Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027203, Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:02:22 +0300

gorillas, vultures, wrestlers & bicycling in Pale Fire
According to Kinbote, present-day bards look like gorillas or vultures:

John Shade's physical appearance was so little in keeping with the harmonies
hiving in the man, that one felt inclined to dismiss it as coarse disguise
or passing fashion; for if the fashions of the Romantic Age subtilized a
poet's manliness by baring his attractive neck, pruning his profile and
reflecting a mountain lake in his oval gaze, present-day bards, owing
perhaps to better opportunities of aging, look like gorillas or vultures.

In his memoir essay Muni (1926) Khodasevich says that Muni (who concealed
his hollow cheeks with a broad and thick beard) had abnormally long arms and
he brandished them like a gorilla or a wrestler:

Муни состоял из широкого костяка, обтянут
ого кожей. Но он мешковато одевался, тяжел
о ступал, впалые щеки прикрывал большой б
ородой. У него были непомерно длинные рук
и, и он ими загребал, как горилла или боре

Vultures mentioned by Kinbote bring to mind Grif (“Vulture”), the
publishing house founded in 1903 by Sergey Sokolov, a poet who published his
stuff under the penname Krechetov. The name Sokolov comes from sokol
(falcon), the name Krechetov comes from krechet (gyrfalcon). Shade’s
parents were ornithologists. In his obituary essay Pamyati Sergeya
Krechetova (“In Memory of Sergey Krechetov,” 1936) Khodasevich points out
that the publishing house Grif has brought out the first edition of
Innokentiy Annenski’s collection of poetry Kiparisovyi larets (“The
Cypress Casket,” 1909) and mentions Annenski’s penname Nik. T-o (“Mr.

Этого мало: в том же самом "Перевале" начал
и появляться стихи автора, который незадо
лго до того, под скромным псевдонимом "Ни
к. Т-о", выпустил никем не замеченную книже
чку "Тихие песни". Этот автор был Иннокент
ий Анненский. Впоследствии "Гриф" выпусти
л первое издание его "Кипарисового ларца":
заслуга огромная, неоспоримая, неотъемле
мая, которой одной хватило бы на то, чтобы
с избытком покрыть все издательские пром
ахи Кречетова.

Pereval (“The Pass”), a review edited by Krechetov in which Annenski’s
poems appeared, brings to mind Kinbote’s passion for alpinism (that helps
him to escape from Zembla):

Frankly I too never excelled in soccer and cricket; I am a passable
horseman, a vigorous through unorthodox skier, a good skater, a tricky
wrestler, and an enthusiastic rock-climber. (note to Line 130)

According to Kinbote, at a party he demonstrated several amusing holds
employed by Zemblan wrestlers:

Well did I know that among certain youthful instructors whose advances I had
rejected there was at least one evil practical joker; I knew it ever since
the time I came home from a very enjoyable and successful meeting of
students and teachers (at which I had exuberantly thrown off my coat and
shown several willing pupils a few of the amusing holds employed by Zemblan
wrestlers) and found in my coat pocket a brutal anonymous note saying:
“You have hal. . . . .s real bad, chum,” meaning evidently
“hallucinations,” although a malevolent critic might infer from the
insufficient number of dashes that little Mr. Anon, despite teaching
Freshman English, could hardly spell. (note to Line 62)

nikto + grob + rifma/firma + Sirin = Botkin + grif + norma/roman + iris

nikto - nobody

grob - coffin (by “the cypress casket” Annenski means coffin)

rifma - rhyme

firma - firm

Sirin - bird of Russian fairy tales and VN’s Russian pseudonym; publishing
house mentioned by Khodasevich at the beginning of his essay on Bryusov

Botkin - Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name; an American
scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became
Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel
Shade of her father’s poem); Nadezhda was the name of Bryusov’s sister who
married Muni and of Bryusov’s mistress who committed suicide

grif - vulture (a large carrion-eating bird of prey); gryphon; finger-board
(of string instruments); seal, stamp; grip (in wrestling)

norma - norm

roman - novel; romance; male given name; cf. Roman Bogdanovich, a character
in VN’s story Soglyadatay (“The Eye,” 1930); cf. Roman, Cincinnatus’
lawyer in VN’s novel Priglashenie na kazn’ (“Invitation to a Beheading,”

iris - contractile, circular diaphragm forming the colored portion of the
eye; flower of a plant of the iris family; female given name; cf. Iris Acht,
celebrated Zemblan actress, favourite of Thurgus the Third (K.’s
grandfather who liked to bicycle in the park)

Acht is German for “eight.” In his poem ∞ Annenski compares the infinity
symbol ∞ to 8 toppled over:

Девиз Таинственной похож
На опрокинутое 8:
Она - отраднейшая ложь
Из всех, что мы в сознаньи носим.

The symbol ∞ is sometimes called a “lemniscate.” In Canto One of his poem
Shade mentions “the miracle of a lemniscate” left upon wet sand by a

In sleeping dreams I played with other chaps
But really envied nothing--save perhaps
The miracle of a lemniscate left
Upon wet sand by nonchalantly deft
Bicycle tires. (ll. 135-139)

In his poem Pokrova Mayi potayonnoy (“The cover of the secret maya…”
1922) Khodasevich mentions ognya efirnogo pylanye (the glow of ethereal
fire) and compares the bright cosmos under the vacillating cover of his
love’s eyelashes to zvezda velosipednykh spits (the star of bicycle

Покрова Майи потаённой

Не приподнять моей руке,

Но чуден мир, отображённый

В твоём расширенном зрачке.

Там в непостижном сочетаньи

Любовь и улица даны:

Огня эфирного пыланье

И просто - таянье весны.

Там светлый космос возникает

Под зыбким пологом ресниц.

Он кружится и расцветает

Звездой велосипедных спиц.

According to Khodasevich, “wondrous is the world reflected in your eye’s
enlarged pupil.” In his poem Slava (“Fame,” 1942) VN mentions chreda
spitsevidnykh teney (literally, “a series of strobe-like shadows”):

Но воздушным мостом моё слово изогнуто

через мир, и чредой спицевидных теней

без конца по нему прохожу я инкогнито

в полыхающий сумрак отчизны моей.

Я божком себя вижу, волшебником с птичьей

головой, в изумрудных перчатках, в чулках

из лазурных чешуй. Прохожу. Перечтите

и остановитесь на этих строках.

But my word, curved to form an aerial viaduct,

spans the world and across in a strobe-effect spin

of spokes I keep endlessly passing incognito

into the flame-licked night of my native land.

To myself I appear as an idol, a wizard

bird-headed, emerald gloved, dressed in tights

made of bright-blue scales. I pass by. Reread it

and pause for a moment to ponder these lines.

The author’s appearance and exotic costume hint at his Russian nom de
plume, Sirin. On the other hand, izumrudnye perchatki (the emerald gloves)
bring to mind Izumrudov (one of the greater Shadows, a regicidal
organization) and Gerald Emerald, a young instructor at the campus whom
Kinbote mentions in his Foreword and Commentary to Shade’s poem.

In his essay Ob Annenskom (“On Annenski,” 1935) Khodasevich compares
Annenski to Ivan Ilyich Golovin, the main character in Tolstoy’s story
Smert’ Ivana Ilyicha (“The Dearth of Ivan Ilyich,” 1886). In Tolstoy’s
story Ivan Ilyich believes that he is not the mortal Caius of Kiesewetter’s
famous syllogism and therefore he will not die:

Тот пример силлогизма, которому он учился
в логике Кизеветтера: Кай -- человек, люди
смертны, потому Кай смертен, -- казался ему
во всю его жизнь правильным только по отн
ошению к Каю. То был Кай, человек, вообще ч
еловек, и это было совершенно справедлив
о; но он был не Кай и не вообще человек, а о
н всегда был совсем, совсем особенное от в
сех других существо; но он был Ваня, с мамa,
с папa, с Митей и Володей, с игрушками, с ку
чером, с няней, потом с Катенькой, со всеми
радостями, горестями, восторгами детства,
юности, молодости. Разве для Кая был тот з
апах кожаного полосками мячика, который т
ак любил Ваня? разве Кай целовал так руку
матери и разве для Кая так шуршал шёлк скл
адок платья матери? разве он бунтовал за п
ирожки в Правоведении? разве Кай так был в
люблён? разве Кай так мог вести заседание?
И Кай точно смертен, и ему правильно умира
ть, но мне, Ване, Ивану Ильичу, со всеми мои
ми чувствами, мыслями, -- мне это другое де
ло. И не может быть, чтобы мне следовало ум
ирать. Это было бы слишком ужасно".

The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter's Logic: "Caius is a man, men
are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal," had always seemed to him correct as
applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius - man
in the abstract - was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius,
not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite separate from all others.
He had been little Vanya, with a mamma and a papa, with Mitya and Volodya,
with the toys, a coachman and a nurse, afterwards with Katenka and will all
the joys, griefs, and delights of childhood, boyhood, and youth. What did
Caius know of the smell of that striped leather ball Vanya had been so fond
of? Had Caius kissed his mother's hand like that, and did the silk of her
dress rustle so for Caius? Had he rioted like that at school when the pastry
was bad? Had Caius been in love like that? Could Caius preside at a session
as he did? "Caius really was mortal, and it was right for him to die; but
for me, little Vanya, Ivan Ilych, with all my thoughts and emotions, it's
altogether a different matter. It cannot be that I ought to die. That would
be too terrible." (Chapter VI)

In Canto Two of his poem Shade seems to repeat Ivan Ilyich’s mistake:

A syllogism: other men die; but I
Am not another; therefore I'll not die.

According to Kinbote, “this may please a boy. Later in life we learn that
we are those ‘others’” (note to Lines 214-215). However, describing
Shade’s appearance, Kinbote says that the poet was his own cancellation:

My sublime neighbor's face had something about it that might have appealed
to the eye, had it been only leonine or only Iroquoian; but unfortunately,
by combining the two it merely reminded one of a fleshy Hogarthian tippler
of indeterminate sex. His misshapen body, that gray mop of abundant hair,
the yellow nails of his pudgy fingers, the bags under his lusterless eyes,
were only intelligible if regarded as the waste products eliminated from his
intrinsic self by the same forces of perfection which purified and chiseled
his verse. He was his own cancellation. (Foreword)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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