NABOKV-L post 0027302, Tue, 14 Feb 2017 22:45:28 +0300

aujourd’hui, l'espace meuble & eye-rolling toy in Ada; Baudelaire & Terra the Fair in Pale Fire
Aqua’s last note begins with the word aujourd’hui (Fr., today):

Aujourd’hui (heute-toity!) I, this eye-rolling toy, have earned the psykitsch right to enjoy a landparty with Herr Doktor Sig, Nurse Joan the Terrible, and several ‘patients,’ in the neighboring bor (piney wood) where I noticed exactly the same skunk-like squirrels, Van, that your Darkblue ancestor imported to Ardis Park, where you will ramble one day, no doubt. The hands of a clock, even when out of order, must know and let the dumbest little watch know where they stand, otherwise neither is a dial but only a white face with a trick mustache. Similarly, chelovek (human being) must know where he stands and let others know, otherwise he is not even a klok (piece) of a chelovek, neither a he, nor she, but ‘a tit of it’ as poor Ruby, my little Van, used to say of her scanty right breast. I, poor Princesse Lointaine, très lointaine by now, do not know where I stand. Hence I must fall. So adieu, my dear, dear son, and farewell, poor Demon, I do not know the date or the season, but it is a reasonably, and no doubt seasonably, fair day, with a lot of cute little ants queuing to get at my pretty pills.

[Signed] My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (‘now is out of hell’) (1.3)

Aujourd’hui is the first word in Baudelaire’s sonnet Le Vin des amants (“The Wine of Lovers”):

Aujourd'hui l'espace est splendide!
Sans mors, sans éperons, sans bride,
Partons à cheval sur le vin
Pour un ciel féerique et divin!

Comme deux anges que torture
Une implacable calenture
Dans le bleu cristal du matin
Suivons le mirage lointain!

Mollement balancés sur l'aile
Du tourbillon intelligent,
Dans un délire parallèle,

Ma soeur, côte à côte nageant,
Nous fuirons sans repos ni trêves
Vers le paradis de mes rêves!

Today space is magnificent!
Without bridle or bit or spurs
Let us ride away on wine
To a divine, fairy-like heaven!

Like two angels who are tortured
By a relentless delirium,
Let us follow the far mirage
Through the crystal blue of the morning!

Gently balanced upon the wings
Of the intelligent whirlwind,
In a similar ecstasy,

My sister, floating side by side,
We'll flee without ever stopping
To the paradise of my dreams!

(tr. William Aggeler)

The poem’s second word, l’espace (the space), brings to mind l’espace meuble (furnished space) mentioned by Van when he describes Demon’s death in an airplane disaster:

Furnished Space, l'espace meuble (known to us only as furnished and full even if its contents be 'absence of substance' - which seats the mind, too), is mostly watery so far as this globe is concerned. In that form it destroyed Lucette. Another variety, more or less atmospheric, but no less gravitational and loathsome, destroyed Demon.

Idly, one March morning, 1905, on the terrace of Villa Armina, where he sat on a rug, surrounded by four or five lazy nudes, like a sultan, Van opened an American daily paper published in Nice. In the fourth or fifth worst airplane disaster of the young century, a gigantic flying machine had inexplicably disintegrated at fifteen thousand feet above the Pacific between Lisiansky and Laysanov Islands in the Gavaille region. (3.7)

“A gigantic flying machine” reminds one of “giant flying sharks with lateral eyes” imagined by Aqua:

Poor Aqua, whose fancies were apt to fall for all the fangles of cranks and Christians, envisaged vividly a minor hymnist’s paradise, a future America of alabaster buildings one hundred stories high, resembling a beautiful furniture store crammed with tall white-washed wardrobes and shorter fridges; she saw giant flying sharks with lateral eyes taking barely one night to carry pilgrims through black ether across an entire continent from dark to shining sea, before booming back to Seattle or Wark. (1.3)

“A future America of alabaster buildings one hundred stories high” seems to hint at Ilf and Petrov’s book Odnoetazhnaya Amerika (“Single-Storied America,” 1937). In Ilf and Petrov’s novel Dvenadtsat’ stul’yev (“The Twelve Chairs,” 1928) one of the chapters is entitled Muzey mebeli (“The Furniture Museum”).

In her last note Aqua calls herself “eye-rolling toy.” Describing his first arrival at Ardis, Van mentions “the greatest museums housing the toys of the past:”

None of the family was at home when Van arrived. A servant in waiting took his horse. He entered the Gothic archway of the hall where Bouteillan, the old bald butler who unprofessionally now wore a mustache (dyed a rich gravy brown), met him with gested delight — he had once been the valet of Van’s father — ‘Je parie,’ he said, ‘que Monsieur ne me reconnaît pas,’ and proceeded to remind Van of what Van had already recollected unaided, the farmannikin (a special kind of box kite, untraceable nowadays even in the greatest museums housing the toys of the past) which Bouteillan had helped him to fly one day in a meadow dotted with buttercups. (1.5)

“Farmannikin” blends Farman (Henri Farman, an Anglo-French aviator, 1874-1958) with mannikin. Bryusov's poem Komu-to ("To Someone," 1908) begins:

Фарман, иль Райт, иль кто б ты ни был!

Farman, or Wright, or whoever you are!

In his poem Bryusov mentions Dedal (Daedalus, an Athenian architect who built the labyrinth for Minos and made wings for himself and his son Icarus to escape from Crete):

Наш век вновь в Дедала поверил

Our century began to believe in Daedalus again.

Van’s and Ada’s father, Demon Veen is the son of Dedalus Veen (1799-1883). While Bouteillan helped Van to fly the farmannikin, grandfather Dedalus Veen helped him to learn to man the Magicarpets:

What pleasure (thus in the MS.). The pleasure of suddenly discovering the right knack of topsy turvy locomotion was rather like learning to man, after many a painful and ignominious fall, those delightful gliders called Magicarpets (or ‘jikkers’) that were given a boy on his twelfth birthday in the adventurous days before the Great Reaction — and then what a breathtaking long neural caress when one became airborne for the first time and managed to skim over a haystack, a tree, a burn, a barn, while Grandfather Dedalus Veen, running with upturned face, flourished a flag and fell into the horsepond. (1.13)

In the last stanza of Bryusov's poem Ultima Thule (1915) Thule rhymes with akule (Dat. Sing. of akula, “shark”):

И, как король, что в бессмертной балладе помянут,
Брошу свой кубок с утёса, в добычу акуле!
Канет он в бездне, и с ним все желания канут...
Ultima Thule!

Bessmertnaya ballada (“the immortal ballad”) mentioned by Bryusov is J. W. Goethe's Der König in Thule (1774). Heute (cf. “heute-toity” in Aqua’s last note) is German for “today.” Ultima Thule (1942) is a story by VN.

When Daniel Veen (Van’s and Ada’s Uncle Dan) proposed to Marina (Aqua’s twin sister, Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) in the Up elevator of Manhattan’s first ten-floor building, he was rejected at the seventh stop (Toys):

One afternoon in the spring of 1871, he proposed to Marina in the Up elevator of Manhattan's first ten-floor building, was indignantly rejected at the seventh stop (Toys), came down alone and, to air his feelings, set off in a counter-Fogg direction on a triple trip round the globe, adopting, like an animated parallel, the same itinerary every time. In November 1871, as he was in the act of making his evening plans with the same smelly but nice cicerone in a café-au-lait suit whom he had hired already twice at the same Genoese hotel, an aerocable from Marina (forwarded with a whole week's delay via his Manhattan office which had filed it away through a new girl's oversight in a dove hole marked RE AMOR) arrived on a silver salver telling him she would marry him upon his return to America. (1.1)

The fourth (and last) word in the first line of Baudelaire’s Le Vin des amants, splendide, brings to mind “our splendid friends” mentioned by Van:

Our enchanters, our demons, are noble iridescent creatures with translucent talons and mightily beating wings; but in the eighteen-sixties the New Believers urged one to imagine a sphere where our splendid friends had been utterly degraded, had become nothing but vicious monsters, disgusting devils, with the black scrota of carnivora and the fangs of serpents, revilers and tormentors of female souls; while on the opposite side of the cosmic lane a rainbow mist of angelic spirits, inhabitants of sweet Terra, restored all the stalest but still potent myths of old creeds, with rearrangement for melodeon of all the cacophonies of all the divinities and divines ever spawned in the marshes of this our sufficient world. (1.3)

The second line of Baudelaire’s sonnet, Sans mors, sans éperons, sans bride, reminds one of a sentence in Kinbote’s last note to Shade’s poem in VN’s novel Pale Fire (1962):

I may turn up yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, health heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but his art. (Note to Line 1000)

In his Commentary Kinbote quotes a discarded variant that mentions 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 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 suspects that this dash stands for his name. Actually, it stands for Botkin (the real name of Shade, Kinbote and Gradus).

In Canto Three of his poem Shade speaks of IPH (a lay Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter) and 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. (ll. 549-558)

According to Van, Aqua believed that her real destination was Terra the Fair:

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’). (1.3)

The phrase shchemyashchiy zvuk (a heart-rending sound) occurs in several poems by Alexander Blok. The author of Dvenadtsat’ (“The Twelve,” 1918), Blok died on August 7, 1921. Less than three weeks later another poet, Gumilyov, was executed by the Bolsheviks. In his poem Ya i vy (“Me and you,” 1918) Gumilyov says that he will die not in his bed, in the presence of a notary and a doctor, but in some wild ravine deep in dense ivy:

И умру я не на постели,
При нотариусе и враче,
А в какой-нибудь дикой щели,
Утонувшей в густом плюще.

I shall die not in my bedroom
with a notary and medicine
but in some old and creasy canyon
Deep and covered by ivy's green.

Aqua died in a gulch in the chaparral:

Sly Aqua twitched, simulated a yawn, opened her light-blue eyes (with those startlingly contrasty jet-black pupils that Dolly, her mother, also had), put on yellow slacks and a black bolero, walked through a little pinewood, thumbed a ride with a Mexican truck, found a suitable gulch in the chaparral and there, after writing a short note, began placidly eating from her cupped palm the multicolored contents of her handbag, like any Russian country girl lakomyashchayasya yagodami (feasting on berries) that she had just picked in the woods. (1.3)

In the first line of his poem Shestoe chuvstvo (“The Sixth Sense,” 1920) Gumilyov mentions vlyublyonnoe vino (the wine of being in love):

Прекрасно в нас влюблённое вино
И добрый хлеб, что в печь для нас садится,
И женщина, которою дано,
Сперва измучившись, нам насладиться.

Но что нам делать с розовой зарёй
Над холодеющими небесами,
Где тишина и неземной покой,
Что делать нам с бессмертными стихами?

Ни съесть, ни выпить, ни поцеловать.
Мгновение бежит неудержимо,
И мы ломаем руки, но опять
Осуждены идти всё мимо, мимо.

Как мальчик, игры позабыв свои,
Следит порой за девичьим купаньем
И, ничего не зная о любви,
Всё ж мучится таинственным желаньем;

Как некогда в разросшихся хвощах
Ревела от сознания бессилья
Тварь скользкая, почуя на плечах
Еще не появившиеся крылья;

Так век за веком - скоро ли, Господь? -
Под скальпелем природы и искусства
Кричит наш дух, изнемогает плоть,
Рождая орган для шестого чувства.

Fine is the wine of being in love in us,

and the good bread baked for our sake,

and the woman who delights us

when she's finished her tweaking games.

But sunset clouds, rose

in a sky turned cold,

calm like some other earth?

immortal poems?

All inedible, non-potable, un-kissable.

Time comes, time goes,

and we wring our hands and

never decide, never touch the circle.

Like a boy forgetting his games

and watching girls in the river

and knowing nothing but eaten

by desires stranger than he knows –

like a slippery creature

sensing unformed wings

on its back and howling helpless

in the bushes and brambles –

like hundred years after hundred years – how long, Lord, how long? –

as nature and art cut,

and we scream, and slowly, slowly,

our sixth-sense organ is surgically born.

(tr. Burton Raffel)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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