ORHIDEYA, TORFYaNUYu & Fialochka in Ada

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Fri, 08/13/2021 - 09:56

Describing the last game of Flavita (Russian Scrabble) that he played at Ardis with Ada and Lucette (Van’s and Ada’s half-sister), Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) mentions the words ORHIDEYA and TORFYaNUYu composed by Ada:


Soon after that, as so often occurs with games, and toys, and vacational friendships, that seem to promise an eternal future of fun, Flavita followed the bronze and blood-red trees into the autumn mists; then the black box was mislaid, was forgotten — and accidentally rediscovered (among boxes of table silver) four years later, shortly before Lucette’s visit to town where she spent a few days with her father in mid-July, 1888. It so happened that this was to be the last game of Flavita that the three young Veens were ever to play together. Either because it happened to end in a memorable record for Ada, or because Van took some notes in the hope — not quite unfulfilled — of ‘catching sight of the lining of time’ (which, as he was later to write, is ‘the best informal definition of portents and prophecies’), but the last round of that particular game remained vividly clear in his mind.

‘Je ne peux rien faire,’ wailed Lucette, ‘mais rien — with my idiotic Buchstaben, REMNILK, LINKREM...’

‘Look,’ whispered Van, ‘c’est tout simple, shift those two syllables and you get a fortress in ancient Muscovy.’

‘Oh, no,’ said Ada, wagging her finger at the height of her temple in a way she had. ‘Oh, no. That pretty word does not exist in Russian. A Frenchman invented it. There is no second syllable.’

‘Ruth for a little child?’ interposed Van.

‘Ruthless!’ cried Ada.

‘Well,’ said Van, ‘you can always make a little cream, KREM or KREME — or even better — there’s KREMLI, which means Yukon prisons. Go through her ORHIDEYA.’

‘Through her silly orchid,’ said Lucette.

‘And now,’ said Ada, ‘Adochka is going to do something even sillier.’ And taking advantage of a cheap letter recklessly sown sometime before in the seventh compartment of the uppermost fertile row, Ada, with a deep sigh of pleasure, composed: the adjective TORFYaNUYu which went through a brown square at F and through two red squares (37 x 9 = 333 points) and got a bonus of 50 (for placing all seven blocks at one stroke) which made 383 in all, the highest score ever obtained for one word by a Russian scrambler. ‘There!’ she said, ‘Ouf! Pas facile.’ And brushing away with the rosy knuckles of her white hand the black-bronze hair from her temple, she recounted her monstrous points in a smug, melodious tone of voice like a princess narrating the poison-cup killing of a superfluous lover, while Lucette fixed Van with a mute, fuming appeal against life’s injustice — and then looking again at the board emitted a sudden howl of hope:

‘It’s a place name! One can’t use it! It’s the name of the first little station after Ladore Bridge!’

‘That’s right, pet,’ sang out Ada. ‘Oh, pet, you are so right! Yes, Torfyanaya, or as Blanche says, La Tourbière, is, indeed, the pretty but rather damp village where our cendrillon’s family lives. But, mon petit, in our mother’s tongue — que dis-je, in the tongue of a maternal grandmother we all share — a rich beautiful tongue which my pet should not neglect for the sake of a Canadian brand of French — this quite ordinary adjective means "peaty," feminine gender, accusative case. Yes, that one coup has earned me nearly 400. Too bad — ne dotyanula (didn’t quite make it).’

‘Ne dotyanula!’ Lucette complained to Van, her nostrils flaring, her shoulders shaking with indignation.

He tilted her chair to make her slide off and go. The poor child’s final score for the fifteen rounds or so of the game was less than half of her sister’s last masterstroke, and Van had hardly fared better, but who cared! The bloom streaking Ada’s arm, the pale blue of the veins in its hollow, the charred-wood odor of her hair shining brownly next to the lampshade’s parchment (a translucent lakescape with Japanese dragons), scored infinitely more points than those tensed fingers bunched on the pencil stub could ever add up in the past, present or future. (1.36)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Je ne peux etc.: I can do nothing, but nothing.

Buchstaben: Germ., letters of the alphabet.

c’est tout simple: it’s quite simple.

pas facile: not easy.

Cendrillon: Cinderella.

mon petit... qui dis-je: darling... in fact.


Orkhideya (“Orchid,” 1928) is a poem by Igor Severyanin:


Изменить бы! Кому? Ах, не все ли равно!
Предыдущему. Каждому. Ясно.
С кем? И это не важно. На свете одно
Изменяющееся прекрасно.


Одному отдаваясь, мечтать о другом —
Неиспробованном, невкушенном,
Незнакомом вчера, кто сегодня знаком
И прикинется завтра влюбленным…


Изменить — и во что бы ни стало, да так,
Чтоб почувствовать эту измену!
В этом скверного нет. Это просто пустяк.
Точно новое платье надену.


И при этом возлюбленных так обмануть,
Ревность так усыпить в них умело,
Чтобы косо они не посмели взглянуть, —
Я же прямо в глаза бы посмела!


Наглость, холод и ложь — в этом сущность моя.
На страданья ответом мой хохот.
Я красива, скользка и подла, как змея,
И бездушно-суха, как эпоха.


…I’m pretty, slippery and mean, like a snake,

and heartlessly chilly, like the epoch.


The last word in Severyanin’s poem is epokha (epoch). Pasternak epistle "To Marina Tsvetaev" (1929) also ends in the word epokha:


Ты вправе, вывернув карман,
Сказать: ищите, ройтесь, шарьте.
Мне все равно, чем сыр туман.
Любая быль как утро в марте.


Деревья в мягких армяках
Стоят в грунту из гумигута,
Хотя ветвям наверняка
Невмоготу среди закута.


Роса бросает ветки в дрожь,
Струясь, как шерсть на мериносе.
Роса бежит, тряся, как еж,
Сухой копной у переносья.


Мне все равно, чей разговор
Ловлю, плывущий ниоткуда.
Любая быль как вешний двор,
Когда он дымкою окутан.


Мне все равно, какой фасон
Сужден при мне покрою платьев.
Любую быль сметут как сон,
Поэта в ней законопатив.


Клубясь во много рукавов,
Он двинется подобно дыму
Из дыр эпохи роковой
В иной тупик непроходимый.


Он вырвется, курясь, из прорв
Судеб, расплющенных в лепёху,
И внуки скажут, как про торф:
Горит такого-то эпоха.


…i vnuki skazhut, kak pro torf:

Gorit takogo-to epokha.


...And the grandchildren will say, as of peat:
the epoch of So-and-so is burning.


One is tempted to substitute Nabokova ("of Nabokov") for takogo-to ("of So-and-so"):


И внуки скажут, как про торф:
Горит Набокова эпоха.


...And the grandchildren will say, as of peat:
the epoch of Nabokov is burning.


Like Pushkin's Onegin, VN was born upon the Neva's banks. The surname of almost all main characters of AdaVeen means in Dutch what Neva means in Finnish: "peat bog." In his autobiography Speak, Memory (1951) VN describes his last meeting with Tamara in the summer of 1917 and mentions the dark smoke of burning peat:


I do remember, however, with heartbreaking vividness, a certain evening in the summer of 1917 when, after a winter of incomprehensible separation, I chanced to meet Tamara on a suburban train. For a few minutes between two stops, in the vestibule of a rocking and rasping car, we stood next to each other, I in a state of intense embarrassment, of crushing regret, she consuming a bar of chocolate, methodically breaking off small, hard bits of the stuff, and talking of the office where she worked. On one side of the tracks, above bluish bogs, the dark smoke of burning peat was mingling with the smoldering wreck of a huge, amber sunset. It can be proved, I think, by published records that Alexander Blok was even then noting in his diary the very peat smoke I saw, and the wrecked sky. There was later a period in my life when I might have found this relevant to my last glimpse of Tamara as she turned on the steps to look back at me before descending into the jasmin-scented, cricket-mad dusk of a small station; but today no alien marginalia can dim the purity of the pain. (Chapter Twelve, 2)


In the Russian version of his autobiography, Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), VN mentions Severyanin in the preceding paragraph:


 Из всех моих петербургских весен та весна 16-го года представляется мне самой яркой, когда вспоминаю такие образы, как: золотисто-розовое лицо моей красивой, моей милой Тамары в незнакомой мне большой белой шляпе среди зрителей футбольного состязания, во время которого редкая удача сопровождала мое голкиперство; вкрадчивый ветер и первую пчелу на первом одуванчике в двух шагах от сетки гола; гудение колоколов и темно-синюю рябь свободной Невы; пеструю от конфетти слякоть Конно-Гвардейского Бульвара на Вербной неделе, писк, хлопанье, американских жителей, поднимающихся и опускающихся в сиреневом спирту в стеклянных трубках, вроде как лифты в прозрачных, насквозь освещенных небоскребах Нью-Йорка; бабочку-траурницу - ровесницу нашей любви, – вылетевшую после зимовки и гревшую в луче апрельского солнца на спинке скамьи в Таврическом Саду свои поцарапанные черные крылья с выцветшим до белизны кантом; и какую-то волнующую зыбь в воздухе, опьянение, слабость, нестерпимое желание опять увидеть лес и поле, – в такие дни даже Северянин казался поэтом. Тамара и я всю зиму мечтали об этом возвращении, но только в конце мая, когда мы, т. е. Набоковы, уже переехали в Выру, мать Тамары наконец поддалась на ее уговоры и сняла опять дачку в наших краях, и при этом, помнится, было поставлено дочери одно условие, которое та приняла с кроткой твердостью андерсеновской русалочки. И немедленно по ее приезде нас упоительно обволокло молодое лето, и вот - вижу ее, привставшую на цыпочки, чтобы потянуть книзу ветку черемухи со сморщенными ягодами, и дерево и небо и жизнь играют у нее в смеющемся взоре, и от ее веселых усилий на жарком солнце расплывается темное пятно по желтой чесуче платья под ее поднятой рукой. Мы забирались очень далеко, в леса за Рождествено, в мшистую глубину бора, и купались в заветном затоне, и клялись в вечной любви, и собирали кольцовские цветы для венков, которые она. как всякая русская русалочка, так хорошо умела сплетать, и в конце лета она вернулась в Петербург, чтобы поступить на службу (это и было условие, поставленное ей), а затем несколько месяцев я не видел ее вовсе, будучи поглощен по душевной нерасторопности и сердечной бездарности разнообразными похождениями, которыми, я считал, молодой литератор должен заниматься для приобретения опыта. Эти переживания и осложнения, эти женские тени и измены, и опять стихи, и нелады с легкими, и санатория в снегах, все это сейчас, при восстановлении прошлого, мне не только ни к чему, но еще создает какое-то смещение фокуса, и как ни тереблю винтов наставленной памяти, многое уже не могу различить и не знаю, например, как и где мы с Тамарой расстались. Впрочем, для этого помутнения есть и другая причина: в разгар встреч мы слишком много играли на струнах разлуки. В то последнее наше лето, как бы упражняясь в ней, мы расставались навеки после каждого свидания, еженощно, на пепельной тропе или на старом мосту, со сложенными на нем тенями перил, между небесным месяцем и речным, я целовал ее теплые, мокрые веки и свежее от дождя лицо, и, отойдя, тотчас возвращался, чтобы проститься с нею еще рве, а потом долго взъезжал вверх, по крутой горе, к Выре, согнувшись вдвое, вжимая педали в упругий, чудовищно мокрый мрак, принимавший символическое значение какого-то ужаса и горя, какой-то зловеще поднимавшейся силы, которую нельзя было растоптать.


That spring of 1916 is the one I see as the very type of a St. Petersburg spring, when I recall such specific images as Tamara, wearing an unfamiliar white hat, among the spectators of a hard-fought interscholastic soccer game, in which, that Sunday, the most sparkling luck helped me to make save after save in goal; and a Camberwell Beauty, exactly as old as our romance, sunning its bruised black wings, their borders now bleached by hibernation, on the back of a bench in Alexandrovski Garden; and the booming of cathedral bells in the keen air, above the corrugated dark blue of the Neva, voluptuously free of ice; and the fair in the confetti-studded slush of the Horse Guard Boulevard during Catkin Week, with its squeaking and popping din, its wooden toys, its loud hawking of Turkish delight and Cartesian devils called amerikanskie zhiteli (“American inhabitants”)—minute goblins of glass riding up and down in glass tubes filled with pink- or lilac-tinted alcohol as real Americans do (though all the epithet meant was “outlandish”) in the shafts of transparent skyscrapers as the office lights go out in the greenish sky. The excitement in the streets made one drunk with desire for the woods and the fields. Tamara and I were especially eager to return to our old haunts, but all through April her mother kept wavering between renting the same cottage again and economically staying in town. Finally, under a certain condition (accepted by Tamara with the fortitude of Hans Andersen’s little mermaid), the cottage was rented, and a glorious summer immediately enveloped us, and there she was, my happy Tamara, on the points of her toes, trying to pull down a racemosa branch in order to pick its puckered fruit, with all the world and its trees wheeling in the orb of her laughing eye, and a dark patch from her exertions in the sun forming under her raised arm on the raw shantung of her yellow frock. We lost ourselves in mossy woods and bathed in a fairy-tale cove and swore eternal love by the crowns of flowers that, like all little Russian mermaids, she was so fond of weaving, and early in the fall she moved to town in search of a job (this was the condition set by her mother), and in the course of the following months I did not see her at all, engrossed as I was in the kind of varied experience which I thought an elegant littérateur should seek. I had already entered an extravagant phase of sentiment and sensuality, that was to last about ten years. In looking at it from my present tower I see myself as a hundred different young men at once, all pursuing one changeful girl in a series of simultaneous or overlapping love affairs, some delightful, some sordid, that ranged from one-night adventures to protracted involvements and dissimulations, with very meager artistic results. Not only is the experience in question, and the shadows of all those charming ladies useless to me now in recomposing my past, but it creates a bothersome defocalization, and no matter how I worry the screws of memory, I cannot recall the way Tamara and I parted. There is possibly another reason, too, for this blurring: we had parted too many times before. During that last summer in the country, we used to part forever after each secret meeting when, in the fluid blackness of the night, on that old wooden bridge between masked moon and misty river, I would kiss her warm, wet eyelids and rain-chilled face, and immediately after go back to her for yet another farewell—and then the long, dark, wobbly uphill ride, my slow, laboriously pedaling feet trying to press down the monstrously strong and resilient darkness that refused to stay under.


According to VN, on the days when the excitement in the streets made one drunk with desire for the woods and the fields – on such days even Severyanin seemed to him a poet. KREM or KREME mentioned by Van brings to mind Crème de Violette in Severyanin’s poem Fioletovyi trans (“The Violet Trance,” 1911):


О, Лилия ликеров, – о, Creme de Violette!

Я выпил грез фиалок фиалковый фиал...

Я приказал немедля подать кабриолет

И сел на сером клене в атласный интервал.


Затянут в черный бархат, шоффэр – и мой клеврет

Коснулся рукоятки, и вздрогнувший мотор,

Как жеребец заржавший, пошел на весь простор,

А ветер восхищенный сорвал с меня берэт.


Я приказал дать «полный». Я нагло приказал

Околдовать природу и перепутать путь!

Я выбросил шоффэра, когда он отказал, –

Взревел! и сквозь природу – вовсю и как-нибудь!


Встречалась ли деревня, – ни голосов, ни изб!

Врезался в чернолесье, – ни дерева, ни пня!

Когда б мотор взорвался, я руки перегрыз б!..

Я опьянел грозово, все на пути пьяня!..


И вдруг – безумным жестом остолблен кленоход:

Я лилию заметил у ската в водопад.

Я перед ней склонился, от радости горбат,

Благодаря: за встречу, за благостный исход...


Я упоен. Я вещий. Я тихий. Я грезэр.

И разве виноват я, что лилии колет

Так редко можно встретить, что путь без лилий сер?..

О, яд мечты фиалок, – о, Creme de Violette..


The poem’s second line, Ya vypil gryoz fialok fialkovyi fial (I drank a violet cup of the violets’ dreams), brings to mind Fialochka (“little Violet”), as Ada calls Violet Knox, old Van’s typist who marries Ronald Oranger (old Van’s secretary, the editor of Ada) after Van’s and Ada’s death:


Violet Knox [now Mrs Ronald Oranger. Ed.], born in 1940, came to live with us in 1957. She was (and still is — ten years later) an enchanting English blonde with doll eyes, a velvet carnation and a tweed-cupped little rump [.....]; but such designs, alas, could no longer flesh my fancy. She has been responsible for typing out this memoir — the solace of what are, no doubt, my last ten years of existence. A good daughter, an even better sister, and half-sister, she had supported for ten years her mother’s children from two marriages, besides laying aside [something]. I paid her [generously] per month, well realizing the need to ensure unembarrassed silence on the part of a puzzled and dutiful maiden. Ada called her ‘Fialochka’ and allowed herself the luxury of admiring ‘little Violet’ ‘s cameo neck, pink nostrils, and fair pony-tail. Sometimes, at dinner, lingering over the liqueurs, my Ada would consider my typist (a great lover of Koo-Ahn-Trow) with a dreamy gaze, and then, quick-quick, peck at her flushed cheek. The situation might have been considerably more complicated had it arisen twenty years earlier. (5.4)


“Koo-Ahn-Trow” seems to hint at the Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur) demanded by Berdnikov in Gorky's novel Zhizn’ Klima Samgina (“The Life of Klim Samgin,” 1925-36):


Бердников командовал по-французски: - Уберите бенедиктин, дайте куантро... (Part Four)


In Gorky’s novel Samgin and his mistress visit the Duma (Russian Parliament) and Elena points out Nabokov (VN’s father) to Samgin:


- Знал бы ты, какой он дурак, этот Макаров, - точно оса, жужжала Елена в ухо ему. - А вон этот, который наклонился к Набокову, Шура Протопопов, забавный человечек. Набоков очень элегантный мужчина. А вообще какие все неуклюжие, серые... (ibid.)


Actually, VDN was a member of the First Duma (1906). Samgin and Elena attend a session of the Fourth Duma (1912-17). According to Elena, Nabokov is ochen’ elegantnyi muzhchina (“a very elegant man”). Ada likes the word “elegant:”


‘I am sentimental,’ she said. ‘I could dissect a koala but not its baby. I like the words damozel, eglantine, elegant. I love when you kiss my elongated white hand.’

She had on the back of her left hand the same small brown spot that marked his right one. She was sure, she said — either disingenuously or giddily — it descended from a birthmark Marina had had removed surgically from that very place years ago when in love with a cad who complained it resembled a bedbug. (1.17)


Klop (“The Bedbug,” 1928) is a play by Mayakovski (VN’s “late namesake” and a friend of Severyanin). The characters in Gorky’s play Na dne (“The Lower Depths,” 1902) include Baron. A set of Flavita was given to Marina’s children by Baron Klim Avidov (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov):


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.

By July the ten A’s had dwindled to nine, and the four D’s to three. The missing A eventually turned up under an Aproned Armchair, but the D was lost — faking the fate of its apostrophizable double as imagined by a Walter C. Keyway, Esq., just before the latter landed, with a couple of unstamped postcards, in the arms of a speechless multilinguist in a frock coat with brass buttons. The wit of the Veens (says Ada in a marginal note) knows no bounds. (1.36)


Despite his wit of the Veens, Van fails to see that Ronald Oranger and Violet Knox are Ada’s grandchildren. Neither does he realize that Demon Veen (Van’s and Ada’s father who in March, 1905, perishes in a mysterious airplane disaster above the Pacific, 3.7) died, because Ada (who could not pardon Demon his forcing Van to give her up) managed to persuade the pilot to destroy his machine in midair. Pasternak's collection Sestra moya zhizn' ("My Sister Life," 1922) opens with the poem Pamyati Demona ("In Memory of the Demon"). Before the family dinner in “Ardis the Second” Demon reads Van's palm and mentions the strange condition of the Sister of Van’s Life:


'I say,' exclaimed Demon, 'what's happened - your shaftment is that of a carpenter's. Show me your other hand. Good gracious' (muttering:) 'Hump of Venus disfigured, Line of Life scarred but monstrously long...' (switching to a gipsy chant:) 'You'll live to reach Terra, and come back a wiser and merrier man' (reverting to his ordinary voice:) 'What puzzles me as a palmist is the strange condition of the Sister of your Life. And the roughness!'
'Mascodagama,' whispered Van, raising his eyebrows. (1.38)


Ada gave birth to at least two children and therefore was pregnant twice. Describing Marina’s first pregnancy, Van uses the phrase interesnoe polozhenie (‘interesting condition’):


Marina arrived in Nice a few days after the duel, and tracked Demon down in his villa Armina, and in the ecstasy of reconciliation neither remembered to dupe procreation, whereupon started the extremely interesnoe polozhenie (‘interesting condition’) without which, in fact, these anguished notes could not have been strung.

(Van, I trust your taste and your talent but are we quite sure we should keep reverting so zestfully to that wicked world which after all may have existed only oneirologically, Van? Marginal jotting in Ada’s 1965 hand; crossed out lightly in her latest wavering one.) (1.2)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): interesting condition: family way.


At the patio party in “Ardis the Second” Marina and G. A. Vronsky (the movie man) discuss the shooting script of The Accursed Children (a film based on Mlle Larivière’s novel Les Enfants Maudits) and Marina mentions polozhenie (situation):


And now hairy Pedro hoisted himself onto the brink and began to flirt with the miserable girl (his banal attentions were, really, the least of her troubles).

‘Your leetle aperture must be raccommodated,’ he said.

‘Que voulez-vous dire, for goodness sake?’ she asked, instead of dealing him a backhand wallop.

‘Permit that I contact your charming penetralium,’ the idiot insisted, and put a wet finger on the hole in her swimsuit.

‘Oh that’ (shrugging and rearranging the shoulder strap displaced by the shrug). ‘Never mind that. Next time, maybe, I’ll put on my fabulous new bikini.’

‘Next time, maybe, no Pedro?’

‘Too bad,’ said Ada. ‘Now go and fetch me a Coke, like a good dog.’

‘E tu?’ Pedro asked Marina as he walked past her chair. ‘Again screwdriver?’

‘Yes, dear, but with grapefruit, not orange, and a little zucchero. I can’t understand’ (turning to Vronsky), ‘why do I sound a hundred years old on this page and fifteen on the next? Because if it is a flashback — and it is a flashback, I suppose’ (she pronounced it fieshbeck), ‘Renny, or what’s his name, René, should not know what he seems to know.’

‘He does not,’ cried G.A., ‘it’s only a half-hearted flashback. Anyway, this Renny, this lover number one, does not know, of course, that she is trying to get rid of lover number two, while she’s wondering all the time if she can dare go on dating number three, the gentleman farmer, see?’

‘Nu, eto chto-to slozhnovato (sort of complicated), Grigoriy Akimovich,’ said Marina, scratching her cheek, for she always tended to discount, out of sheer self-preservation, the considerably more slozhnïe patterns out of her own past.

‘Read on, read, it all becomes clear,’ said G.A., riffling through his own copy.

‘Incidentally,’ observed Marina, ‘I hope dear Ida will not object to our making him not only a poet, but a ballet dancer. Pedro could do that beautifully, but he can’t be made to recite French poetry.’

‘If she protests,’ said Vronsky, ‘she can go and stick a telegraph pole — where it belongs.’

The indecent ‘telegraph’ caused Marina, who had a secret fondness for salty jokes, to collapse in Ada-like ripples of rolling laughter (pokativshis’ so smehu vrode Adï): ‘But let’s be serious, I still don’t see how and why his wife — I mean the second guy’s wife — accepts the situation (polozhenie).’

Vronsky spread his fingers and toes.

‘Prichyom tut polozhenie (situation-shituation)? She is blissfully ignorant of their affair and besides, she knows she is fubsy and frumpy, and simply cannot compete with dashing Hélène.’

‘I see, but some won’t,’ said Marina. (1.32)


Pokativshis’ so smehu vrode Adï brings to mind khokhot (uproarious laughter) mentioned by Severyanin in the last stanza of his poem Orkhideya (where it rhymes with epokha). In his poem Ty ne shla (“You came not,” 1914) Severyanin repeats the word khokhotom (Instr. of khokhot) five times:


Целый день хохотала сирень
Фиолетово-розовым хохотом.
‎Солнце жалило высохший день.
‎Ты не шла (Может быть, этот вздох о том?)

Ты не шла. Хохотала сирень,
Удушая пылающим хохотом…
‎Вдалеке у слепых деревень
‎Пробежал паровоз тяжким грохотом.

Зло-презло хохотала сирень,
Убивая мечты острым хохотом.
‎Да. А ты все не шла — целый день.
‎А я ждал (Может быть, этот вздох о том?…)

До луны хохотала сирень
Беспощадно осмысленным хохотом…
‎Ты не шла. В парке влажная тень.
‎Сердце ждет. Сердце бесится грохотом.

— Отхохочет ли эта сирень?
Иль увянет, сожженная хохотом?!


In the Russian Lolita (1967) "the most penetrating bodkin" with which Trapp painfully hurts Humbert Humbert is the entry in the book of the Kasbeam motel where Clare Quilty ("Trapp") was Humbert's and Lolita's neighbor:


Но больнее всего пронзила меня кощунственная анаграмма нашего первого незабвенного привала (в 1947-ом году, читатель!), которую я отыскал в книге касбимского мотеля, где он ночевал рядом с нами: "Ник. Павлыч Хохотов, Вран, Аризона." (2.23)


Nik. Pavlych Khokhotov, Vran, Arizona (an entry in the book of the Kasbeam motel) is an anagram of Prival zacharovannykh okhotnikov (The Enchanted Hunters), a hotel in Briceland where Humbert and Lolita spend their first night together (and where Quilty also stays at the time). Ada's husband, Andrey Vinelander is an Arizonian cattle-breeder (whose fabulous ancestor discovered our country). "Nik.[olay] Pavlych" seems to hint at the tsar Nicholas I (the great-grandfather of Nicholas II, the last Russian tsar). Ada’s grandchildren who marry after Van’s and Ada’s death, Ronald Oranger and Violet Knox seem to be sverhimperatorskaya cheta (a super-imperial couple) . When Van describes his nights in “Ardis the First,” Ada takes over and mentions sverhimperatorskaya cheta:


Hammock and honey: eighty years later he could still recall with the young pang of the original joy his falling in love with Ada. Memory met imagination halfway in the hammock of his boyhood’s dawns. At ninety-four he liked retracing that first amorous summer not as a dream he had just had but as a recapitulation of consciousness to sustain him in the small gray hours between shallow sleep and the first pill of the day. Take over, dear, for a little while. Pill, pillow, billow, billions. Go on from here, Ada, please.

(She). Billions of boys. Take one fairly decent decade. A billion of Bills, good, gifted, tender and passionate, not only spiritually but physically well-meaning Billions, have bared the jillions of their no less tender and brilliant Jills during that decade, at stations and under conditions that have to be controlled and specified by the worker, lest the entire report be choked up by the weeds of statistics and waist-high generalizations. No point would there be, if we left out, for example, the little matter of prodigious individual awareness and young genius, which makes, in some cases, of this or that particular gasp an unprecedented and unrepeatable event in the continuum of life or at least a thematic anthemia of such events in a work of art, or a denouncer’s article. The details that shine through or shade through: the local leaf through the hyaline skin, the green sun in the brown humid eye, tout ceci, vsyo eto, in tit and toto, must be taken into account, now prepare to take over (no, Ada, go on, ya zaslushalsya: I’m all enchantment and ears), if we wish to convey the fact, the fact, the fact — that among those billions of brilliant couples in one cross section of what you will allow me to call spacetime (for the convenience of reasoning), one couple is a unique super-imperial couple, sverhimperatorskaya cheta, in consequence of which (to be inquired into, to be painted, to be denounced, to be put to music, or to the question and death, if the decade has a scorpion tail after all), the particularities of their love-making influence in a special unique way two long lives and a few readers, those pensive reeds, and their pens and mental paintbrushes. Natural history indeed! Unnatural history — because that precision of senses and sense must seem unpleasantly peculiar to peasants, and because the detail is all: The song of a Tuscan Firecrest or a Sitka Kinglet in a cemetery cypress; a minty whiff of Summer Savory or Yerba Buena on a coastal slope; the dancing flitter of a Holly Blue or an Echo Azure — combined with other birds, flowers and butterflies: that has to be heard, smelled and seen through the transparency of death and ardent beauty. And the most difficult: beauty itself as perceived through the there and then. The males of the firefly (now it’s really your turn, Van). (1.12)


In his autobiographical poem Rosa oranzhevogo chasa (“The Dew of the Orange Hour,” 1925) Severyanin says that he likes to imagine that his ancestor was imperator Vizantii (a Byzantine emperor):


Склоняясь ныне над сумой,
Таю, наперекор стихии,
Смешную мысль, что предок мой
Был император Византии!.. (Part One, 4)


Severyanin's poem Fioletovyi trans ("The Violet Trance") brings to mind "in a prophetic trance," a phrase used by Demon in his farewell letter to Marina:


‘Adieu. Perhaps it is better thus,’ wrote Demon to Marina in mid-April, 1869 (the letter may be either a copy in his calligraphic hand or the unposted original), ‘for whatever bliss might have attended our married life, and however long that blissful life might have lasted, one image I shall not forget and will not forgive. Let it sink in, my dear. Let me repeat it in such terms as a stage performer can appreciate. You had gone to Boston to see an old aunt — a cliché, but the truth for the nonce — and I had gone to my aunt’s ranch near Lolita, Texas. Early one February morning (around noon chez vous) I rang you up at your hotel from a roadside booth of pure crystal still tear-stained after a tremendous thunderstorm to ask you to fly over at once, because I, Demon, rattling my crumpled wings and cursing the automatic dorophone, could not live without you and because I wished you to see, with me holding you, the daze of desert flowers that the rain had brought out. Your voice was remote but sweet; you said you were in Eve’s state, hold the line, let me put on a penyuar. Instead, blocking my ear, you spoke, I suppose, to the man with whom you had spent the night (and whom I would have dispatched, had I not been overeager to castrate him). Now that is the sketch made by a young artist in Parma, in the sixteenth century, for the fresco of our destiny, in a prophetic trance, and coinciding, except for the apple of terrible knowledge, with an image repeated in two men’s minds. Your runaway maid, by the way, has been found by the police in a brothel here and will be shipped to you as soon as she is sufficiently stuffed with mercury.’ (1.2)


Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): 

Lolita, Texas: this town exists, or, rather, existed, for it has been renamed, I believe, after the appearance of the notorious novel.

penyuar: Russ., peignoir.