According to Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla), the king escaped from green Zembla clad in bright red clothes. As pointed out by Mary McCarthy in her introductory essay ("A Bolt from the Blue"), "Zembla has turned red after the revolution that began in the Glass Factory. Green and red flash on and off in the narrative like traffic signals and sometimes reverse their message. Green appears to be the color of death, and red the color of life; red is the king's color and green the color of his enemies."
In a letter of July 22 (August 3 by the New Style), 1888, to his sister Chekhov suggests that Mme Tarnovski (the aunt of VN’s mother, “Aunt Pasha,” as VN calls her in his autobiography Speak, Memory) should be undressed and painted green:
Вчера я ездил в Шах-мамай, именье Айвазовского, за 25 верст от Феодосии. Именье роскошное, несколько сказочное; такие имения, вероятно, можно видеть в Персии. Сам Айвазовский, бодрый старик лет 75, представляет из себя помесь добродушного армяшки с заевшимся архиереем; полон собственного достоинства, руки имеет мягкие и подает их по-генеральски. Недалёк, но натура сложная и достойная внимания. В себе одном он совмещает и генерала, и архиерея, и художника и армянина, и наивного деда, и Отелло. Женат на молодой и очень красивой женщине, которую держит в ежах. Знаком с султанами, шахами и эмирами. Писал вместе с Глинкой «Руслана и Людмилу». Был приятелем Пушкина, но Пушкина не читал. В своей жизни он не прочел ни одной книги. Когда ему предлагают читать, он говорит: «Зачем мне читать, если у меня есть свои мнения?» Я у него пробыл целый день и обедал. Обед длинный, тягучий, с бесконечными тостами. Между прочим, на обеде познакомился я с женщиной-врачом Тарновской, женою известного профессора. Это толстый, ожиревший комок мяса. Если её раздеть голой и выкрасить в зелёную краску, то получится болотная лягушка. Поговоривши с ней, я мысленно вычеркнул её из списка врачей...
. . . Yesterday we went to Shah-Mamai Aivazovsky’s estate, twenty-five versts from Feodosia. It is a magnificent estate, rather like fairyland; such estates may probably be seen in Persia. Aivazovsky himself, a vigorous old man of seventy-five, is a mixture of a good-natured Armenian and an overfed bishop; he is full of dignity, has soft hands, and offers them like a general. He is not very intelligent, but is a complex nature worthy of attention. He combines in himself a general, a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old peasant, and an Othello. He is married to a young and very beautiful woman whom he rules with a rod of iron. He is friendly with Sultans, Shahs, and Amirs. He collaborated with Glinka in writing “Ruslan and Lyudmila.” He was a friend of Pushkin, but has never read him. He has not read a single book in his life. When it is suggested to him that he should read something he answers, “Why should I read when I have opinions of my own?” I spent a whole day in his house and had dinner there. The dinner was fearfully long, with endless toasts. By the way, at that dinner I was introduced to the lady doctor, wife of the well-known professor. She is a fat, bulky piece of flesh. If she were undressed and painted green she would look just like a frog. After talking to her I mentally scratched her off the list of women doctors. . . .
In Ob iyune i iyule (“On June and July”), a part of his humorous Filologicheskie zametki (“Philological Notes,” 1885), Chekhov mentions the inexorable red pencil with which Death scratched off in July six Russian poets:
Для писателей июль несчастный месяц. Смерть своим неумолимым красным карандашом зачеркнула в июле шестерых русских поэтов и одного Памву Берынду.
For the writers July is an unhappy month. With its inexorable red pencil Death scratched off in July six Russian poets and one Pamva Berynda.
According to Kinbote, Shade’s poem was begun on July 1, 1959, and was almost finished on July 21, when the author was killed by Gradus. In Canto Two of his poem Shade speaks of his daughter who died two years ago, in March 1957. In O marte (“On March”), another part of his “Philological Notes,” Chekhov mentions Venus, the Roman goddess of love who patronizes hairdressers, teachers of literature and Dr Tarnovski (the celebrated syphilologist, 1839–1906, Aunt Pasha’s husband):
В этом же месяце римляне праздновали и именины Венеры, богини любви, брака (законного и незаконного), красоты, турнюров и ртутных мазей. Родилась эта Венера из пены морской таким же образом, как наши барышни родятся из кисеи. Была женою хромого Вулкана, чеканившего для богов фальшивую монету и делавшего тонкие сети для ловли храбрых любовников. Состояла на содержании у всех богов и бескорыстно любила одного только Марса. Когда ей надоедали боги, она сходила на землю и заводила здесь интрижки с чиновниками гражданского ведомства: Энеем, Адонисом и другими. Покровительствует дамским парикмахерам, учителям словесности и доктору Тарновскому.
The “real” name of Hazel Shade (the poet’s daughter who "always nursed a small mad hope") seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. Nadezhda is Russian for “hope.” In his essay on Chekhov, Tvorchestvo iz nichego (“Creation from Nothing,” 1905), Lev Shestov (the philosopher whose assumed surname comes from shest’, “six”) calls Chekhov pevets beznadezhnosti (a poet of hopelessness):
Чтобы в двух словах определить его тенденцию, я скажу: Чехов был певцом безнадежности. Упорно, уныло, однообразно в течение всей своей почти 25-летней литературной деятельности Чехов только одно и делал: теми или иными способами убивал человеческие надежды. В этом, на мой взгляд, сущность его творчества.
To define his tendency in a word, I would say that Chekhov was the poet of hopelessness. Stubbornly, sadly, monotonously, during all the years of his literary activity, nearly a quarter of a century long, Chekhov was doing one alone: by one means or another he was killing human hopes. Herein, I hold, lies the essence of his work. (I)
At the beginning of Vyacheslav Velikolepnyi (“Vyacheslav the Magnificent”), an essay included in his book Potestas clavium. Vlast’ klyuchey (“Power of the Keys,” 1923), Shestov mentions the green cover of Vyacheslav Ivanov’s book Borozdy i mezhi (“Furrows and Boundaries,” 1916) on which the title is printed in red characters:
Предо мною новая книга В. Иванова. На зелёной обложке красными буквами напечатано заглавие: “Борозды и межи”. Краски яркие, заглавие яркое. И обложка не обманывает: книга, как всё, впрочем, что выходит из-под пера Вячеслава Иванова, - необыкновенно яркая.
Before me is a new book by V. Ivanov. On the green cover the title is printed in red characters: “Furrows and Boundaries.” Bright colors, bright title. And the cover does not deceive: like everything what comes from Vyacheslav Ivanov’s pen, the book is extraordinarily bright.
Part Three of V. Ivanov’s book is entitled Igry Melpomeny (“The Games of Melpomene”) and brings to mind Skazki Melpomeny ("The Fairy Tales of Melpomene," 1884), Chekhov's first book that includes six short stories. Melpomene is the Muse of Tragedy. According to Kinbote, the King escaped from the palace by the secret passage that leads to the theater’s green room. Describing the discovery of the secret passage, Kinbote mentions the magic key:
As soon as Monsieur Beauchamp had sat down for a game of chess at the bedside of Mr. Campbell and had offered his raised fists to choose from, the young Prince took Oleg to the magical closet. The wary, silent, green-carpeted steps of an escalier dérobé led to a stone-paved underground passage. Strictly speaking it was "underground" only in brief spells when, after burrowing under the southwest vestibule next to the lumber room, it went under a series of terraces, under the avenue of birches in the royal park, and then under the three transverse streets, Academy Boulevard, Coriolanus Lane and Timon Alley, that still separated it from its final destination. Otherwise, in its angular and cryptic course it adapted itself to the various structures which it followed, here availing itself of a bulwark to fit in its side like a pencil in the pencil hold of a pocket diary, there running through the cellars of a great mansion too rich in dark passageways to notice the stealthy intrusion. Possibly, in the intervening years, certain arcane connections had been established between the abandoned passage and the outer world by the random repercussions of work in surrounding layers of masonry or by the blind pokings of time itself; for here and there magic apertures and penetrations, so narrow and deep as to drive one insane, could be deduced from a pool of sweet, foul ditch water, bespeaking a moat, or from a dusky odor of earth and turf, marking the proximity of a glacis slope overhead; and at one point, where the passage crept through the basement of a huge ducal villa, with hothouses famous for their collections of desert flora, a light spread of sand momentarily changed the sound of one's tread. Oleg walked in front: his shapely buttocks encased in tight indigo cotton moved alertly, and his own erect radiance, rather than his flambeau, seemed to illume with leaps of light the low ceiling and crowding wails. Behind him the young Prince's electric torch played on the ground and gave a coating of flour to the back of Oleg's bare thighs. The air was musty and cold. On and on went the fantastic burrow. It developed a slight ascending grade. The pedometer had tocked off 1,888 yards, when at last they reached the end. The magic key of the lumber room closet slipped with gratifying ease into the keyhole of a green door confronting them, and would have accomplished the act promised by its smooth entrance, had not a burst of strange sounds coming from behind the door caused our explorers to pause. Two terrible voices, a man's and a woman's, now rising to a passionate pitch, now sinking to raucous undertones, were exchanging insults in Gutnish as spoken by the fisherfolk of Western Zembla. An abominable threat made the woman shriek out in fright. Sudden silence ensued, presently broken by the man's murmuring some brief phrase of casual approval ("Perfect, my dear," or "Couldn't be better") that was more eerie than anything that had come before. (note to Line 130)
1,888 yards between the palace and the theater seem to correspond to 1888, the year of Iris Acht’s death:
One August day, at the beginning of his third month of luxurious captivity in the South West Tower, he was accused of using a fop's hand mirror and the sun's cooperative rays to flash signals from his lofty casement. The vastness of the view it commanded was denounced not only as conducive to treachery but as producing in the surveyor an airy sense of superiority over his low-lodged jailers. Accordingly, one evening the King's cot-and-pot were transferred to a dismal lumber room on the same side of the palace but on its first floor. Many years before, it had been the dressing room of his grandfather, Thurgus the Third. After Thurgus died (in 1900) his ornate bedroom was transformed into a kind of chapel and the adjacent chamber, shorn of its full-length multiple mirror and green silk sofa, soon degenerated into what it had now remained for half a century, an old hole of a room with a locked trunk in one corner and an obsolete sewing machine in another. It was reached from a marble-flagged gallery, running along its north side and sharply turning immediately west of it to form a vestibule in the southwest corner of the Palace. The only window gave on an inner court on the south side. This window had once been a glorious dreamway of stained glass, with a fire-bird and a dazzled huntsman, but a football had recently shattered the fabulous forest scene and now its new ordinary pane was barred from the outside. On the west-side wall, above a whitewashed closet door, hung a large photograph in a frame of black velvet. The fleeting and faint but thousands of times repeated action of the same sun that was accused of sending messages from the tower, had gradually patinated this picture which showed the romantic profile and broad bare shoulders of the forgotten actress Iris Acht, said to have been for several years, ending with her sudden death in 1888, the mistress of Thurgus. In the opposite, east-side wall a frivolous-looking door, similar in turquoise coloration to the room's only other one (opening into the gallery) but securely hasped, had once led to the old rake's bedchamber; it had now lost its crystal knob, and was flanked on the east-side wall by two banished engravings belonging to the room's period of decay. They were of the sort that is not really supposed to be looked at, pictures that exist merely as general notions of pictures to meet the humble ornamental needs of some corridor or waiting room: one was a shabby and lugubrious Fête Flammande after Teniers; the other had once hung in the nursery whose sleepy denizens had always taken it to depict foamy waves in the foreground instead of the blurry shapes of melancholy sheep that it now revealed. (ibid.)
Chekhov met Aunt Pasha in August 1888. Acht is German for "eight." In his last note on months, Ob Avguste ("On August"), Chekhov points out that August is the eighth month of the year:
У римлян август был шестым в году и назывался sextilis’ом, у нас же он восьмой и называется августом в честь римского императора Августа, основавшего, как известно, августинский орден и сочинившего романс «Ах, мейн либер Августин».
At the end of his note on August Chekhov mentions Mamai (a particularly evil Tartar Prince of the 14th century):
У наших предков август назывался серпенем. «В первых числах сего серпения, — писали предки, — секретарь Обдиранский купно с делопроизводителем Облупанским заткнули за пояс Мамая»...
In his poem O pravitelyakh ("On Rulers," 1944) VN mentions Mamai:
Умирает со скуки историк:
за Мамаем всё тот же Мамай.
The historian dies of sheer boredom:
on the heels of Mamai comes another Mamai.
In his poem VN mentions his late namesake, V. V. Mayakovski (whose style is parodied by VN). Mayakovski is the author of Oblako v shtanakh (“The Cloud in Trousers,” 1916), a poem whose title brings to mind VN’s story Oblako, ozero, bashnya (“Cloud, Castle, Lake,” 1937). The three conjoined lakes in Pale Fire are Omega, Ozero and Zero. Hazel Shade drowned in Lake Omega. According to Sergey Solovyov, in the book of Russian verse Pushkin is alpha and Bryusov, omega. One of Bryusov's collections of poetry is entitled Zerkalo teney ("The Mirror of Shadows," 1912). In a canceled variant of Two: LXI: 7 of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions Bryusov's kalendar' (Bruce's Calendar), a kind of Farmer's Almanack. According to Mme Khlyostov (a character in Griboedov's play in verse "Woe from Wit," 1824), vsyo vrut kalendari (the calendars are never right). The characters in Griboedov's play include Colonel Skalozub whose name hints at zuboskal (scoffer, mocker). There is a similar transposition of syllables in Kinbote.
Khan Mamai brings to mind Shah-Mamai (Aivazovsky’s estate near Feodosia visited by Chekhov). In Canto Three of his poem Shade describes his heart attack (that almost coincided with the King's arrival in America) and mentions Shahs:
It was a year of Tempests: Hurricane
Lolita swept from Florida to Maine.
Mars glowed. Shahs married. Gloomy Russians spied.
Lang made your portrait. And one night I died. (ll. 679-82)
According to Kinbote, the King arrived in America descending by parachute. K.'s beloved playmate, Oleg, Duke of Rahl (1916-1931), is the son of Colonel Peter Gusev, Duke of Rahl (b. 1885, still spry), a pioneer parachutist and, at seventy, one of the greatest jumpers of all time. Gusev (1890) is a story by Chekhov. At the end of his story Chekhov describes the sky and mentions a cloud that looks like a pair of scissors:
А наверху в это время, в той стороне, где заходит солнце, скучиваются облака; одно облако похоже на триумфальную арку, другое на льва, третье на ножницы... Из-за облаков выходит широкий зелёный луч и протягивается до самой средины неба; немного погодя рядом с этим ложится фиолетовый, рядом с ним золотой, потом розовый... Небо становится нежно-сиреневым. Глядя на это великолепное, очаровательное небо, океан сначала хмурится, но скоро сам приобретает цвета ласковые, радостные, страстные, какие на человеческом языке и назвать трудно.
Overhead at this time the clouds are massed together on the side where the sun is setting; one cloud like a triumphal arch, another like a lion, a third like a pair of scissors.... From behind the clouds a broad, green shaft of light pierces through and stretches to the middle of the sky; a little later another, violet-coloured, lies beside it; next that, one of gold, then one rose-coloured.... The sky turns a soft lilac. Looking at this gorgeous, enchanted sky, at first the ocean scowls, but soon it, too, takes tender, joyous, passionate colours for which it is hard to find a name in human speech. (chapter V)
In a letter of Oct. 30, 1903, to his wife Chekhov (who lived alone in Yalta) complains that paring his fingernails on the right hand is a torture:
Что за мучение обрезать ногти на правой руке. Без жены мне вообще плохо.
In Canto Two (ll. 183-184) of his poem Shade calls the little scissors with which he pares his fingernails “a dazzling synthesis of sun and star.” As pointed out by Carolyn Kunin, Mary Ross and Marilyn Goldhaber, “a synthesis of sun and star” seems to hint at Saturn (a planet that rose in the sky on July 5, 1959, the day Shade began Canto Two of his poem and Gradus left Onhava on the Copenhagen plane). In O marte (“On March”) Chekhov mentions Cybele, the Roman goddess of Earth, daughter of the Sun, wife of Saturn, mother of Jupiter:
Римляне в этом месяце праздновали так называемые Гилярии — торжество в честь Никиты Гилярова-Платонова и богини Цибеллы. Цибеллой называлась богиня земли. Из её метрической выписки явствует, что она была дочкой Солнца, женою Сатурна, матерью Юпитера, — одним словом, особой астрономической, имеющей право на казённую квартиру в Пулковской обсерватории.
According to Chekhov, Cybele was an astronomic person and therefore has the right for a free apartment at the Pulkovo observatory. In ll. 188-189 of his poem Shade compares his index finger to the College astronomer Starover Blue. In Canto Three of his poem Shade describes IPH (a lay Institute of the Preparation for Hereafter) and mentions the great Starover Blue who reviewed the role planets had played as landfalls of the soul (ll. 627-628). In his article Sotsial-demokraticheskaya dushechka (“The Social-Democratic Darling,” 1905) Lenin compares Tov. Starover (Comrade Old Believer) to the heroine of Chekhov’s story Dushechka (“The Darling,” 1899):
«Тов. Старовер очень похож на героиню чеховского рассказа „Душечка“. Душечка жила сначала с антрепренёром и говорила: мы с Ванечкой ставим серьёзные пьесы. Потом жила она с торговцем лесом и говорила: мы с Васечкой возмущены высоким тарифом на лес. Наконец, жила с ветеринаром и говорила: мы с Колечкой лечим лошадей. Так и тов. Старовер. „Мы с Лениным“ ругали Мартынова. „Мы с Мартыновым“ ругаем Ленина. Милая социал-демократическая душечка! в чьих-то объятиях очутишься ты завтра?»
In his Commentary Kinbote mockingly calls Shade’s murderer Vinogradus and Leningradus:
All this is as it should be; the world needs Gradus. But Gradus should not kill kings. Vinogradus should never, never provoke God. Leningradus should not aim his peashooter at people even in dreams, because if he does, a pair of colossally thick, abnormally hairy arms will hug him from behind and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. (note to Line 171)
As pointed out by Kinbote, "Leningrad used to be Petrograd" and, prior to 1914, the city's name was St. Petersburg. Peterburg ("Petersburg," 1914) is a novel by Andrey Bely (whose penname means "white"). In his review of Bely’s novel Andrey Polyanin (the penname of Sofia Parnok) quotes Tolstoy’s words from his Afterword to Chekhov's “Darling:”
С благоговением вспоминается фраза Льва Толстого из чудесного его "Послесловия" к рассказу Чехова "Душечка:" "Любовь не менее свята, будет ли её предметом Кукин или Спиноза, Паскаль, Шиллер".
"Love is no less sacred whether its object is Kukin or Spinoza, Pascal, Schiller."
In VN's novel Lolita (1955) Dolores Haze (Lolita's full name) marries Richard F. Schiller and dies in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest North-west. In Canto One (Line 29) of his poem Shade says that, when he was a child, all colors made him happy, even gray. Lolita outlives Humbert Humbert (the narrator and main character in VN's novel) by forty days. In his poem O net, ne raskolduesh’ serdtsa ty… (“Oh no ! You cannot disenchant my heart...” 1912) Alexander Blok mentions his shade that will appear on the ninth and fortieth day after his death:
И тень моя пройдёт перед тобою
В девятый день, и в день сороковой -
Неузнанной, красивой, неживою.
Такой ведь ты искала? - Да, такой.
And suddenly you’ll see my shade appear
Before you on the ninth and fortieth day:
Unrecognized, handsome and drear,
The kind of shade you looked for, by the way!
In his "Italian Verses" (1909) Blok compares Florence to dymnyi iris (a smoky iris; cf. Iris Acht). On March 28, 1922 (the day of VDN's assassination), VN was reading to his mother Blok's poem about Florence, when the telephone rang.
In the Russian version (1967) of Lolita the name of Clare Quilty's co-author, Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov), becomes Vivian Damor-Blok, and the title of a biography she has written, "My Cue," Kumir moy ("My Idol"). In his poem Dusha! Kogda ustanesh' verit'? ("My soul! When will you get tired of believing?" 1908) Blok mentions tayna priotkrytoy dveri (the secret of a half-open door) and kumirnya zolotogo sna (a heathen temple of the golden dream):
Душа! Когда устанешь верить?
Весна, весна! Она томна,
Как тайна приоткрытой двери
В кумирню золотого сна...
Humbert Humbert was born in 1910, in Paris. Leo Tolstoy and Aunt Pasha died in 1910. Blok's article on Tolstoy's eightieth anniversary is entitled Solntse nad Rossiey ("Sun above Russia," 1908). Lenin is the author of Lev Tolstoy kak zerkalo russkoy revolyutsii ("Leo Tolstoy as a Mirror of the Russian Revolution," 1908). According to Kinbote, "one August day, at the beginning of his third month of luxurious captivity in the South West Tower, he was accused of using a fop's hand mirror and the sun's cooperative rays to flash signals from his lofty casement."
In the first poem of her collection Loza (“The Vine,” 1922) Sofia Parnok mentions vinograd (grapes) and Sugdeyskaya Sibilla (“the Sugdeyan Sybil;” Sugdeya is the Greek name of Sudak, a place in the Crimea, between Feodosia and Yalta):
Там родина моя, где восходил мой дух,
Как в том солончаке лоза; где откипела
Кровь трудная моя, и окрылился слух,
И немощи своей возрадовалось тело.
Там музыкой огня звучал мне треск цикад
И шорохи земли, надтреснутой от зноя,
Там поднесла ты мне прохладный виноград
К губам обугленным - причастие святое...
И если то был сон, то, чтобы я
Сна незабвенного вовеки не забыла,
О, восприемница прекрасная моя,
Хотя во снах мне снись, Сугдейская Сибилла!
The “real” name of both Sybil Shade (the poet's wife) and Queen Disa (Kinbote’s wife) seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin). Lastochki (“The Swallows,” 1884) is a poem by Afanasiy Fet (who was married to Maria Botkin and who dedicated several poems to Tolstoy's wife Sofia Andreevna). Fet is the author of Shilleru ("To Schiller," 1855), Sredi zvyozd ("Among Stars," 1876) and Ugasshim Zvyozdam (To Extinguished Stars, 1890). One of Fet’s most famous poems begins: Izmuchen zhizn’yu, kovarstvom nadezhdy… (“By life tormented, and by cunning hope…” 1864).
At the beginning of his poem Shade compares himself to the shadow of the waxwing and mentions the reflected sky:
I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff--and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky (ll. 1-4)
In Speak, Memory VN mentions Aunt Pasha's last words, vsyo - voda (everything is water). Sofia Parnok’s review of Veresk (“Heather,” 1916), a collection of poetry by G. Ivanov, begins as follows:
Вода не подражает небу, отражая его в себе, она ничего не делает для того, чтобы отражать, — она только пуста и прозрачна.
Water does not imitate the sky, reflecting it in itself, it does not do anything in order to reflect – it is merely empty and transparent.
Ivanov’s Veresk came out under the imprint of Al’tsiona (Alcyone). Alcyone (or Halcyon) is a genus of kingfishers; a short dialogue attributed to Plato; a third-magnitude star in the constellation Taurus: brightest star in the Pleiades. Like waxwing (Bombycilla), kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a bird. Its Russian name, zimorodok, suggests that it hatches out zimoy (in winter). According to Kinbote, he moved into Judge Goldsworth's house on Feb. 5, 1959, and soon saw the Shades for the first time:
February and March in Zembla (the two last of the four "white-nosed months," as we call them) used to be pretty rough too, but even a peasant's room there presented a solid of uniform warmth - not a reticulation of deadly drafts. It is true that, as usually happens to newcomers, I was told I had chosen the worst winter in years - and this at the latitude of Palermo. On one of my first mornings there, as I was preparing to leave for college in the powerful red car I had just acquired, I noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Shade, neither of whom I had yet met socially (I was to learn later that they assumed I wished to be left alone), were having trouble with their old Packard in the slippery driveway where it emitted whines of agony but could not extricate one tortured rear wheel out of a concave inferno of ice. John Shade busied himself clumsily with a bucket from which, with the gestures of a sower, he distributed handfuls of brown sand over the blue glaze. He wore snowboots, his vicuña collar was up, his abundant gray hair looked berimed in the sun. I knew he had been ill a few months before, and thinking to offer my neighbors a ride to the campus in my powerful machine, I hurried out toward them. A lane curving around the slight eminence on which my rented castle stood separated it from my neighbors' driveway, and I was about to cross that lane when I lost my footing and sat down on the surprisingly hard snow. My fall acted as a chemical reagent on the Shades' sedan, which forthwith budged and almost ran over me as it swung into the lane with John at the wheel strenuously grimacing and Sybil fiercely talking to him. I am not sure either saw me.
A few days later, however, namely on Monday, February 16, I was introduced to the old poet at lunch time in the faculty club. "At last presented credentials," as noted, a little ironically, in my agenda. I was invited to join him and four or five other eminent professors at his usual table, under an enlarged photograph of Wordsmith College as it was, stunned and shabby, on a remarkably gloomy summer day in 1903. (Foreword)
In his memoirs Peterburgskie zimy (“The St. Petersburg Winters,” 1931) G. Ivanov describes his first visit to Blok in the fall of 1909 and quotes an entry in Blok’s diary:
В дневнике Блока 1909 г. есть запись: "говорил с Георгием Ивановым о Платоне. Он ушёл от меня другим человеком".
In Blok’s diary for 1909 there is an entry: “I talked with Georgiy Ivanov about Plato. When he left me, he was a different man.”
According to G. Ivanov, to his question “does a sonnet need a coda” Blok replied that he did not know what a coda is:
— Александр Александрович, нужна ли кода к сонету? — спросил я как-то. К моему изумлению, Блок, знаменитый «мэтр», вообще не знал, что такое кода…
Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished poem needs but one line (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”). Dvoynik ("The Double") is a short novel (1846) by Dostoevski and a poem (1909) by Blok. Dostoevski is the author of Podrostok (“The Adolescent,” 1875). Ulichnyi podrostok (“The Street Adolescent,” 1914) is a sonnet with the coda (included in Veresk) by G. Ivanov.
Rimskie sonety (“Roman Sonnets,” 1925) is a cycle of nine sonnets by Vyacheslav Ivanov. In Sonnet V Ivanov mentions Chetyre Fontana (The Four Fountains), Gogol and his friend Alexander Ivanov (the painter whose name rhymes with fontanov, Gen. pl. of fontan, “fountain”):
Двустворку на хвостах клубок дельфиний
Разверстой вынес; в ней растет Тритон,
Трубит в улиту; но не зычный тон,
Струя лучом пронзает воздух синий.
Средь зноя плит, зовущих облак пиний,
Как зелен мха на демоне хитон!
С природой схож резца старинный сон
Стихийною причудливостью линий.
Бернини, — снова наш, — твоей игрой
Я веселюсь, от Четырёх Фонтанов
Бредя на Пинчьо памятной горой,
Где в келью Гоголя входил Иванов,
Где Пиранези огненной иглой
Пел Рима грусть и зодчество Титанов.
The Four Fountains in V. Ivanov's sonnet bring to mind 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" (mentioned by Kinbote in his note to Line 80), and the “fountain” for “mountain” misprint in Canto Three of Shade’s poem. In his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol mentions sonetto colla coda and in a footnote explains that in Italian poetry there is a kind of poem known as “sonnet with the tail” (con la coda), when the idea cannot not be expressed in fourteen lines and entails an appendix that can be longer than the sonnet itself:
В италиянской поэзии существует род стихотворенья, известного под именем сонета с хвостом (con la coda), когда мысль не вместилась и ведёт за собою прибавление, которое часто бывает длиннее самого сонета.
In his essay «В чём же наконец существо русской поэзии и в чём её особенность» (“What Finally is the Essence of Russian Poetry and What is its Peculiarity,” 1846) included in "The Selected Passages from the Correspondence with Friends" (1847) Gogol says that among Italian poets there were nobody who would put the finishing touches and polish to such a perfection his sonnets, as Pushkin polished his poems:
Ни один итальянский поэт не отделывал так сонетов своих, как обрабатывал он эти лёгкие, по-видимому мгновенные созданья. Какая точность во всяком слове! Какая значительность всякого выраженья! Как всё округлено, окончено и замкнуто! Все они точно перлы; трудно и решить, которое лучше. Словно сверкающие зубы красавицы, которые уподобляет царь Соломон овцам-юницам, только что вышедшим из купели, когда они все как одна и все равно прекрасны.
Tolstoy used to say that Chekhov was "Pushkin in prose." Shestov’s essay on Chekhov has for epigraph a line from Baudelaire’s poem Le Goût du néant (“The Taste for Nothingness”):
Résigne-toi, mon cœur, dors ton sommeil de brute.
Resign yourself, my heart; sleep your brutish sleep.
In a discarded variant (quoted by Kinbote in his Commentary) Shade mentions poor Baudelaire:
A beautiful variant, with one curious gap, branches off at this point in the draft (dated July 6):
Strange Other World where all our still-born dwell,
And pets, revived, and invalids, grown well,
And minds that died before arriving there:
Poor old man Swift, poor —, poor Baudelaire
What might that dash stand for? Unless Shade gave prosodic value to the mute e in “Baudelaire,” which I am quite certain he would never have done in English verse (cp. “Rabelais,” line 501), the name required here must scan as a trochee. Among the names of celebrated poets, painters, philosophers, etc., known to have become insane or to have sunk into senile imbecility, we find many suitable ones. Was Shade confronted by too much variety with nothing to help logic choose and so left a blank, relying upon the mysterious organic force that rescues poets to fill it in at its own convenience? Or was there something else—some obscure intuition, some prophetic scruple that prevented him from spelling out the name of an eminent man who happened to be an intimate friend of his? Was he perhaps playing safe because a reader in his household might have objected to that particular name being mentioned? And if it comes to that, why mention it at all in this tragical context? Dark, disturbing thoughts. (note to Line 231)
Kinbote is afraid that this dash stands for his name. Actually, it stands for 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 tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda. 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 (a target of Pushkin’s epigrams, “half-milord, half-merchant, etc.”), will be full again.