Victor Fet writes:
Brian, Jackie et al:
Matt is almost correct!!
The story is rather Borgesian than Nabokovian…
Searching this “lame quote” led me to NABOKOV-L archive query of 1998:


poem query (fwd)<;da7e17e0.9808>


Donald Barton Johnson <[log in to unmask]<>>


Vladimir Nabokov Forum <[log in to unmask]<>>


Mon, 24 Aug 1998 22:16:37 -0700

From: michael juliar,

I need some help. I have a book titled "The Sea and the Honeycomb."

It is edited by Robert Bly, published by The Sixties Press in 1966.

It gives "examples of what has been done so far in Europe and America

with the poem of three or four lines...contains both poems written

originally in English, and poems translated from ancient and modern

languages," according to the dj.

On page 29 is a poem by "Vladimir Nabukov". It goes:

        Only the birds are able to throw off their shadow.

        The shadow always stays behind on earth.

        Our imagination flies:

        we are its shadow, on the earth.

The back of the book gives sources for the translated poems:

        Solo los pajaros pueden despegarse de su sombra.

        La sombra siempre es de tierra.

        Nuestra imaginacion vuela:

        somos su sombra, en tierra.

                        Vladimir Nabukov

                        Translated from the Russian by

                        Max Aub

Does anyone know where this Pale Fire-like piece is from?

- Michael Juliar

There seemed to be no reply to this strange poem by “NabUkov”.
There is indeed on Amazon a Beacon Press 1st edition (1971) paperback, available for 0.01:
The Sea and the Honeycomb: a Book of Tiny Poems, edited (and translated!?) by a well-known American poet and political activist, Robert Bly<>,  quoted as "a catalyst for a sweeping cultural revolution."

I guessed what Mr. Bly really did was to translate Aub’s text from Spanish -- he also translated Machado, Neruda etc.and there is no indication that he knew Russian.
Max Aub (1903-1972) was a rather famous Mexican-Spaniard “experimentalist novelist”, a figure close to Picasso and Malreaux (
So I searched Aub, and found this:
“ Algunos poetas apócrifos ( I ): la Antología traducida, de Max Aub<> “

……. De entre todos, quizá el que más me haya gustado es el siguiente:



Nació en Kiev, murió en Berlín. Joven, fue amigo de Tolstoi. Luego se enfadaron. Era rico; murio harto, del corazón.

Sólo los pájaros pueden despegarse
de su sombra.
La sombra siempre es de tierra.

Nuestra imaginación vuela:
somos su sombra, en tierra.

 * Como no podía ser de otro modo, entre los poetas antologados (y traducidos) está Max Aub de él Max Aub dice: Nació en París en 1903. Aunque sale su nombre con cierta periodicidad sospechosa en los libros y revistas, no se sabe dónde está. Lo único que consta es que escribió muchas películas mexicanas carentes de interés. Nada tienen que ver con su homónimo Leandro Fernández de Moratín. (...)

Toda una declaración de principios del modo en que Aub concibe la “verdad” literaria.

Publicado por Rodrigo Osorio Guerrero el 12.10.06<>”

To err is human -- but maybe Mr. Bly should have translated more Borges?…

 “…somos su sombra, en Antitierra!”

Victor Fet

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney
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