Судя по твоим, увы! слишком правдоподобны
м словам, ты умрёшь (дай бог тебе много лет
здравствовать!) Вениямином русских поэто
в, юнейшим из сынов Израиля, а новое покол
ение безъимянное; ибо имена, подобные Кук
ольнику, sentent fort le Perrault. Где ему до Шаховск
ого? У того везде кое-что хорошо. Своя Семь
я мила, в Аристофане целая идея, и будь всё
как второй акт, вышла бы в своём роде хоро
шая комедия; князь не тщательный художник
и не великий поэт, но вопреки Boileau:

Il est bien des degrés du médiocre au pire

сиречь до Кукольника; и какими стихами, с
тех пор как они взбунтовались противу все
х правил, они пишут!

Katenin quotes Pushkin’s prediction that he (Pushkin) will die Veniaminom
russkikh poetov, yuneyshim iz synov Izrailya (as the Benjamin of Russian
poets, the youngest if Israel’s sons).

In a letter of Sept. 9, 1830, to Pletnyov (to whom Eugene Onegin is
dedicated) Pushkin quotes the last words of his uncle Vasiliy Lvovich (who
died on Aug. 20, 1830): kak skuchny statyi Katenina! (how boring are the
articles of Katenin!):

Бедный дядя Василий! знаешь ли его послед
ние слова? приезжаю к нему, нахожу его в за
бытьи, очнувшись, он узнал меня, погорева
л, потом, помолчав: как скучны статьи Кате
нина! и более ни слова. Каково? вот что зна
чит умереть честным воином, на щите, le cri de
guerre a la bouche!

Vasiliy Lvovich Pushkin is the author of Opasnyi sosed (“The Dangerous
Neighbor,” 1811). In a letter of Dec. 28, 1816, to his uncle Pushkin calls
Vasiliy Lvovich Nestor Arzamasa (the Nestor of Arzamas)* and Opasnyi dlya
pevtsov sosed (a neighbor dangerous for bards):

Тебе, о Нестор Арзамаса,
В боях воспитанный поэт, ―
Опасный для певцов сосед
На страшной высоте Парнаса,
Защитник вкуса, грозный Вот!
Тебе, мой дядя, в новый год
Веселья прежнего желанье
И слабый сердца перевод ―
В стихах и прозою посланье.

В письме Вашем Вы называли меня братом, но
я не осмелился назвать Вас этим именем, сл
ишком для меня лестным.

Я не совсем еще рассудок потерял,
От рифм бахических шатаясь на Пегасе.
Я знаю сам себя, хоть рад, хотя не рад,
Нет, нет, вы мне совсем не брат,
Вы дядя мой и на Парнасе.

According to Pushkin, he did not quite lose his mind, stumbling on Pegasus
because of Bacchic rhymes. Pushkin says that Vasiliy Lvovich (who, in a
letter to his nephew, called him “my brother”) is his uncle even on
Parnassus. Gradus ad Parnassum (a theoretical and pedagogical work written
in Latin) is sometimes shortened to Gradus.

Shade’s dangerous neighbor, Kinbote invites the poet to a glass of wine:

"A suggestion," I said, quivering. "I have at my place half a gallon of
Tokay. I'm ready to share my favorite wine with my favorite poet. We shall
have for dinner a knackle of walnuts, a couple of large tomatoes, and a
bunch of bananas. And if you agree to show me your 'finished product,' there
will be another treat: I promise to divulge to you why I gave you, or rather
who gave you, your theme."

"What theme?" said Shade absently, as he leaned on my arm and gradually
recovered the use of his numb limb.

"Our blue inenubilable Zembla, and the red-caped Steinmann, and the
motorboat in the sea cave, and--"

"Ah,"said Shade, "I think I guessed your secret quite some time ago. But all
the same I shall sample your wine with pleasure. Okay, I can manage by
myself now." (note to Line 991)

In his Otvet Kateninu (“Reply to Katenin,” 1828) Pushkin quotes a line
from Derzhavin’s poem Filosofy p’yanyi i trezvyi (“Philosophers, Drunk
and Sober,” 1789), Ne p’yu, lyubeznyi moy sosed! (“I do not drink, my
gent neighbor!”):

Напрасно, пламенный поэт,

Свой чудный кубок мне подносишь

И выпить за здоровье просишь:

Не пью, любезный мой сосед!

Товарищ милый, но лукавый,

Твой кубок полон не вином,

Но упоительной отравой:

Он заманит меня потом
Тебе во след опять за славой.
Не так ли опытный гусар,
Вербуя рекрута, подносит
Ему весёлый Вакха дар,
Пока воинственный угар
Его на месте не подкосит?
Я сам служивый ― мне домой
Пора убраться на покой.
Останься ты в строях Парнаса;
Пред делом кубок наливай
И лавр Корнеля или Тасса
Один с похмелья пожинай.

In the penultimate line Pushkin mentions lavr Kornelya ili Tassa (“the
laurel of Corneille or Tasso”). Pushkin’s poem is a reply to Katenin’s
Staraya byl’ (“A True Story of Old,” 1828), a parody on Pushkin’s Stansy
(Stanzas, 1826). In Katenin’s poem Pushkin is portrayed as a castrated
Greek singer:

Высок и прелестен, как девица, грек.
Красавца в младенстве скопили;
Он плакал сначала: как слеп человек!
Ему же добро сотворили:
Спокойный, богатый устроили век
И милостью царской почтили.

Pushkin’s Stanzas begin as follows:

V nadezhde slavy i dobra

Smotryu vperyod ya bez boyazni…

In the hope of glory and good

I look forward without fear…

Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin (an American
scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became
Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter). Nadezhda
Botkin drowned herself in Lake Omega. Russian for “lake” is ozero. In One:
XVIII of Eugene Onegin Pushkin, among other authors, mentions Ozerov,
Katenin, Corneille and Shakhovskoy:

Волшебный край! там в стары годы,
Сатиры смелый властелин,
Блистал Фонвизин, друг свободы,
И переимчивый Княжнин;
Там Озеров невольны дани
Народных слёз, рукоплесканий
С младой Семёновой делил;
Там наш Катенин воскресил
Корнеля гений величавый;
Там вывел колкий Шаховской
Своих комедий шумный рой,
Там и Дидло венчался славой,
Там, там под сению кулис
Младые дни мои неслись.

A magic region! There in olden years

the sovereign of courageous satire,

Fonvízin shone, the friend of freedom,

and adaptorial Knyazhnin;

there Ozerov involuntary tributes

of public tears, of plaudits

shared with the young Semyónova;

there our Katénin resurrected

Corneille’s majestic genius;

there caustic Shahovskóy brought forth

the noisy swarm of his comedies;

there, too, Didelot with glory crowned himself;

there, there, beneath the shelter of coulisses,

my young days swept along.

In One: XLVIII: 14 of EO Pushkin mentions napev torkvatovykh oktav (the
strain of Torquato’s octaves):

С душою, полной сожалений,
И опершися на гранит,
Стоял задумчиво Евгений,
Как описал себя пиит.
Всё было тихо; лишь ночные
Перекликались часовые,
Да дрожек отдаленный стук
С Мильонной раздавался вдруг;
Лишь лодка, вёслами махая,
Плыла по дремлющей реке:
И нас пленяли вдалеке
Рожок и песня удалая...
Но слаще, средь ночных забав,
Напев Торкватовых октав!

With soul full of regrets,

and leaning on the granite,

Eugene stood pensive―

as his own self the Poet has described.

’Twas stillness all; only the night

sentries to one another called,

and the far clip-clop of some droshky

from the Mil’onnaya resounded all at once;

only a boat, oars swinging,

swam on the dozing river,

and, in the distance, captivated us

a horn and a daredevil song.

But, sweeter ’mid the pastimes of the night

is the strain of Torquato’s octaves.

Torquato is the Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544-95) whose epic La
Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered, 1581) is written in octaves. At
the end of his footnote to Umirayushchiy Tass (“The Dying Tasso,” 1817)
Batyushkov mentions ten’ velikogo stikhotvortsa (the shade of the great

Да не оскорбится тень великого стихотвор
ца, что сын угрюмого севера, обязанный ?Ие
русалиму? лучшими, сладостными минутами в
жизни, осмелился принесть скудную горсть
цветов в её воспоминание!

In his notes on the margins of the Second Part of Batyushkov’s Opyty v
stikhakh i proze (Essais in Verse and in Prose, 1817) Pushkin criticizes
Batyushkov’s elegy and says that this is the dying Vasiliy Lvovich, not

Эта элегия, конечно, ниже своей славы. ― Я
не видал элегии, давшей Батюшкову повод к
своему стихотворению, но сравните―?Сетов
ания Тасса? поэта Байрона с сим тощим прои
зведением. Тасс дышал любовью и всеми стр
астями, а здесь, кроме славолюбия и доброд
ушия (см. замечание), ничего не видно. Это ―
умирающий Василий Львович, а не Торквато.

In his marginal notes Pushkin praises Batyushkov’s poem Nadezhda (“Hope,”
1815) but says that, as a title, Vera (“Faith”) would have suited it

Надежда* (стр. 9―10) * Точнее бы В

Всё дар его, и краше всех ** ** Неу

Даров надежда лучшей жизни! пер

Приписка под стихотворением:


In Six: XIII: 12 of EO Pushkin compares Olga Larin to vetrenaya nadezhda
(giddy hope):

Решась кокетку ненавидеть,
Кипящий Ленский не хотел
Пред поединком Ольгу видеть,
На солнце, на часы смотрел,
Махнул рукою напоследок --
И очутился у соседок.
Он думал Олиньку смутить
Своим приездом поразить;
Не тут-то было: как и прежде,
На встречу бедного певца
Прыгнула Олинька с крыльца,
Подобно ветреной надежде,
Резва, беспечна, весела,
Ну точно так же, как была.

Having resolved to hate the flirt,

boiling Lenski did not wish

to see Olga before the duel.

The sun, his watch he kept consulting;

gave up at length \xa8C

and found himself at the fair neighbors’.

He thought he would embarrass Olinka,

confound her by his coming;’

but nothing of the sort: just as before

to meet the poor bard

Olinka skipped down from the porch,

akin to giddy hope,

spry, carefree, gay \xa8C

well, just the same as she had been.

In Line 3 of the preceding stanza Pushkin calls Zaretski (Lenski’s second
in his duel with Onegin) sosed velerechivyi (the grandiloquent neighbor).

In his Commentary Kinbote (who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the
last self-exiled King of Zembla) mentions a contented Sosed (Zembla’s
gigantic neighbor):

That King's reign (1936-1958) will be remembered by at least a few
discerning historians as a peaceful and elegant one. Owing to a fluid system
of judicious alliances, Mars in his time never marred the record.
Internally, until corruption, betrayal, and Extremism penetrated it, the
People's Place (parliament) worked in perfect harmony with the Royal
Council. Harmony, indeed, was the reign's password. The polite arts and pure
sciences flourished. Technicology, applied physics, industrial chemistry and
so forth were suffered to thrive. A small skyscraper of ultramarine glass
was steadily rising in Onhava. The climate seemed to be improving. Taxation
had become a thing of beauty. The poor were a little richer, and the rich a
little poorer (in accordance what may be known some day as Kinbote's Law).
Medical care was spreading to the confines of the state; less and less
often, on his tour of the country, every autumn, when the rowans hung
coral-heavy and the puddles tinkled with Muscovy glass, the friendly and
eloquent monarch would be interrupted by a pertussal "backdraucht" in a
crowd of schoolchildren. Parachuting had become a popular sport. Everybody,
in a word, was content--even the political mischiefmakers who were
contentedly making mischief paid by a contented Sosed (Zembla's gigantic
neighbor). But let us not pursue this tiresome subject. (note to Line 12)

In a letter of Apr. 11, 1831, to Pletnyov Pushkin asks Pletnyov (who was
slow to reply to Pushkin’s letters) if he is still alive and calls him
ten’ vozlyublennaya (the beloved shade):

Воля твоя, ты несносен: ни строчки от тебя
не дождёшься. Умер ты, что ли? Если тебя уж
е нет на свете, то, тень возлюбленная, клан
яйся от меня Державину и обними моего Дел

Pushkin mentions two dead poets: Derzhavin and Delvig. In Six: XX: 14 of EO
Pushkin compares Lenski to drunken Delvig:

Домой приехав, пистолеты

Он осмотрел, потом вложил

Опять их в ящик и, раздетый,

При свечке, Шиллера открыл;

Но мысль одна его объемлет;

В нём сердце грустное не дремлет:

С неизъяснимою красой

Он видит Ольгу пред собой.

Владимир книгу закрывает,

Берёт перо; его стихи,

Полны любовной чепухи,

Звучат и льются. Их читает

Он вслух, в лирическом жару,

Как Дельвиг пьяный на пиру.

On corning home his pistols

he inspected, then inserted

thern back into the case, and, undressed,

by candle opened Schiller;

but there’s one thought infolding him;

his melancholy heart does not drowse;

in loveliness ineffable

Olga he sees before him.

Vladimir shuts the book,

takes up his pen; his verses―

full of love’s nonsense

sound and flow. He reads them

aloud, in lyric fever,

like drunken D[elvig] at a feast.

In his EO Commentary VN writes:

By a marvelous coincidence, Delvig died on the anniversary of the death of
the fictional Lenski (who is compared to him here on the eve of a fatal
duel); and the wake commemorating Delvig's death was held by his friends
(Pushkin, Vyazemski, Baratynski, and Yazykov) in a Moscow restaurant, on
Jan. 27, 1831, exactly six years before Pushkin's fatal duel. (vol. III, p.

According to Kinbote, Gradus’ whole clan seems to have been in the liquor
business (note to Line 17). After his wife had left him, Gradus attempted to
castrate himself. In Sravnenie (“Comparison,” 1813-17), an amusing epigram
on Boileau, Pushkin explains the difference between himself and the author
of L'Art poétique:

Не хочешь ли узнать, моя драгая,
Какая разница меж Буало и мной?
У Депрео была лишь запятая,
А у меня две точки с запятой.

My dear, do you want to know

the difference between Boileau and me?

Desprèaux had only a comma [,]

And I have a colon with a comma [: ,].

Shade is an authority on Pope, a poet who was influenced by Boileau. In
Canto Two of his poem Shade tells about his daughter’s suicide and mentions
his book on Pope:

I think she always nursed a small mad hope.

I'd finished recently my book on Pope. (ll. 383-384)

*in The Iliad Nestor is a wise old man; the Arzamas society was a literary
society in St. Petersburg in 1815-18

Alexey Sklyarenko

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