Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027307, Wed, 22 Feb 2017 14:53:26 +0300

Alexis Pan & La Belle Dame Sans Merci in TRLSK
In VN's novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) the narrator
(Sebastian's half-brother V.) mentions the futurist poet Alexis Pan:

It appears that Sebastian had developed a friendship with the futurist poet
Alexis Pan and his wife Larissa, a weird couple who rented a cottage close
to our country estate near Luga. He was a noisy robust little man with a
gleam of real talent concealed in the messy obscurity of his verse. But
because he did his best to shock people with his monstrous mass of otiose
words (he was the inventor of the 'submental grunt' as he called it), his
main output seems now so nugatory, so false, so old-fashioned (super-modern
things have a queer knack of dating much faster than others) that his true
value is only remembered by a few scholars who admire the magnificent
translations of English poems made by him at the very outset of his literary
career - one of these at least being a very miracle of verbal transfusion:
his Russian rendering of Keats's 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci'. (Chapter 3)

The inscription on Keats's tombstone reads: "Here lies one whose name was
writ on water." In Khlebnikov's poem Pen pan ("Master of Froth," 1915) the
author's name is whispered by air:

У вод я подумал о бесе

И о себе,

Над озером сидя на пне.

Со мной разговаривал пен пан

И взора озёрного жемчуг

Бросает воздушный, могуч меж


Большой, как и вы.

И много невестнейших вдов вод

Преследовал ум мой, как овод,

Я, брезгая, брызгаю ими.

Моё восклицалося имя -

Шепча, изрицал его воздух.

Сквозь воздух умчаться не худ зов.

Я озеро бил на осколки

И после расспрашивал: <Сколько?>

И мир был прекрасно улыбен,

Но многого этого не было.

И свист пролетевших копыток

Напомнил мне много попыток

Прогнать исчезающий нечет

Среди исчезавших течений.

Velimir Khlebnikov (the penname of Viktor Khlebnikov, 1885-1922, "a cretin
of genius") was a Russian futurist poet. His surname comes from khlebnik
(obs., baker), a word that comes from khleb (bread). The name Alexis Pan
seems to hint at Khlebnikov not only through panis ("bread" in Latin), but -
Pen pan being a poem by Khlebnikov - also through penis. In Pen pan the
author is sitting nad ozerom na pne (on a tree stump above the lake; [p]en
pan is na pne backwards). An ornithologist's son, Khlebnikov mentions in his
poem svist proletevshikh kopytok (the piping of sandgrouses* that flew by).
In the opening stanza of La Belle Dame Sans Merci (a ballad that was
translated into Russian by VN) Keats mentions the knight, the lake and the

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

In TRLSK Nina Lecerf (alias Mme de Rechnoy) is La Belle Dame Sans Merci who
has Sebastian in thrall. The name Rechnoy means "of the river" and hints at
Nina Zarechnyi, a character in Chekhov's play Chayka ("The Seagull," 1896).
The action in it takes place in Sorin's country house at the lakeside. The
name Sorin brings to mind Sirin, VN's Russian nom de plume.

Алексис Пан = леска + спина = лес + испанка = ласка/скала + пенис = плакса +

Алексис Пан - Alexis Pan

леска - fishing-line

спина - back

лес - forest, woods

испанка - Spanish woman; Spanish flue

ласка - caress; weasel

скала - rock; cliff

пенис - penis

плакса - cry-baby

сени - lobby

*the bird's scientific name is Syrrhaptes paradoxus

Alexey Sklyarenko

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