all colors, even gray in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Thu, 09/02/2021 - 11:18

In Canto One of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) says that, when he was a boy, all colors made him happy, even gray:

 

All colors made me happy: even gray.

My eyes were such that literally they

Took photographs. Whenever I'd permit,

Or, with a silent shiver, order it,

Whatever in my field of vision dwelt -

An indoor scene, hickory leaves, the svelte

Stilettos of a frozen stillicide -

Was printed on my eyelids' nether side

Where it would tarry for an hour or two,

And while this lasted all I had to do

Was close my eyes to reproduce the leaves,

Or indoor scene, or trophies of the eaves. (ll. 29-40)

 

In his poem Ya ustalym takim eshchyo ne byl (“I was never so tired yet,” 1923) Esenin mentions seryi tsvet (the gray color) into which the golden hay of his hair gradually turns:

 

Не больна мне ничья измена,
И не радует легкость побед, —
Тех волос золотое сено
Превращается в серый цвет.

 

Zolotoe seno (the golden hay) brings to mind slaves who make hay between Shade's mouth and nose in Canto Four of Shade’s poem:

 

And while the safety blade with scrape and screak

Travels across the country of my cheek;

Cars on the highway pass, and up the steep

Incline big trucks around my jawbone creep,

And now a silent liner docks, and now

Sunglassers tour Beirut, and now I plough

Old Zembla's fields where my gay stubble grows,

And slaves make hay between my mouth and nose. (ll. 931-938)

 

According to Shade, he is in the class of fussy bimanists. In Esenin's poem Chyornyi chelovek (“The Black Man,” 1925) the Black Man says that happiness is lovkost’ uma i ruk (a sleight of mind and hand):

 

Счастье, — говорил он, —
Есть ловкость ума и рук.
Все неловкие души
За несчастных всегда известны.
Это ничего,
Что много мук
Приносят изломанные
И лживые жесты.

 

Happiness — he said —
Is a sleight of mind and hand.
All clumsy souls are always
Known for being unhappy.

It does not matter much

That broken and false gestures
bring many tortures.

 

Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1924) is a play in verse by Griboedov. In Pushkin’s little tragedy “Mozart and Salieri” (1830) Mozart mentions his chyornyi chelovek (man in black) who ordered a Requiem and who seems to sit with him and Salieri sam-tretey (as a third):

 

М о ц а р т

Мне день и ночь покоя не дает

Мой черный человек. За мною всюду

Как тень он гонится. Вот и теперь

Мне кажется, он с нами сам-третей

Сидит.

С а л ь е р и

И, полно! что за страх ребячий?

Рассей пустую думу. Бомарше

Говаривал мне: "Слушай, брат Сальери,

Как мысли черные к тебе придут,

Откупори шампанского бутылку

Иль перечти "Женитьбу Фигаро".

М о ц а р т

Да! Бомарше ведь был тебе приятель;

Ты для него "Тарара" сочинил,

Вещь славную. Там есть один мотив...

Я все твержу его, когда я счастлив...

Ла ла ла ла... Ах, правда ли, Сальери,

Что Бомарше кого-то отравил?

С а л ь е р и

Не думаю: он слишком был смешон

Для ремесла такого.

М о ц а р т

Он же гений,

Как ты да я. А гений и злодейство --

Две вещи несовместные. Не правда ль?

 

Mozart

He gives me no rest night or day,
My man in black. He’s everywhere behind
Me like a shadow. Even now he seems
To sit here with us as a third.

Salieri

                                                       Come, come!
What sort of childish fright is this? Dispel
These empty fancies. Beaumarchais would often
Say to me "Listen, Salieri, old friend,
When black thoughts come your way, uncork the champagne
Bottle, or re-read The Marriage of Figaro."

Mozart

Yes, you and Beaumarchais were pals, weren’t you?
It was for him you wrote Tarare, a lovely
Work. There is one tune in it, I always
Hum it to myself when I feel happy . . .
La la la la . . . Salieri, is it true
That Beaumarchais once poisoned somebody?

Salieri

I don’t think so. He was too droll a fellow
For such a trade.

Mozart

     Besides, he was a genius,
Like you and me. And genius and villainy
Are two things incompatible, aren’t they?

(Scene II)

 

In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would):

 

Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.

 

If all could feel like you the power

of harmony! But no: the world

could not go on then. None would

bother about the needs of lowly life;

All would surrender to free art. (Scene II)

 

Nikto b is Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name) in reverse. An American scholar of Russian descent, Professor Vsevolod Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote (Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) and Gradus (Shade’s murderer) after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade’s “real” name). Nadezhda means “hope.” 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.

 

Lovkost’ uma i ruk (a sleight of mind and hand) in Esenin’s poem “The Black Man” brings to mind “some sleight of land” mentioned by Van Veen (the narrator and main character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) when he describes the difference between Terra and Antiterra (aka Demonia, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set):

 

The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans — and not to grave men or gravemen.

Of course, today, after great anti-L years of reactionary delusion have gone by (more or less!) and our sleek little machines, Faragod bless them, hum again after a fashion, as they did in the first half of the nineteenth century, the mere geographic aspect of the affair possesses its redeeming comic side, like those patterns of brass marquetry, and bric-à-Braques, and the ormolu horrors that meant ‘art’ to our humorless forefathers. For, indeed, none can deny the presence of something highly ludicrous in the very configurations that were solemnly purported to represent a varicolored map of Terra. Ved’ (‘it is, isn’t it’) sidesplitting to imagine that ‘Russia,’ instead of being a quaint synonym of Estoty, the American province extending from the Arctic no longer vicious Circle to the United States proper, was on Terra the name of a country, transferred as if by some sleight of land across the ha-ha of a doubled ocean to the opposite hemisphere where it sprawled over all of today’s Tartary, from Kurland to the Kuriles! But (even more absurdly), if, in Terrestrial spatial terms, the Amerussia of Abraham Milton was split into its components, with tangible water and ice separating the political, rather than poetical, notions of ‘America’ and ‘Russia,’ a more complicated and even more preposterous discrepancy arose in regard to time — not only because the history of each part of the amalgam did not quite match the history of each counterpart in its discrete condition, but because a gap of up to a hundred years one way or another existed between the two earths; a gap marked by a bizarre confusion of directional signs at the crossroads of passing time with not all the no-longers of one world corresponding to the not-yets of the other. It was owing, among other things, to this ‘scientifically ungraspable’ concourse of divergences that minds bien rangés (not apt to unhobble hobgoblins) rejected Terra as a fad or a fantom, and deranged minds (ready to plunge into any abyss) accepted it in support and token of their own irrationality. (1.3)

 

According to Van, the real destination of poor mad Aqua (Marina’s twin sister who married Demon Veen, Van’s and Ada’s father) was Terra the Fair:

 

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.)

 

Describing IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) in Canto Three of his poem, Shade mentions Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp:

 

While snubbing gods, including the big G,

Iph borrowed some peripheral debris

From mystic visions; and it offered tips

(The amber spectacles for life's eclipse) -

How not to panic when you're made a ghost:

Sidle and slide, choose a smooth surd, and coast,

Meet solid bodies and glissade right through,

Or let a person circulate through you.

How to locate in blackness, with a gasp,

Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp.

How to keep sane in spiral types of space.

Precautions to be taken in the case

Of freak reincarnation: what to do

On suddenly discovering that you

Are now a young and vulnerable toad

Plump in the middle of a busy road,

Or a bear cub beneath a burning pine,

Or a book mite in a revived divine. (ll. 549-566)

 

According to Kinbote, “How to locate in blackness, with a gasp, Terra the Fair, an orbicle of jasp” is the loveliest couplet in this Canto. An orbicle of jasp brings to mind “a perfect image of one orbicular millennium” that Archibald Moon, a character in VN’s novel Podvig (“Glory,” 1932”), wanted to give in his book on Russia:

 

Профессором русской словесности и истории был в ту пору небезызвестный Арчибальд Мун. В России он прожил довольно долго, всюду побывал, всех знал, всё перевидел. Теперь, черноволосый, бледный, в пенсне на тонком носу, он бесшумно проезжал на велосипеде с высоким рулём, сидя совсем прямо, а за обедом, в знаменитой столовой с дубовыми столами и огромными цветными окнами, вертел головой, как птица, и быстро, быстро крошил длинными пальцами хлеб. Говорили, единственное, что он в мире любит, это - Россия. Многие не понимали, почему он там не остался. На вопросы такого рода Мун неизменно отвечал: "Справьтесь у Робертсона" (это был востоковед) "почему он не остался в Вавилоне". Возражали вполне резонно, что Вавилона уже нет. Мун кивал, тихо и хитро улыбаясь. Он усматривал в октябрьском перевороте некий отчетливый конец. Охотно допуская, что со временем образуется в Советском Союзе, пройдя через первобытные фазы, известная культура, он вместе с тем утверждал, что Россия завершена и неповторима, - что её можно взять, как прекрасную амфору, и поставить под стекло. Печной горшок, который там теперь обжигался, ничего общего с нею не имел. Гражданская война представлялась ему нелепой: одни бьются за призрак прошлого, другие за призрак будущего, - меж тем, как Россию потихоньку украл Арчибальд Мун и запер у себя в кабинете. Ему нравилась её завершённость. Она была расцвечена синевою вод и прозрачным пурпуром пушкинских стихов. Вот уже скоро два года, как он писал на английском языке её историю, надеялся всю её уложить в один толстенький том. Эпиграф из Китса ("Создание красоты - радость навеки"), тончайшая бумага, мягкий сафьяновый переплёт. Задача была трудная: найти гармонию между эрудицией и тесной живописной прозой, дать совершенный образ одного округлого тысячелетия.

 

At that time the chair of Russian literature and history was occupied by the distinguished scholar Archibald Moon. He had lived fairly long in Russia, and had been everywhere, met everyone, seen everything there. Now, pale and dark-haired, with a pince-nez on his thin nose, he could be observed riding by, sitting perfectly upright, on a bicycle with high handlebars; or, at dinner in the renowned hall with oaken tables and huge stained-glass windows, he would jerk his head from side to side like a bird, and crumble bread extremely fast between his long fingers. They said the only thing this Englishman loved in the world was Russia. Many people could not understand why he had not remained there. Moon’s reply to questions of that kind would invariably be: “Ask Robertson” (the orientalist) “why he did not stay in Babylon.” The perfectly reasonable objection would be raised that Babylon no longer existed. Moon would nod with a sly, silent smile. He saw in the Bolshevist insurrection a certain clear-cut finality. While he willingly allowed that, by-and-by, after the primitive phases, some civilization might develop in the “Soviet Union,” he nevertheless maintained that Russia was concluded and unrepeatable, that you could embrace it like a splendid amphora and put it behind glass. The clay kitchen pot now being baked there had nothing in common with it. The civil war seemed absurd to him: one side fighting for the ghost of the past, the other for the ghost of the future, and meanwhile Archibald Moon quietly had stolen Russia and locked it up in his study. He admired this finality. It was colored by the blue of waters and the transparent porphyry of Pushkin’s poetry. For nearly two years now he had been working on an English-language history of Russia, and he hoped to squeeze it all into one plump volume. An obvious motto (“A thing of beauty is a joy forever”), ultrathin paper, a soft Morocco binding. The task was a difficult one: to find a harmony between erudition and tight picturesque prose, to give a perfect image of one orbicular millennium. (chapter XVI)

 

Archibald Moon joyfully informs Martin that the Russian ‘huligan’ comes from the name of a gang of Irish robbers:

 

"А вот скажите, как называются тамошние телеги, в которых развозят виноград"? - спрашивал он, дергая головой, и, выяснив, что Мартын не знает: "Можары, можары, сэр",- говорил он со смаком, - и неизвестно, что доставляло ему больше удовольствия, то ли, что он знает Крым лучше Мартына, или то, что ему удается произнести с русским экающим выговором словечко сэр. Он радостно сообщал, что "хулиган" происходит от названия шайки ирландских разбойников, а что остров "Голодай" не от голода, а от имени англичанина Холидея, построившего там завод.

 

“By the way, do you know what a grape-transporting cart is called there?” he asked with a toss of his head, and, having ascertained that Martin did not, went on with gusto: “Mozhara, mozhara, sir,” and it was not clear which gave him greater pleasure: that he knew the Crimea better than did Martin, or that he could pronounce the word “sir” according to its Russian pronunciation which rhymes it with “air.” He joyfully informed Martin that the Russian “huligan” came from the name of a gang of Irish robbers, and that Golodai Island was named not after “golod” (hunger) but for an Englishman named Holliday who built a factory there. (chapter XVII)

 

Huligan (1919) is a poem by Esenin. Igor Severyanin's sonnet Esenin (1925) ends in the line Blagochestivyi russkiy huligan (the pious Russian hooligan):

 

Он в жизнь вбегал рязанским простаком,
Голубоглазым, кудреватым, русым,
С задорным носом и веселым вкусом,
К усладам жизни солнышком влеком.

Но вскоре бунт швырнул свой грязный ком
В сиянье глаз. Отравленный укусом
Змей мятежа, злословил над Иисусом,
Сдружиться постарался с кабаком…

В кругу разбойников и проституток,
Томясь от богохульных прибауток,
Он понял, что кабак ему поган…

И Богу вновь раскрыл, раскаясь, сени
Неистовой души своей Есенин,
Благочестивый русский хулиган…

 

In his sonnet Andreev (1926) Severyanin mentions Nekto v serom (Someone in gray), a character in Leonid Andreev's play Zhizn' cheloveka ("The Life of a Man," 1907):

 

Предчувствовать грядущую беду
На всей земле и за ее пределом
Вечерним сердцем в страхе омертвелом
Ему ссудила жизнь в его звезду.

Он знал, что Космос к грозному суду
Всех призовет, и, скорбь приняв всем телом,
Он кару зрил над грешным миром, целом
Разбитостью своей, твердя: «Я жду».

Он скорбно знал, что в жизни человечьей
Проводит Некто в сером план увечий,
И многое еще он скорбно знал,

Когда, мешая выполненью плана,
В волнах грохочущего океана
На мачту поднял бедствия сигнал.

 

According to G. Ivanov, Isadora Duncan (an American dancer whom Esenin married in 1922) wrote with her ring's diamond on the windowpane “Esenin is a hooligan, Esenin is an angel:”

 

После первого спектакля на банкете, устроенном в ее честь,— знаменитая танцовщица увидела Есенина. Взвинченная успехом, она чувствовала себя по-прежнему прекрасной. И, по своему обыкновению, оглядывала участников банкета, ища среди присутствующих достойного «разделить» с ней сегодняшний триумф...
Дункан подошла к Есенину своей «скользящей» походкой и, недолго думая, обняла его и поцеловала в губы. Она не сомневалась, что ее поцелуй осчастливит этого «скромного простачка». Но Есенина, уже успевшего напиться, поцелуй Айседоры привел в ярость. Он оттолкнул ее — «Отстань, стерва!» Не понимая, она поцеловала Есенина еще крепче. Тогда он, размахнувшись, дал мировой знаменитости звонкую пощечину. Айседора ахнула и в голос, как деревенская баба, зарыдала.
Сразу протрезвившийся Есенин бросился целовать ей руки, утешать, просить прощения. Так началась их любовь. Айседора простила. Бриллиантом кольца она тут же на оконном стекле выцарапала:

«Esenin is huligan,
Esenin is an angel!»

 

Describing IPH, Shade mentions the widower’s second love in ballerina black:

 

                                                   We give advice
To widower. He has been married twice:
He meets his wives; both loved, both loving, both
Jealous of one another. Time means growth,
And growth means nothing in Elysian life.
Fondling a changeless child, the flax-haired wife
Grieves on the brink of a remembered pond
Full of a dreamy sky. And, also blond,
But with a touch of tawny in the shade,
Feet up, knees clasped, on a stone balustrade
The other sits and raises a moist gaze
Toward the blue impenetrable haze.
How to begin? Which first to kiss? What toy
To give the babe? Does that small solemn boy
Know of the head-on crash which on a wild
March night killed both the mother and the child?

And she, the second love, with instep bare
In ballerina black, why does she wear
The earrings from the other's jewels case?
And why does she avert her fierce young face? (ll. 569-588)

 

In his epigram on Esenin, Avtobiografiya t. Esenina (“The Autobiography of Comrade Esenin”), Sasha Chyorny (the poet whose penname means “black”) mentions a red cork (an allusion to cheap vodka) in Esenin’s head:

 

«И возвратятся псы на блевотину свою»

 

«Я советский наглый „рыжий“

С красной пробкой в голове.

Пил в Берлине, пил в Париже,

А теперь блюю в Москве».

 

“I’m the Soviet impudent circus clown

With a red cork in my head.

I drank in Berlin, I drank in Paris,

And now I vomit in Moscow.”

 

Shade's murderer, Gradus is "the man in brown." In his poem Bal v zhenskoy gimnazii (“The Ball at a School for Girls,” 1922) Sasha Chyorny mentions the schoolboy's korichnevyi kumir (brown idol) who is dancing with an officer:

 

В простенке - бледный гимназист,

Немой Монблан презренья.

Мундир до пяток, стан как хлыст,

А в сердце - лава мщенья.

Он презирает потолок,

Оркестр, паркет и люстры,

И рот кривится поперёк

Усмешкой Заратустры.

Мотив презренья стар как мир...

Вся жизнь в тумане сером:

Его коричневый кумир

Танцует с офицером! (1)

 

Nemoy Monblan prezren’ya (the mute Mont Blanc of contempt), as Sasha Chyorny calls the jealous schoolboy, brings to mind Shade's poem about Mon Blon that appeared in the Blue Review:

 

"I can't believe," she said, "that it is you!
I loved your poem in the Blue Review.
That one about Mon Blon. I have a niece
Who's climbed the Matterhorn. The other piece
I could not understand. I mean the sense.
Because, of course, the sound--But I'm so dense!" (ll. 781-786)

 

In his memoirs Nachalo veka (“In the Beginning of the Century,” 1933) Andrey Bely mentions Anna Goncharov, the first woman who climbed Mont Blanc:

 

Особенно памятна А. С. Гончарова, любимица, даже гордость отца, утверждавшего: некогда он заинтересовал Анну Сергеевну вопросами психологии, да так, что она, поехав в Париж и окончив Сорбонну, стала доктором философии, была лично знакома с Шарко, с Рише и с Бутру; она, первая из женщин, взошла на Монблан; и после этого триумфа - явилась в  Москву;  часто бывала у нас; она - та самая Гончарова, то есть из семьи жены Пушкина; и, даже: разглядывая портреты сестер Гончаровых, отчетливо можно было восстановить все черты фамильного сходства, взяв исходною точкою лицо сестры Натальи Николаевны, жены Дантеса; те же гладкие темные волосы, так же на уши зачесанные; и та же, так сказать, носолобость; то есть отсутствие грани меж носом и лбом; казалось: лицо бежит в нос; нос огромный у Анны Сергеевны, умный и хищный; глаза - оживленные, темные; только: она являла уродливейшую карикатуру даже не на Наталью Николаевну, а на  некрасивую сестру ее; эта была бы ангелом красоты перед Анной Сергеевною; редко я видел лицо некрасивей; спасала огромная одушевленность и брызжущая интеллектуальность; являяся к нам, она часами умнейше трещала с отцом на труднейшие философские темы; отец  оживлялся; он очень ценил Гончарову; когда-то он принимал живейшее участие в спешном образовании двоюродного брата А. С, робкого Павла Николаевича Батюшкова, поступившего в университет и часто являвшегося к нам; П. Н. - внучок поэта Батюшкова; Гончарова и Батюшков в начале девятьсотых годов отдались теософии; пока же слова такого не было в лексиконе у Анны Сергеевны; но слово "психология" склонялось во всех падежах; и склонялось во всех падежах слово "гипнотизм"; Анна Сергеевна мне была приятна умом и той ласковостью, с которой она относилась ко мне; скоро она подарила мне в прекрасном переплете "Из царства пернатых" профессора Кайгородова; и с той поры подымается во мне не прекращающееся несколько лет увлечение птицами; Анна Сергеевна покровительствовала моему увлечению  естествознанием и от времени до времени подаривала за книгою книгу, посвященную царствам природы.

 

Kinbote’s Zembla is a land of reflections, of “resemblers.” According to Bely (whose penname means “white”), Anna Goncharov bore a strong resemblance to Ekaterina Goncharov, Pushkin’s sister-in-law who married d’Anthès (the poet’s murderer). Pushkin’s fatal duel took place near Chyornaya Rechka (the Black River).

 

According to Kinbote, Gradus attempted to castrate himself:

 

At his hotel the beaming proprietress handed him a telegram. It chided him in Danish for leaving Geneva and told him to undertake nothing until further notice. It also advised him to forget his work and amuse himself. But what (save dreams of blood) could be his amusements? He was not interested in sightseeing or seasiding. He had long stopped drinking. He did not go to concerts. He did not gamble. Sexual impulses had greatly bothered him at one time but that was over. After his wife, a beader in Radugovitra, had left him (with a gypsy lover), he had lived in sin with his mother-in-law until she was removed, blind and dropsical, to an asylum for decayed widows. Since then he had tried several times to castrate himself, had been laid up at the Glassman Hospital with a severe infection, and now, at forty-four, was quite cured of the lust that Nature, the grand cheat, puts into us to inveigle us into propagation. No wonder the advice to amuse himself infuriated him. I think I shall break this note here. (note to Line 697)

 

In his epigram on Andrey Bely Sasha Chyorny says that, for the sake of precarious nickname "genius," Bely has castrated his blind talent and that, despite numerous books, Bely's king is still naked:

 

Ради шаткой клички «гений»,

Оскопив слепой талант,

Хлещет бредом откровений

Пифианский симулянт.

 

Каждый месяц две-три книжки,

А король все гол и гол…

Ах, заумный сей футбол

Надоел нам до отрыжки!

 

Pifianskiy simulyant ("the Pythian faker," as Sasha Chyorny calls Bely) brings to mind the Delphic Sibyl (and, therefore, Sybil Shade). At the end of Pamyati A. M. Chyornogo ("In Memory of A. M. Chyorny," 1932) VN mentions Chyorny's gentle, charming shade:

 

Мне неприятно, повторяю, соваться со своей автобиографией, да и кажется, не я один могу вспомнить его помощь, - мне только хотелось как-нибудь выразить запоздалую благодарность, теперь, когда я уже не могу послать ему письма, писание которого почему-то откладывал, теперь, когда все кончено, теперь, когда от него осталось только несколько книг и тихая, прелестная тень.

 

The “real” name of both Sybil Shade (the poet’s wife) and Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved) seems to be Sofia Botkin, born Lastochkin. Sasha Chyorny's poem Pervaya lastochka ("The First Swallow," 1930) is addressed to President Hoover and written "in the manner of Walt Whitman." Walt Whitman was "a good gray poet." Kinbote calls Shade "bad gray poet:"

 

Line 12: that crystal land

 

Perhaps an allusion to Zembla, my dear country. After this, in the disjointed, half-obliterated draft which I am not at all sure I have deciphered properly:

 

Ah, I must not forget to say something

That my friend told me of a certain king.

 

Alas, he would have said a great deal more if a domestic anti-Karlist had not controlled every line he communicated to her! Many a time have I rebuked him in bantering fashion: "You really should promise to use all that wonderful stuff, you bad gray poet, you!" And we would both giggle like boys. But then, after the inspiring evening stroll, we had to part, and grim night lifted the drawbridge between his impregnable fortress and my humble home.