Silesian river ant, Monparnasse, libellula long wings, Jupiter & Jurojin in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 10/10/2018 - 06:24

In VN’s novel Ada (1969) Van Veen mentions a riddle that he whispered in Ada’s ear on their first night in “Ardis the Second:”

 

He had spent most of the day fast asleep in his room, and a long, rambling, dreary dream had repeated, in a kind of pointless parody, his strenuous ‘Casanovanic’ night with Ada and that somehow ominous morning talk with her. Now that I am writing this, after so many hollows and heights of time, I find it not easy to separate our conversation, as set down in an inevitably stylized form, and the drone of complaints, turning on sordid betrayals that obsessed young Van in his dull nightmare. Or was he dreaming now that he had been dreaming? Had a grotesque governess really written a novel entitled Les Enfants Maudits? To be filmed by frivolous dummies, now discussing its adaptation? To be made even triter than the original Book of the Fortnight, and its gurgling blurbs? Did he detest Ada as he had in his dreams? He did.

Now, at fifteen, she was an irritating and hopeless beauty; a rather unkempt one, too; only twelve hours ago, in the dim toolroom he had whispered a riddle in her ear: what begins with a ‘de’ and rhymes more or less with a Silesian river ant? She was eccentric in habits and clothing. She cared nothing for sunbathing, and not a tinge of the tan that had californized Lucette could be traced on the shameless white of Ada’s long limbs and scrawny shoulder blades.

A remote cousin, no longer René’s sister, not even his half-sister (so lyrically anathematized by Monparnasse), she stepped over him as over a log and returned the embarrassed dog to Marina. The actor, who quite likely would run into some body’s fist in a forthcoming scene, made a filthy remark in broken French.

‘Du sollst nicht zuhören,’ murmured Ada to German Dack before putting him back in Marina’s lap under the ‘accursed children.’ ‘On ne parle pas comme ça devant un chien,’ added Ada, not deigning to glance at Pedro, who nevertheless got up, reconstructed his crotch, and beat her to the pool with a Nurjinski leap. (1.32)

 

The Oder being a Silesian river that Van has in mind, the answer to Van’s riddle is “deodorant.” “A Silesian river ant” and Monparnasse (Mlle Larivière’s penname, the leaving out of the ‘t’ made it more intime) bring to mind parnasskiy muravey (the Parnassian ant), as in the first draft of Domik v Kolomne ("A Small House in Kolomna," 1830), a mock epic in octaves, Pushkin calls Delille (a poet whose name begins with a ‘de’):

 

О, что б сказал поэт-законодатель,
Гроза несчастных мелких рифмачей!
И ты, Расин, бессмертный подражатель,
Певец влюблённых женщин и царей!
И ты, Вольтер, философ и ругатель,
И ты, Делиль, парнасский муравей,
Что б вы сказали, сей соблазн увидя?
Наш век обидел вас, ваш стих обидя!

 

When Van leaves Ardis after his first summer there, Bouteillan (the French butler) quotes Delille's poem Les trois régnes de la nature (1809):

 

Van’s black trunk and black suitcase, and black king-size dumbbells, were heaved into the back of the family motorcar; Bouteillan put on a captain’s cap, too big for him, and grape-blue goggles; ‘remouvez votre bottom, I will drive,’ said Van — and the summer of 1884 was over. 

‘She rolls sweetly, sir,’ remarked Bouteillan in his quaint old-fashioned English. ‘Tous les pneus sont neufs, but, alas, there are many stones on the way, and youth drives fast. Monsieur should be prudent. The winds of the wilderness are indiscreet. Tel un lis sauvage confiant au désert —’

‘Quite the old comedy retainer, aren’t you?’ remarked Van drily.

Non, Monsieur,’ answered Bouteillan, holding on to his cap. ‘Non. Tout simplement j’aime bien Monsieur et sa demoiselle.

‘If,’ said Van, ‘you’re thinking of little Blanche, then you’d better quote Delille not to me, but to your son, who’ll knock her up any day now.’

The old Frenchman glanced at Van askance, pozheval gubami (chewed his lips), but said nothing. (1.25)

 

In French demoiselle means “young lady” and “dragonfly.” La Fontaine’s fable La Cigale et la Fourmi (“The Cicada and the Ant”) was translated into Russian by Krylov as Strekoza i muravey (“The Dragonfly and the Ant”). Parnas (“Parnassus,” 1808) is a fable by Krylov. The epigraph to Pushkin’s poem Sobranie nasekomykh (“The Insect Collection,” 1829), Kakie krokhotny korovki! / Est’, pravo, menee bulavochnoy golovki (What tiny creatures! / Really, some are smaller than a pinhead), is from Krylov’s fable Lyubopytnyi (“The Sightseer,” 1814):

 

Какие крохотны коровки!
Есть, право, менее булавочной головки.
Крылов

 

Моё собранье насекомых

Открыто для моих знакомых:

Ну, что за пёстрая семья!

За ними где ни рылся я!

Зато какая сортировка!

Вот <Глинка> — божия коровка,

Вот <Каченовский> — злой паук,

Вот и <Свиньин> — российский жук,

Вот <Олин><?> — чёрная мурашка,

Вот <Раич><?> — мелкая букашка.

Куда их много набралось!

Опрятно за стеклом и в рамах

Они, пронзённые насквозь,

Рядком торчат на эпиграммах.

 

Chyornaya murashka (“the black ant”) in Pushkin’s poem is most probably Olin (the author of Korser, a tragedy based on Byron’s tale in verse “The Corsair”). There is Olin in Kolin, a character in VN’s novel Mashen’ka (“Mary,” 1926). Two ballet dancers, Kolin and Gornotsvetov are Ganin's neighbors in a Berlin boarding house. The name Gornotsvetov comes from gornyi tsvet (mountain flower). When she was pregnant with Van, Marina collected flowers in the Swiss Alps. Van and Ada find out that they are brother and sister thanks to Marina’s old herbarium that they discovered in the attic of Ardis Hall (1.1).

 

In “The Insect Collection” Pushkin calls Kachenovski (a hostile critic) zloy pauk (the evil spider). In an epigram on Kachenovski, Zhurnalami obizhennyi zhestoko… (“Insulted deeply by magazines…” 1829), Pushkin mentions gospodin parnasskiy starover (Mr. Parnassian Old Believer):

 

Журналами обиженный жестоко,
Зоил Пахом печалился глубоко;
На цензора вот подал он донос;
Но цензор прав, нам смех, зоилу нос.
Иная брань, конечно, неприличность,
Нельзя писать: Такой-то де старик,
Козёл в очках, плюгавый клеветник,
И зол и подл: всё это будет личность.
Но можете печатать, например,
Что господин парнасский старовер
(В своих статьях) бессмыслицы оратор,
Отменно вял, отменно скучноват,
Тяжеловат и даже глуповат;
Тут не лицо, а только литератор.

 

Insulted deeply by some journalists 

Zoilus Pakhom files charges, where he lists

Claims and complains. The teasers, yet,

For sure will be found not guilty, one can bet.

Some invective, of course, aren't recommended.

One cannot write that Mister Such-and-Such,

Bespectacled goat... - this is a bit too much,

A shabby libeler... - should also be amended.

However, one can say politely that

Mr. Parnassian Old Believer is just sad

And slightly ponderous, and in the latest journal

His article is sort of daft and dull,

A bit annoying, honestly, 'tis fool.

Here is the literateur and nothing personal.

(tr. V. Gurvich)

 

“Mr. Parnassian Old Believer” brings to mind “the New Believers” mentioned by Van:

 

Revelation can be more perilous than Revolution. Sick minds identified the notion of a Terra planet with that of another world and this ‘Other World’ got confused not only with the ‘Next World’ but with the Real World in us and beyond us. Our enchanters, our demons, are noble iridescent creatures with translucent talons and mightily beating wings; but in the eighteen-sixties the New Believers urged one to imagine a sphere where our splendid friends had been utterly degraded, had become nothing but vicious monsters, disgusting devils, with the black scrota of carnivora and the fangs of serpents, revilers and tormentors of female souls; while on the opposite side of the cosmic lane a rainbow mist of angelic spirits, inhabitants of sweet Terra, restored all the stalest but still potent myths of old creeds, with rearrangement for melodeon of all the cacophonies of all the divinities and divines ever spawned in the marshes of this our sufficient world. (1.3)

 

According to Van, the real destination of poor mad Aqua (Marina’s twin sister) was Terra the Fair (Antiterra’s twin planet):

 

Actually, Aqua was less pretty, and far more dotty, than Marina. During her fourteen years of miserable marriage she spent a broken series of steadily increasing sojourns in sanatoriums. A small map of the European part of the British Commonwealth — say, from Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia — as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina, might be quite thickly prickled with enameled red-cross-flag pins, marking, in her War of the Worlds, Aqua’s bivouacs. She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health (‘just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black’) in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. Of course, Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive… But her real destination was Terra the Fair and thither she trusted she would fly on libellula long wings when she died. Her poor little letters from the homes of madness to her husband were sometimes signed: Madame Shchemyashchikh-Zvukov (‘Heart rending-Sounds’). (ibid.)

 

Libellula is a genus of dragonflies. Describing his reunion with Ada after their first separation, Van mentions libelulla (sic!) wings of Ada’s chartered plane:

 

He had prepared one of those phrases that sound right in dreams but lame in lucid life: ‘I saw you circling above me on libelulla wings’; he broke down on ‘…ulla,’ and fell at her feet — at her bare insteps in glossy black Glass slippers — precisely in the same attitude, the same heap of hopeless tenderness, self-immolation, denunciation of demoniac life, in which he would drop in backthought, in the innermost bower of his brain every time he remembered her impossible semi-smile as she adjusted her shoulder blades to the trunk of the final tree. An invisible stagehand now slipped a seat under her, and she wept, and stroked his black curls as he went through his fit of grief, gratitude and regret. It might have persisted much longer had not another, physical frenzy, that had been stirring his blood since the previous day, offered a blessed distraction. (2.6)

 

At the end of her letter to Van Ada repeats the word tvoya (thine) three times:

 

O dear Van, this is the last attempt I am making. You may call it a document in madness or the herb of repentance, but I wish to come and live with you, wherever you are, for ever and ever. If you scorn the maid at your window I will aerogram my immediate acceptance of a proposal of marriage that has been made to your poor Ada a month ago in Valentine State. He is an Arizonian Russian, decent and gentle, not overbright and not fashionable. The only thing we have in common is a keen interest in many military-looking desert plants especially various species of agave, hosts of the larvae of the most noble animals in America, the Giant Skippers (Krolik, you see, is burrowing again). He owns horses, and Cubistic pictures, and "oil wells" (whatever they are-our father in hell who has some too, does not tell me, getting away with off-color allusions as is his wont). I have told my patient Valentinian that I shall give him a definite answer after consulting the only man I have ever loved or shall ever love. Try to ring me up tonight. Something is very wrong with the Ladore line, but I am assured that the trouble will be grappled with and eliminated before rivertide. Tvoya, tvoya, tvoya (thine). A.’ (2.5)

 

In Pushkin’s poem Tvoy i moy (“Thine and Mine,” 1814-16) the last word is tvoy (thine):

 

Бог весть, за что философы, пииты
На твой и мой давным-давно сердиты.
Не спорю я с учёной их толпой,
Но и бранить причины не имею
То, что дарит мне радость и покой.
Что, ежели б ты не была моею?
Что, ежели б я не был, Ниса, твой?

 

Pushkin translated his poem into French as “Tien et mien, — dit Lafontaine…” (1818-19):

 

“Tien et mien, — dit Lafontaine —
Du monde a rompu le lien.” —
Quant à moi, je n’en crois rien.
Que serait ce, ma Climène,

Si tu n’étais plus la mienne,
Si je n’étais plus le tien?

 

“Ma Climène” brings to mind not only “mon Aline, mon Adèle and ma Lucile” in Van’s and Ada’s petits vers (“Oh! qui me rendra mon Aline / Et le grand chêne et ma colline?” 1.22), but also Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), Marina’s former lover who gave her children a set of Flavita (the Russian Scrabble):

 

The set our three children received in 1884 from an old friend of the family (as Marina’s former lovers were known), Baron Klim Avidov, consisted of a large folding board of saffian and a boxful of weighty rectangles of ebony inlaid with platinum letters, only one of which was a Roman one, namely the letter J on the two joker blocks (as thrilling to get as a blank check signed by Jupiter or Jurojin). It was, incidentally, the same kindly but touchy Avidov (mentioned in many racy memoirs of the time) who once catapulted with an uppercut an unfortunate English tourist into the porter’s lodge for his jokingly remarking how clever it was to drop the first letter of one’s name in order to use it as a particule, at the Gritz, in Venezia Rossa. (1.36)

 

In his fable Tarakan (“The Cockroach”) Ignat Lebyadkin, a character in Dostoevski's novel Besy ("The Possessed," 1872), mentions Jupiter (the supreme deity of the ancient Romans):

 

Жил на свете таракан,
Таракан от детства,
И потом попал в стакан,
Полный мухоедства…

Место занял таракан,
Мухи возроптали.
«Полон очень наш стакан!» –
К Юпитеру закричали.

Но пока у них шёл крик,
Подошёл Никифор,
Бла-го-роднейший старик…

 

Lived a cockroach in the world

Such was his condition,

In a glass he chanced to fall

Full of fly-perdition.

 

But he squeezed against the flies,

They woke up and cursed him,

Raised to Jupiter their angry cries;

'The glass is full to bursting!'

 

In the middle of the din

Came along Nikifor,

Fine old man, and looking in... (Part One, Chapter Five, IV)

 

In Japan, Jurojin is one of the Seven Gods of Fortune (a god of longevity). At the picnic on her twelfth birthday Ada explains that a pale diaphanous butterfly that follows the landau with the Erminin twins, their governess and young pregnant aunt is closely related to a Japanese Parnassian:

 

But the glow of the afternoon had entered its most oppressive phase, and the first bad mosquito of the season was resonantly slain on Ada’s shin by alert Lucette. The charabanc had already left with the armchairs, the hampers and the munching footmen, Essex, Middlesex and Somerset; and now Mlle Larivière and Mme Forestier were exchanging melodious adieux. Hands waved, and the twins with their ancient governess and sleepy young aunt were carried away in the landau. A pale diaphanous butterfly with a very black body followed them and Ada cried ‘Look!’ and explained it was closely related to a Japanese Parnassian. Mlle Larivière said suddenly she would use a pseudonym when publishing the story. She led her two pretty charges toward the calèche and poked sans façons in his fat red neck with the point of her parasol Ben Wright, grossly asleep in the back under the low-hanging festoons of foliage. Ada tossed her hat into Ida’s lap and ran back to where Van stood. Being unfamiliar with the itinerary of sun and shade in the clearing, he had left his bicycle to endure the blazing beams for at least three hours. Ada mounted it, uttered a yelp of pain, almost fell off, googled, recovered — and the rear tire burst with a comic bang. (1.13)

 

A transparent white butterfly also floats past before Van’s duel with Captain Tapper in the Kalugano forest:

 

Van felt a faint twinge in his knee where he had hit it against a stone when attacked from behind a week ago, in another wood. At the moment his foot touched the pine-needle strewn earth of the forest road, a transparent white butterfly floated past, and with utter certainty Van knew that he had only a few minutes to live. (1.42)

 

At the picnic on Ada’s sixteenth birthday Van was attacked from behind by Percy de Prey, one of Ada’s lovers who goes to the war and perishes in the Crimea on the second day of the invasion:

 

A smiling old Tartar, incongruously but somehow assuagingly wearing American blue-jeans with his beshmet, was squatting by his side. ‘Bednïy, bednïy’ (you poor, poor fellow), muttered the good soul, shaking his shaven head and clucking: ‘Bol’no (it hurts)?’ Percy answered in his equally primitive Russian that he did not feel too badly wounded: ‘Karasho, karasho ne bol’no (good, good),’ said the kindly old man and, picking up the automatic pistol which Percy had dropped, he examined it with naive pleasure and then shot him in the temple. (ibid.)

 

Bol’no and bolen (“[he is] ill”) are related words. Bolen rhymes with Olin, “the black ant” who criticized Pushkin’s poem Bakhchisarayikiy fontan (“The Fountain of Bakhchisaray,” 1823) for the absence of plan. Bakhchisaray is an old capital of the Crimean Khanate.

 

Olin + Lenin + starover = Olenin + Stalin + Rover

 

In his EO Commentary (vol. III, p. 202)  VN points out that Annette Olenin dubbed Pushkin "Red Rover" after the hero of James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Red Rover (1827). This is the name of a pirate ship flying a blood-red ensign and it is also the nickname of her captain, William Heidegger (see also my previous post “Dark-blue sea, mirabilic year, insects & incest in Ada”).

 

In his poem My zhivyom, pod soboyu ne chuya strany… (“We live, not sensing the land beneath us…” 1934) Mandelshtam compares Stalin’s moustache to a cockroach’s antennae. The blunders in Lowell’s versions of Mandelshtam’s poems are ridiculed in Ada:

 

Even before the old Eskimo had shuffled off with the message, Demon Veen had left his pink velvet chair and proceeded to win the wager, the success of his enterprise being assured by the fact that Marina, a kissing virgin, had been in love with him since their last dance on New Year’s Eve. Moreover, the tropical moonlight she had just bathed in, the penetrative sense of her own beauty, the ardent pulses of the imagined maiden, and the gallant applause of an almost full house made her especially vulnerable to the tickle of Demon’s moustache. She had ample time, too, to change for the next scene, which started with a longish intermezzo staged by a ballet company whose services Scotty had engaged, bringing the Russians all the way in two sleeping cars from Belokonsk, Western Estoty. In a splendid orchard several merry young gardeners wearing for some reason the garb of Georgian tribesmen were popping raspberries into their mouths, while several equally implausible servant girls in sharovars (somebody had goofed — the word ‘samovars’ may have got garbled in the agent’s aerocable) were busy plucking marshmallows and peanuts from the branches of fruit trees. At an invisible sign of Dionysian origin, they all plunged into the violent dance called kurva or ‘ribbon boule’ in the hilarious program whose howlers almost caused Veen (tingling, and light-loined, and with Prince N.’s rose-red banknote in his pocket) to fall from his seat. (1.2)

 

In Chapter Three (XXXIX) of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin the girl servants picking berries in the garden are singing by decree in chorus (“a decree based on that in secret the seignioral berry sly mouths would not eat and would be busy singing; device of rural wit!”). On their way back from the picnic in “Ardis the Second” Van, Ada and Lucette meet the singing peasant girls:

 

With the fading of that fugitive flame his mood changed. Something should be said, a command should be given, the matter was serious or might become serious. They were now about to enter Gamlet, the little Russian village, from which a birch-lined road led quickly to Ardis. A small procession of kerchiefed peasant nymphs, unwashed, no doubt, but adorably pretty with naked shiny shoulders and high-divided plump breasts tuliped up by their corsets, walked past through a coppice, singing an old ditty in their touching English:

 

Thorns and nettles

For silly girls:

Ah, torn the petals,

Ah, spilled the pearls! (1.39)

 

In “A Small House in Kolomna” Pushkin says that in our days Parnassus got badly overgrown with nettles:

Скажу, рысак!
Парнасский иноходец
Его не обогнал бы. Но Пегас
Стар, зуб уж нет. Им вырытый колодец
Иссох. Порос крапивою Парнас;
В отставке Феб живёт, а хороводец
Старушек муз уж не прельщает нас.
И табор свой с классических вершинок
Перенесли мы на толкучий рынок. (VIII)

 

Parnasskiy inokhodets (“the Parnassian ambler,” as Pushkin calls Pegasus) brings to mind Pardus and Peg, the two horses mentioned by Van:

 

‘Now let’s go out for a breath of crisp air,’ suggested Van. ‘I’ll order Pardus and Peg to be saddled.’

‘Last night two men recognized me,’ she said. ‘Two separate Californians, but they didn’t dare bow — with that silk-tuxedoed bretteur of mine glaring around. One was Anskar, the producer, and the other, with a cocotte, Paul Whinnier, one of your father’s London pals. I sort of hoped we’d go back to bed.’

‘We shall now go for a ride in the park,’ said Van firmly, and rang, first of all, for a Sunday messenger to take the letter to Lucette’s hotel — or to the Verma resort, if she had already left.

‘I suppose you know what you’re doing?’ observed Ada.

‘Yes,’ he answered.

‘You are breaking her heart,’ said Ada.

‘Ada girl, adored girl,’ cried Van, ‘I’m a radiant void. I’m convalescing after a long and dreadful illness. You cried over my unseemly scar, but now life is going to be nothing but love and laughter, and corn in cans. I cannot brood over broken hearts, mine is too recently mended. You shall wear a blue veil, and I the false mustache that makes me look like Pierre Legrand, my fencing master.’ (2.8)

 

The name of Van’s fencing master hints at the tsar Peter the Great. Le Maître d'armes (“The Fencing Master,” 1842) is novel (set in Russia) by Alexandre Dumas père (the author of “The Three Musketeers,” 1844). Describing Demon’s sword duel with Baron d’Onsky (whose name seems to hint at Onegin’s donskoy zherebets, Don stallion), Van mentions an amusing Duglas d’Artagnan arrangement and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel:

 

The challenge was accepted; two native seconds were chosen; the Baron plumped for swords; and after a certain amount of good blood (Polish and Irish — a kind of American ‘Gory Mary’ in barroom parlance) had bespattered two hairy torsoes, the whitewashed terrace, the flight of steps leading backward to the walled garden in an amusing Douglas d’Artagnan arrangement, the apron of a quite accidental milkmaid, and the shirtsleeves of both seconds, charming Monsieur de Pastrouil and Colonel St Alin, a scoundrel, the latter gentlemen separated the panting combatants, and Skonky died, not ‘of his wounds’ (as it was viciously rumored) but of a gangrenous afterthought on the part of the least of them, possibly self-inflicted, a sting in the groin, which caused circulatory trouble, notwithstanding quite a few surgical interventions during two or three years of protracted stays at the Aardvark Hospital in Boston — a city where, incidentally, he married in 1869 our friend the Bohemian lady, now keeper of Glass Biota at the local museum. (1.2)

 

On Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) Stalin is also represented by Khan Sosso, the ruler of the ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate:

 

Western Europe presented a particularly glaring gap: ever since the eighteenth century, when a virtually bloodless revolution had dethroned the Capetians and repelled all invaders, Terra’s France flourished under a couple of emperors and a series of bourgeois presidents, of whom the present one, Doumercy, seemed considerably more lovable than Milord Goal, Governor of Lute! Eastward, instead of Khan Sosso and his ruthless Sovietnamur Khanate, a super Russia, dominating the Volga region and similar watersheds, was governed by a Sovereign Society of Solicitous Republics (or so it came through) which had superseded the Tsars, conquerors of Tartary and Trst. Last but not least, Athaulf the Future, a fair-haired giant in a natty uniform, the secret flame of many a British nobleman, honorary captain of the French police, and benevolent ally of Rus and Rome, was said to be in the act of transforming a gingerbread Germany into a great country of speedways, immaculate soldiers, brass bands and modernized barracks for misfits and their young. (2.2)

 

“The Sovietnamur Khanate” blends Sovetskiy Soyuz (the Soviet Union) with Vietnam and the Amur (a river in the Far East, on the Russian-Chinese border). In Sovetskiy there is sovet (council; advice). In his epigram Sovet (“The Advice,” 1825) Pushkin compares the critics to gadflies and mosquitoes and says that one should kill them with a nimble epigram as with a fly-swatter:

 

Поверь: когда слепней и комаров
Вокруг тебя летает рой журнальный,
Не рассуждай, не трать учтивых слов,
Не возражай на писк и шум нахальный:
Ни логикой, ни вкусом, милый друг,
Никак нельзя смирить их род упрямый.
Сердиться грех — но замахнись и вдруг
Прихлопни их проворной эпиграмой.

 

In their old age (even in the last day of their long lives) Van and Ada translate into Russian a passage from Shade’s poem Pale Fire in which sovety (the advices) are mentioned:

 

She insisted that if there were no future, then one had the right of making up a future, and in that case one’s very own future did exist, insofar as one existed oneself. Eighty years quickly passed — a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern. They had spent most of the morning reworking their translation of a passage (lines 569–572) in John Shade’s famous poem:

 

…Sovetï mï dayom

Kak bït’ vdovtsu: on poteryal dvuh zhyon;

On ih vstrechaet — lyubyashchih, lyubimïh,

Revnuyushchih ego drug k druzhke…

 

(…We give advice

To widower. He has been married twice:

He meets his wives, both loved, both loving, both

Jealous of one another…)

 

Van pointed out that here was the rub — one is free to imagine any type of hereafter, of course: the generalized paradise promised by Oriental prophets and poets, or an individual combination; but the work of fancy is handicapped — to a quite hopeless extent — by a logical ban: you cannot bring your friends along — or your enemies for that matter — to the party. The transposition of all our remembered relationships into an Elysian life inevitably turns it into a second-rate continuation of our marvelous mortality. Only a Chinaman or a retarded child can imagine being met, in that Next-Installment World, to the accompaniment of all sorts of tail-wagging and groveling of welcome, by the mosquito executed eighty years ago upon one’s bare leg, which has been amputated since then and now, in the wake of the gesticulating mosquito, comes back, stomp, stomp, stomp, here I am, stick me on. (5.6)