verba volant, scripta manent in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 07/11/2018 - 08:52

In VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962) Baron B.’s letter to Oswin Bretwit (quoted by Kinbote in his Commentary to Shade’s poem) ends in the Latin proverb verba volant, scripta manent (spoken words fly away, written words remain):

 

I, too, was wont to draw my poet’s attention to the idyllic beauty of airplanes in the evening sky. Who could have guessed that on the very day (July 7) Shade penned this lambent line (the last one on his twenty-third card) Gradus, alias Degré, had flown from Copenhagen to Paris, thus completing the second lap of his sinister journey! Even in Arcady am I, says Death in the tombal scripture.

The activities of Gradus in Paris had been rather neatly planned by the Shadows. They were perfectly right in assuming that not only Odon but our former consul in Paris, the late Oswin Bretwit, would know where to find the King. They decided to have Gradus try Bretwit first. That gentleman had a flat in Meudon where he dwelt alone, seldom going anywhere except the National Library (where he read theosophic works and solved chess problems in old newspapers), and did not receive visitors. The Shadows’ neat plan sprung from a piece of luck. Suspecting that Gradus lacked the mental equipment and mimic gifts necessary for the impersonation of an enthusiastic Royalist, they suggested he had better pose as a completely apolitical commissioner, a neutral little man interested only in getting a good price for various papers that private parties had asked him to take out of Zembla and deliver to their rightful owners. Chance, in one of its anti-Karlist moods, helped. One of the lesser Shadows whom we shall call Baron A. had a father-in-law called Baron B., a harmless old codger long retired from the civil service and quite incapable of understanding certain Renaissance aspects of the new regime. He had been, or thought he had been (retrospective distance magnifies things), a close friend of the late Minister of Foreign Affairs, Oswin Bretwit’s father, and therefore was looking forward to the day when he would be able to transmit to “young” Oswin (who, he understood, was not exactly persona grata with the new regime) a bundle of precious family papers that the dusty baron had come across by chance in the files of a governmental office. All at once he was informed that now the day had come: the documents would be immediately forwarded to Paris. He was also allowed to prefix a brief note to them which read:

 

Here are some precious papers belonging to your family. I cannot do better than place them in the hands of the son of the great man who was my fellow student in Heidelberg and my teacher in the diplomatic service. Verba volant, scripta manent. (note to Line 286)

 

In Russian we say: togo, chto napisano perom, ne vyrubish’ toporom (what was written with a pen cannot be cut out with an axe). In a letter of Apr. 10, 1890, to Vukol Lavrov (the editor of the “Russian Thought” magazine) Chekhov accuses “Russian Thought” of slander and quotes the second part of this saying:

 

Обвинение Ваше — клевета. Просить его взять назад я не могу, так как оно вошло уже в свою силу и его не вырубишь топором; объяснить его неосторожностью, легкомыслием или чем-нибудь вроде я тоже не могу, так как у Вас в редакции, как мне известно, сидят безусловно порядочные и воспитанные люди, которые пишут и читают статьи, надеюсь, не зря, а с сознанием ответственности за каждое своё слово. Мне остаётся только указать Вам на Вашу ошибку и просить Вас верить в искренность того тяжелого чувства, которое побудило меня написать Вам это письмо. Что после Вашего обвинения между нами невозможны не только деловые отношения, но даже обыкновенное шапочное знакомство, это само собою понятно.

 

In a letter of March 23, 1892, to E. P. Goslavski (a fellow writer) Chekhov compares some words in Goslavski’s comedy Soldatka (“The Soldier’s Wife”) to mouches volantes (Fr., “flying flies, eye floaters”) and alludes to the proverb kogotok uvyaz, vsey ptichke propast’ (if a claw is caught the whole bird is lost):

 

«Мы-ста» и «шашнадцать» сильно портят прекрасный разговорный язык. Насколько я могу судить по Гоголю и Толстому, правильность не отнимает у речи её народного духа. Эти «мы-ста» и «шашнадцать» производят на меня всегда впечатление mouches volantes, которые мешают смотреть на ясное небо. Какое-то излишнее и досадное впечатление.

Что еще? Солдат Григорий прощает бабу — это чудесно во всех отношениях и, вероятно, в сценическом тоже. Но зачем он у вас говорит ёрническим языком? Разве это нужно, характерно? Такой великодушный, красивый акт, как прощение, и этот язык в жизни, быть может, и совместимы, но в художественном произведении от такого совместительства пахнет неправдой. Разговор о питейной торговле и процентах разрушает всю прелесть прощения и того благодушного представления, какое все мы имеем о денщиках. Рано у Вас молодой человек заговорил о питейном и ссуде под залог. Это страшная штука. Ещё и коготок не увяз и лапки чисты, а Вы уж пишете, что пропала птичка. Дайте ей пожить! Или начинайте сначала, с коготка, чтоб видно было.

 

Tolstoy’s play Vlast’ t’my (“The Power of Darkness,” 1886) is subtitled Kogotok uvyaz, vsey ptichke propast’. In his essay Komu u kogo uchit’sya pisat’, krest’yanskim rebyatam u nas ili nam u krest’yanskikh rebyat? (“Who Should Learn Writing of Whom; Peasant Children of Us, or We of Peasant Children?” 1862) Tolstoy mentions Snegiryov’s collection of proverbs, pero (the pen) and compares his own contribution to a story written by his pupils (the peasant children) to mukha v moloke (a fly in milk):

 

Давно уже чтение сборника пословиц Снегирёва составляет для меня одно из любимых — не занятий, но наслаждений. На каждую пословицу мне представляются лица из народа и их столкновения в смысле пословицы. В числе неосуществимых мечтаний мне всегда представлялся ряд не то повестей, не то картин, написанных на пословицы. Один раз, прошлого зимой, я зачитался после обеда книгой Снегирева и с книгой же пришел в школу. Был класс русского языка.

— Ну-ка, напишите кто на пословицу,— сказал я.

Лучшие ученики — Федька, Сёмка и другие навострили уши.

— Кто на пословицу, что такое? скажите нам? — посыпались вопросы.

Открылась пословица: ложкой кормит, стеблем глаз колет.

— Вот, вообрази себе,— сказал я,— что мужик взял к себе какого-нибудь нищего, а потом, за свое добро, его попрекать стал,— и выйдет к тому, что «ложкой кормит, стеблем глаз колет».

— Да ее как напишешь? — сказал Федька, и все другие, навострившие было уши, вдруг отшатнулись, убедившись, что это дело не по их силам, и принялись за свои, прежде начатые, работы.

— Ты сам напиши,— сказал мне кто-то.

Все были заняты делом; я взял перо и чернильницу и стал писать.

— Ну,— сказал я,— кто лучше напишет,— и я с вами. Я начал повесть, напечатанную в 4-й книжке «Ясной Поляны», и написал первую страницу. Всякий непредубежденный человек, имеющий чувство художественности и народности, прочтя эту первую, писанную мною, и следующие страницы повести, писанные самими учениками, отличит эту страницу от других, как муху в молоке: так она фальшива, искусственна и написана таким плохим языком. Надо заметить еще, что в первоначальном виде она была еще уродливее и много исправлена благодаря указанию учеников.

 

For a long time the perusal of Snegiryov’s collection of proverbs has been one of my favorite, I will not say occupations, but passions. Every proverb brings up before me characters from among the people, and their actions, according to the sense of the proverb. Among my impossible dreams I have always thought of writing a series of either stories or plays founded on these proverbs.

Once last winter, after dinner, I was reading Snegiryov’s book, and I took the book with me to school. The class in the Russian language was in progress.

"Now write me something on a proverb," said I.

The best scholars, Fedka, Syomka, and the others, pricked up their ears.

"What do you mean, 'on a proverb'?" "What is that ?" "Tell us!" were the various exclamations.

I happened to open to the proverb: "He feeds you with a spoon but stabs your eye with a stem."

"Now imagine," said I, "that a muzhik had taken in some old beggar ; and then, after the kindness that he had received, the beggar had begun to revile him, it would mean that he had eaten with your spoon and put out your eyes with the handle."

"Well, how would you write it?" said Fedka and all the others, who had pricked up their ears ; but suddenly they gave it up, persuaded that this task was beyond their strength, and resumed the work on which they had been engaged before.

"You write it for us," said one of them to me.

All were busy in their work; I took the pen and inkstand, and began to write.

"Now," said I, "who will write it the best? and I will try with you."

I began the story which is printed in the fourth number of Yasnaya Polyana and wrote the first page.

Every unprejudiced man with any feeling for art and nationality, on reading this first page written by me, and the following pages of the story written by the pupils themselves, will distinguish this page from all the others, like a fly in milk, it is so artificial, so false, and written in such a wretched style. It must be noted that in its first form it was still poorer, and has been much improved, thanks to the suggestions of the pupils.

 

The name Snegiryov comes from snegir’ (bullfinch). The characters in Dostoevski’s novel “Brothers Karamazov” (1880) include Ilyusha Snegiryov, a schoolboy who hurls stones at his classmates, and Smurov (one of Ilyusha’s classmates, a lefty who hurls stones back at Ilyusha). In VN’s short novel Soglyadatay (“The Eye,” 1930) Roman Bogdanovich (the diarist) calls Smurov (the narrator and main character) “a sexual lefty.” Kinbote is not only homosexual, but also left-handed:

 

“All right, I am ready. Give me the sign,” he avidly said.
Gradus, deciding to risk it, glanced at the hand in Bretwit’s lap: unperceived by its owner, it seemed to be prompting Gradus in a manual whisper. He tried to copy what it was doing its best to convey—mere rudiments of the required sign.
“No, no,” said Bretwit with an indulgent smile for the awkward novice. “The other hand, my friend. His Majesty is left-handed, you know.”
Gradus tried again—but, like an expelled puppet, the wild little prompter had disappeared. Sheepishly contemplating his five stubby strangers, Gradus went through the motions of an incompetent and half-paralyzed shadow-grapher and finally made an uncertain V-for-Victory sign. Bretwit’s smile began to fade. (note to Line 286)

 

The characters in “The Eye” include Mukhin, Vanya’s fiancé whose surname comes from mukha (a fly). In VN's novel Dar ("The Gift," 1937) the first word of Yasha Chernyshevski (whose father went mad after Yasha's suicide) was mukha (a fly):

 

Страшно больно покидать чрево жизни. Смертный ужас рождения. L’enfant qui naît ressent les affres de sa mère. Бедный мой Яшенька! Очень странно, что, умирая, я удаляюсь от него, когда, казалось бы, напротив, -- всё ближе, ближе. Его первое слово было: муха. И сразу потом --  звонок из полиции: опознать тело.

It is terribly painful to leave life’s womb. The deathly horror of birth. L’enfant qui naît ressent les affres de sa mère. My poor little Yasha! It is very queer that in dying I get further away from him, when the opposite should have been true—ever nearer and nearer…. His first word was muha, a fly. And immediately afterwards there was a telephone call from the police: to come and identify the body. (Chapter Four)

 

In The New York Times Gradus reads about Nikita Khrushchyov’s visit to Zembla (note to Line 949). The characters in “The Eye” include Khrushchyov (Vanya’s brother-in-law). On the other hand, Khrushov is a character in Chekhov's play Leshiy ("The Wood Demon," 1889).

 

In Canto Three of his poem Shade speaks of IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) and mentions “Fra Karamazov, mumbling his inept all is allowed.”

 

Describing Shade’s murder by Gradus, Kinbote compares the poet to a poor lame boy trying to get his spastic brother out of the range of the stones hurled at them by schoolchildren:

 

His first bullet ripped a sleeve button off my black blazer, another sang past my ear. It is evil piffle to assert that he aimed not at me (whom he had just seen in the library - let us be consistent, gentlemen, ours is a rational world after all), but at the gray-locked gentleman behind me. Oh, he was aiming at me all right but missing me every time, the incorrigible bungler, as I instinctively backed, bellowing and spreading my great strong arms (with my left hand still holding the poem, "still clutching the inviolable shade," to quote Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888), in an effort to halt the advancing madman and shield John, whom I feared he might, quite accidentally, hit, while he, my sweet, awkward old John, kept clawing at me and pulling me after him, back to the protection of his laurels, with the solemn fussiness of a poor lame boy trying to get his spastic brother out of the range of the stones hurled at them by schoolchildren, once a familiar sight in all countries. I felt - I still feel - John's hand fumbling at mine, seeking my fingertips, finding them, only to abandon them at once as if passing to me, in a sublime relay race, the baton of life.

One of the bullets that spared me struck him in the side and went through his heart. His presence behind me abruptly failing me caused me to lose my balance, and, simultaneously, to complete the farce of fate, my gardener's spade dealt gunman Jack from behind the hedge a tremendous blow on the pate, felling him and sending his weapon flying from his grasp. Our savior retrieved it and helped me to my feet. My coccyx and right wrist hurt badly but the poem was safe. John, though, lay prone on the ground, with a red spot on his white shirt. I still hoped he had not been killed. The madman sat on the porch step, dazedly nursing with bloody hands a bleeding head. Leaving the gardener to watch over him I hurried into the house and concealed the invaluable envelope under a heap of girls' galoshes, furred snowboots and white wellingtons heaped at the bottom of a closet, from which I exited as if it had been the end of the secret passage that had taken me all the way out of my enchanted castle and right from Zembla to this Arcady. I then dialed 11111 and returned with a glass of water to the scene of the carnage. The poor poet had now been turned over and lay with open dead eyes directed up at the sunny evening azure. The armed gardener and the battered killer were smoking side by side on the steps. The latter, either because he was in pain, or because he had decided to play a new role, ignored me as completely as if I were a stone king on a stone charger in the Tessera Square of Onhava; but the poem was safe. (note to Line 1000)

 

In its unfinished form Shade’s poem has 999 lines. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade’s poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”). In "The Gift" Fyodor's book on Chernyshevski begins and ends with a sonnet. Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1846) is a short novel by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Alexander Blok (who said that he did know what a coda is, when asked "does a sonnet need a coda"). In Dostoevski’s novel Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875) Arkady Dolgoruki (the narrator and main character) has microscopes for eyes and kazhduyu mukhu preuvelichivaet v verblyuda (exaggerates every fly into a camel):

 

- О нет, я тому только, что у вас такие ужасные слова... Ну, что такое "выведывающая змея"? - засмеялась она.

- У вас вырвалось сегодня одно драгоценное слово, - продолжал я в восторге. - Как могли вы только выговорить предо мной, "что рассчитывали на мою пылкость"? Ну пусть вы святая и признаетесь даже в этом, потому что вообразили в себе какую-то вину и хотели себя казнить... Хотя, впрочем, никакой вины не было, потому что если и было что, то от вас все свято! Но все-таки вы могли не сказать именно этого слова, этого выражения!.. Такое неестественное даже чистосердечие показывает лишь высшее ваше целомудрие, уважение ко мне, веру в меня, - бессвязно восклицал я. - О, не краснейте, не краснейте!.. И кто, кто мог клеветать и говорить, что вы - страстная женщина? О, простите: я вижу мучительное выражение на вашем лице; простите исступленному подростку его неуклюжие слова! Да и в словах ли, в выражениях ли теперь дело? Не выше ли вы всех выражений?.. Версилов раз говорил, что Отелло не для того убил Дездемону, а потом убил себя, что ревновал, а потому, что у него отняли его идеал!.. Я это понял, потому что и мне сегодня возвратили мой идеал!

- Вы меня слишком хвалите: я не стою того, - произнесла она с чувством. - Помните, что я говорила вам про ваши глаза? - прибавила она шутливо.

- Что у меня не глаза, а вместо глаз два микроскопа, и что я каждую муху преувеличиваю в верблюда! Нет-с, тут не верблюд!.. Как, вы уходите?

Она стояла среди комнаты, с муфтой и с шалью в руке.

- Нет, я подожду, когда вы выйдете, а сама выйду потом. Я еще напишу два слова Татьяне Павловне.

- Я сейчас уйду, сейчас, но еще раз: будьте счастливы, одни или с тем, кого выберете, и дай вам бог! А мне - мне нужен лишь идеал!

- Милый, добрый Аркадий Макарович, поверьте, что я об вас... Про вас отец мой говорит всегда: "милый, добрый мальчик!" Поверьте, я буду помнить всегда ваши рассказы о бедном мальчике, оставленном в чужих людях, и об уединенных его мечтах... Я слишком понимаю, как сложилась душа ваша... Но теперь хоть мы и студенты, - прибавила она с просящей и стыдливой улыбкой, пожимая руку мою, - но нам нельзя уже более видеться как прежде и, и... верно, вы это понимаете?

- Нельзя?

- Нельзя, долго нельзя... в этом уж я виновата... Я вижу, что это теперь совсем невозможно... Мы будем встречаться иногда у папа...

"Вы боитесь "пылкости" моих чувств, вы не верите мне?" - хотел было я вскричать; но она вдруг так предо мной застыдилась, что слова мои сами не выговорились.

- Скажите, - вдруг остановила она меня уже совсем у дверей, - вы сами видели, что... то письмо... разорвано? Вы хорошо это запомнили? Почему вы тогда узнали, что это было то самое письмо к Андроникову?

Крафт мне рассказал его содержание и даже показал мне его... Прощайте! Когда я бывал у вас в кабинете, то робел при вас, а когда вы уходили, я готов был броситься и целовать то место на полу, где стояла ваша нога... - проговорил я вдруг безотчетно, сам не зная как и для чего, и, не взглянув на нее, быстро вышел.

Я пустился домой; в моей душе был восторг. Все мелькало в уме, как вихрь, а сердце было полно. Подъезжая к дому мамы, я вспомнил вдруг о Лизиной неблагодарности к Анне Андреевне, об ее жестоком, чудовищном слове давеча, и у меня вдруг заныло за них всех сердце! "Как у них у всех жестко на сердце! Да и Лиза, что с ней?" - подумал я, став на крыльцо.

 

"Oh no, I'm only laughing because you use such wonderful expressions. . . . But what is an 'inquisitorial serpent'?" she laughed.

"You let slip to-day a priceless sentence," I went on ecstatically. "How could you to my face utter the words; 'I reckoned on your impulsiveness'? Well, granted you are a saint, and confess even that, because you imagined yourself guilty in some way and want to punish yourself. . . though there was no fault of any sort, for, if there had been, from you everything is holy! But yet you need not have uttered just that word, that expression! . . . Such unnatural candour only shows your lofty purity, your respect for me, your faith in me!" I cried incoherently. "Oh, do not blush, do not blush! . . . And how, how could anyone slander you, and say that you are a woman of violent passions? Oh, forgive me: I see a look of anguish on your face; forgive a frenzied boy his clumsy words! Besides, do words matter now? Are you not above all words? . . . Versilov said once that Othello did not kill Desdemona and afterwards himself because he was jealous, but because he had been robbed of his ideal. . . . I understand that, because to-day my ideal has been restored to me!"

"You praise me too much: I don't deserve this," she pronounced with feeling. "Do you remember what I told you about your eyes?" she added playfully.

"That I have microscopes for eyes, and that I exaggerate every fly into a camel! No, this time it's not a camel. . . . What, you are going?"

She was standing in the middle of the room with her muff and her shawl in her hands.

"No, I shall wait till you're gone, and then I shall go afterwards. I must write a couple of words to Tatiana Pavlovna."

"I'm going directly, directly, but once more: may you be happy alone, or with the man of your choice, and God bless you! All that I need is my ideal!"

"Dear, good Arkady Makarovich, believe me I. . . My father always says of you 'the dear, good boy!' Believe me I shall always remember what you have told me of your lonely childhood, abandoned amongst strangers, and your solitary dreams. . . . I understand only too well how your mind has been formed. . . but now though we are students," she added, with a deprecating and shamefaced smile, pressing my hand, "we can't go on seeing each other as before and, and. . . no doubt you will understand that?"

"We cannot?"

"No, we cannot, for a long time, we cannot. . . it's my fault. . . . I see now that it's quite out of the question. . . .

We shall meet sometimes at my father's."

"You are afraid of my 'impulsiveness,' my feelings, you don't believe in me!" I would have exclaimed, but she was so overcome with shame that my words refused to be uttered.

"Tell me," she said, stopping me all at once in the doorway, "did you see yourself that. . . that letter was torn up? You are sure you remember it? How did you know at the time that it was the letter to Andronikov?"

"Kraft told me what was in it, and even showed it to me. . . .

Good-bye! When I am with you in your study I am shy of you, but when you go away I am ready to fall down and kiss the spot where your foot has touched the floor. . . ." I brought out all at once, unconsciously, not knowing how or why I said it. And without looking at her I went quickly out of the room.

I set off for home; there was rapture in my soul. My brain was in a whirl, my heart was full. As I drew near my mother's house I recalled Liza's ingratitude to Anna Andreyevna, her cruel and monstrous saying that morning, and my heart suddenly ached for them all!

"How hard their hearts are! And Liza too, what's the matter with her?" I thought as I stood on the steps. (Part Two, Chapter Four, 2)

 

Arkady's farther Versilov brings to mind "versipel" (as Shade calls his muse). Arkady’s sister is a namesake of Mona Lisa. The wife of Charles the Beloved, Queen Disa (Duchess of Payn, of Great Payn and Mone) seems to blend Leonardo’s Mona Lisa with Shakespeare’s Desdemona. The characters in Pale Fire include Andronnikov and Niagarin (the two Soviet experts hired by the new Zemblan government to find the crown jewels). It is Andron and Niagarushka who break into Villa Disa and find out the king’s address:

 

On the morning of July 16 (while Shade was working on the 698-746 section of his poem) dull Gradus, dreading another day of enforced inactivity in sardonically, sparkling, stimulatingly noisy Nice, decided that until hunger drove him out he would not budge from a leathern armchair in the simulacrum of a lobby among the brown smells of his dingy hotel. Unhurriedly he went through a heap of old magazines on a nearby table. There he sat, a little monument of taciturnity, sighing, puffing out his cheeks, licking his thumb before turning a page, gaping at the pictures, and moving his lips as he climbed down the columns of printed matter. Having replaced everything in a neat pile, he sank back in his chair closing and opening his gabled hands in various constructions of tedium - when a man who had occupied a seat next to him got up and walked into the outer glare leaving his paper behind. Gradus pulled it into his lap, spread it out - and froze over a strange piece of local news that caught his eye: burglars had broken into Villa Disa and ransacked a bureau, taking from a jewel box a number of valuable old medals.

Here was something to brood upon. Had this vaguely unpleasant incident some bearing on his quest? Should he do something about it? Cable headquarters? Hard to word succinctly a simple fact without having it look like a cryptogram. Airmail a clipping? He was in his room working on the newspaper with a safety razor blade when there was a bright rap-rap at the door. Gradus admitted an unexpected visitor - one of the greater Shadows, whom he had thought to be onhava-onhava ("far, far away"), in wild, misty, almost legendary Zembla! What stunning conjuring tricks our magical mechanical age plays with old mother space and old father time!

He was a merry, perhaps overmerry, fellow, in a green velvet jacket. Nobody liked him, but he certainly had a keen mind. His name, Izumrudov, sounded rather Russian but actually meant "of the Umruds," an Eskimo tribe sometimes seen paddling their umyaks (hide-lined boats) on the emerald waters of our northern shores. Grinning, he said friend Gradus must get together his travel documents, including a health certificate, and take the earliest available jet to New York. Bowing, he congratulated him on having indicated with such phenomenal acumen the right place and the right way. Yes, after a thorough perlustration of the loot that Andron and Niagarushka had obtained from the Queen's rosewood writing desk (mostly bills, and treasured snapshots, and those silly medals) a letter from the King did turn up giving his address which was of all places - Our man, who interrupted the herald of success to say he had never - was bidden not to display so much modesty. A slip of paper was now produced on which Izumrudov, shaking with laughter (death is hilarious), wrote out for Gradus their client's alias, the name of the university where he taught, and that of the town where it was situated. No, the slip was not for keeps. He could keep it only while memorizing it. This brand of paper (used by macaroon makers) was not only digestible but delicious. The gay green vision withdrew – to resume his whoring no doubt. How one hates such men! (not to Line 741)

 

In Dostoevski’s novel The Idiot (1869) Keller mentions izumrudy (emeralds):

 

- Послушайте, Келлер, я бы на вашем месте лучше не признавался в этом без особой нужды, - начал было князь, - а впрочем, ведь вы, может быть, нарочно на себя наговариваете?

- Вам, единственно вам одному, и единственно для того, чтобы помочь своему развитию! Больше никому; умру и под саваном унесу мою тайну! Но, князь, если бы вы знали, если бы вы только знали, как трудно в наш век достать денег! Где же их ваять, позвольте вас спросить после этого? Один ответ: "неси золото и бриллианты, под них и дадим", то-есть именно то, чего у меня нет, можете вы себе это представить? Я наконец рассердился, постоял, постоял. "А под изумруды, говорю, дадите?" - "И под изумруды, говорит, дам". - "Ну и отлично", говорю, надел шляпу и вышел; чорт с вами, подлецы вы этакие! Ей богу!

- А у вас разве были изумруды?

- Какие у меня изумруды! О, князь, как вы ещё светло и невинно, даже, можно сказать, пастушески смотрите на жизнь!

 

“Listen to me, Keller,” returned the prince. “If I were in your place, I should not acknowledge that unless it were absolutely necessary for some reason. But perhaps you are making yourself out to be worse than you are, purposely?”

“I should tell it to no one but yourself, prince, and I only name it now as a help to my soul’s evolution. When I die, that secret will die with me! But, excellency, if you knew, if you only had the least idea, how difficult it is to get money nowadays! Where to find it is the question. Ask for a loan, the answer is always the same: ‘Give us gold, jewels, or diamonds, and it will be quite easy.’ Exactly what one has not got! Can you picture that to yourself? I got angry at last, and said, ‘I suppose you would accept emeralds?’ ‘Certainly, we accept emeralds with pleasure. Yes!’ ‘Well, that’s all right,’ said I. ‘Go to the devil, you den of thieves!’ And with that I seized my hat, and walked out.”

“Had you any emeralds?” asked the prince.

“What? I have emeralds? Oh, prince! with what simplicity, with what almost pastoral simplicity, you look upon life!” (Part Two, chapter XI)

 

In his speech on Dostoevski (delivered on the hundredth anniversary of the writer’s birth) Lunacharski (the minister of education in Lenin’s government) takes the example of water in order to explain Dostoevski’s treatment of man’s psyche. According to Lunacharski, to understand the dynamics of water, one must imagine a fantastic Niagara Falls, a hundred times more grandiose than the real one:

 

Чтобы понять, что делает Достоевский с психикой - возьмём хотя бы такой пример - вода. Для того, чтобы дать человеку полное представление о воде, заставить его объять все её свойства, надо ему показать воду, пар, лёд, разделить воду на составные части, показать, что такое тихое озеро, величаво катящая свои волны река, водопад, фонтан и проч. Словом - ему нужно показать все свойства, всю внутреннюю динамику воды. И, однако, этого всё-таки будет мало. Может быть, для того, чтобы понять динамику воды, нужно превысить данные возможности и фантастически представить человеку Ниагару, в сотню раз грандиознейшую, чем подлинная. Вот Достоевский и стремится превозмочь реальность и показать дух человеческий со всеми его неизмеримыми высотами и необъяснимыми глубинами со всех сторон. Как Микель Анджело скручивает человеческие тела в конвульсиях, в агонии, так Достоевский дух человеческий то раздувает до гиперболы, то сжимает до полного уничтожения, смешивает с грязью, низвергает его в глубины ада, то потом вдруг взмывает в самые высокие эмпиреи неба. Этими полётами человеческого духа Достоевский не только приковывает наше внимание, захватывает нас, открывает нам новые неизведанные красоты, но даёт очень много и нашему познанию, показывая нам неподозреваемые нами глубины души.

 

In his speech Lunacharski mentions not only vodopad (a waterfall), but also fontan (a fountain). In his poem about a miragarl ("mirage girl") the society sculptor and poet Arnor mentions three hundred camels and three fountains:

 

Our Prince was fond of Fleur as of a sister but with no soft shadow of incest or secondary homosexual complications. She had a small pale face with prominent cheekbones, luminous eyes, and curly dark hair. It was rumored that after going about with a porcelain cup and Cinderella's slipper for months, the society sculptor and poet Arnor had found in her what he sought and had used her breasts and feet for his Lilith Calling Back Adam; but I am certainly no expert in these tender matters. Otar, her lover, said that when you walked behind her, and she knew you were walking behind her, the swing and play of those slim haunches was something intensely artistic, something Arab girls were taught in special schools by special Parisian panders who were afterwards strangled. Her fragile ankles, he said, which she placed very close together in her dainty and wavy walk, were the "careful jewels" in Arnor’s poem about a miragarl ("mirage girl"), for which "a dream king in the sandy wastes of time would give three hundred camels and three fountains.”

 

          /                      /                 /            /

On sagaren werem tremkin tri stana
            /                    /            /            /
Verbalala wod gev ut tri phantana

 

(I have marked the stress accents.) (note to Line 80)

 

There is verba in verbalala (Zemblan for “camels”). In his memoir essay Belyi koridor (“The White Corridor,” 1925) Hodasevich describes Lunacharski’s meeting with the writers in the Kremlin and mentions verblyud (a camel) used by Durov (the famous clown and trainer) as a draught animal to pull his sleigh:

 

Рукавишников, плодовитый, но безвкусный писатель, был родом из нижегородских миллионеров. Промотался и пропился он, кажется, еще до революции. Он был женат на бывшей цирковой артистке, очень хорошенькой, чем и объясняется его положение в Кремле. Вскоре Луначарский учредил при Тео новую секцию - цирковую, которую и возглавил госпожой Рукавишниковой. После этого какие-то личности кокаинного типа появились в Тео, а у подъезда, рядом с автомобилем Каменевой, появился парный выезд Рукавишниковой: вороные кони под синей сеткой - из придворных конюшен. Тут же порой стояли просторные розвальни, запряженные не более и не менее, как верблюдом. Это клоун и дрессировщик Владимир Дуров явился заседать тоже.

Иногда можно было видеть, как по Воздвиженке или по Моховой, взрывая снежные кучи, под свист мальчишек, выбрасывая из ноздрей струи белого пара, широченной и размашистой рысью мчался верблюд. Оторопелые старухи жались к сторонке и шептали:

-С нами крестная сила!

 

As he spoke to the writers, Lunacharski used the proverb les rubyat – shchepki letyat (you cannot make an omelette without breaking the eggs; literally: “when they chop wood, chips fly”): 

 

Подробностей того, что сказал Луначарский, я, конечно, не помню. В общем, это была вполне характерная речь либерального министра из очень нелиберального правительства, с приличной долей даже лёгкого как бы фрондирования. Всё, однако, сводилось к тому, что, конечно, стоны писателей дошли до его чуткого слуха; это весьма прискорбно, но, к сожалению, никакой "весны" он, Луначарский, нам возвестить не может, потому что дело идет не к "весне", а совсем напротив. Одним словом, рабоче-крестьянская власть (это выражение заметно ласкало слух оратора, и он его произнес многократно, с победоносным каждый раз взором) - рабоче-крестьянская власть разрешает литературу, но только подходящую. Если хотим, мы можем писать, и рабочая власть желает нам всяческого успеха, но просит помнить, что лес рубят - щепки летят.

Всё это, повторяю, было высказано очень складно и длинно, но не оставляло сомнений в том, что летящие щепки (это выражение мне запомнилось в точности) - это и есть писатели.

 

According to Hodasevich, Lunacharski’s words left no doubt that “the flying chips” were writers. In his essay Hodasevich mentions the ever drunk writer Ivan Rukavishnikov (no relation of VN’s mother):

 

Поздоровавшись, сели мы как-то нескладно, чуть ли не в ряд. Луначарский сел против нас, посреди комнаты. Позади его помещался писатель Иван Рукавишников, козлобородый, рыжий, в зелёном френче. Когда мы вошли, он уже сидел в большом кресле, с которого не поднялся ни при нашем появлении, ни потом. Он только слегка кивнул головой, что-то промычав. Его присутствие, так же, как неподвижность, слегка удивили нас. Но позже всё объяснилось.

 

At the end of his Commentary (note to Line 1000) Kinbote quotes a Zemblan proverb Gut mag alkan, Pern dirstan (God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty). Dya’vol (“The Devil,” 1889) is a novella by Leo Tolstoy. Pern seems to hint at Perun, the Slavic god of thunder. In Alexey Tolstoy’s poem Istoriya Gosudarstva Rossiyskogo ot Gostomysla do Timasheva (“A History of the Russian State from Gostomysl to Timashev,” 1868) Vladimir I (the grand prince of Kiev who converted to Christianity in 988) says:

 

«Перун уж очень гадок!
Когда его спихнём,
Увидите, порядок
Какой мы заведём!»

 

“Perun is too loathsome!

You just see what an order

we'll have

once we dethrone him!”

 

Hodasevich describes Rukavishnikov as kozloborodyi, ryzhiy, v zelyonom frenche (goat-bearded, red-haired, in a green jacket). At the end of his poem Lilit (“Lilith,” 1928) VN mentions kozlonogiy, ryzhiy narod (the goat-hoofed, copper-curled crowd):

 

                                  "Впусти",-

я крикнул, с ужасом заметя,

что вновь на улице стою

и мерзко блеющие дети

глядят на булаву мою.

"Впусти", - и козлоногий, рыжий

народ всё множился. "Впусти же,

иначе я с ума сойду!"

Молчала дверь. И перед всеми

мучительно я пролил семя

и понял вдруг, что я в аду.

 

                                    “Let me in!”

I shouted, noticing with horror

that I again stood outside in the dust

and that obscenely bleating youngsters

were staring at my pommeled lust.

“Let me come in!” And the goat-hoofed,

copper-curled crowd increased. “Oh, let me in,”

I pleaded, “otherwise I shall go mad!”

The door stayed silent, and for all to see

writhing with agony I spilled my seed

and knew abruptly that I was in Hell.

 

According to Kinbote, the name Bretwit means in Zemblan “chess intelligence.” In Speak, Memory (1951) VN mentions his Staunton chessmen, a twenty-year-old set given to him by his uncle Konstantin. The author of The Ordeal of a Diplomat (1921) and of an English translation of Pushkin's Boris Godunov, Konstantin Nabokov was in the diplomatic service. In the Russian version of his autobiography, Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), VN describes his best chess problem and mentions a photograph depicting Leo Tolstoy and A. B. Goldenweiser over a chessboard:

 

За такой же доской, как раз уместившейся на низком столике, сидели Лев Толстой и А. Б. Гольденвейзер 6-го ноября 1904-го года по старому стилю (рисунок Морозова, ныне в Толстовском Музее в Москве), и рядом с ними, на круглом столе под лампой, виден не только открытый ящик для фигур, но и бумажный ярлычок (с подписью Staunton), приклеенный к внутренней стороне крышки. (Chapter Thirteen, 4)

 

Alexander Goldenweiser (1875-1961) was a Russian pianist, teacher and composer. Tolstoy is the author of Zhivoy trup ("The Live Corpse," 1900), a play whose title goes back to a line in Pushkin's poem Podrazhanie ital'yanskomu ("An Imitation of the Italian," 1836). On the next morning after Gradus' visit Oswin Bretwit was hospitalized, operated upon and, as Kinbote puts it, "died under the knife." In Pushkin's little tragedy "Mozart and Salieri" (1830) Salieri says that he cut up music, like a corpse, and Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would). Nikto b is Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name) in reverse. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote’s Commentary). There is a hope that, when Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide (on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin's Lyceum), Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (the Governor general of New Russia, a target of Pushkin's epigrams), will be "full" again. In Speak, Memory VN says that he left Russia on a Greek ship Nadezhda and mentions a game of chess that he played with his father:

 

In March of 1919, the Reds broke through in northern Crimea, and from various ports a tumultuous evacuation of anti-Bolshevik groups began. Over a glassy sea in the bay of Sebastopol, under wild machine-gun fire from the shore (the Bolshevik troops had just taken the port), my family and I set out for Constantinople and Piraeus on a small and shoddy Greek ship Nadezhda (Hope) carrying a cargo of dried fruit. I remember trying to concentrate, as we were zigzagging out of the bay, on a game of chess with my father—one of the knights had lost its head, and a poker chip replaced a missing rook—and the sense of leaving Russia was totally eclipsed by the agonizing thought that Reds or no Reds, letters from Tamara would be still coming, miraculously and needlessly, to southern Crimea, and would search there for a fugitive addressee, and weakly flap about like bewildered butterflies set loose in an alien zone, at the wrong altitude, among an unfamiliar flora. (Chapter Twelve, 5)