NABOKV-L post 0027456, Sun, 13 Aug 2017 16:40:24 +0300

Frost & Pope in Pale Fire
In Canto Two of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire,
1962) describes the evening of his daughter’s death and mentions Frost:

"See the blind beggar dance, the cripple sing"
Has unmistakably the vulgar ring
Of its preposterous age. Then came your call,
My tender mockingbird, up from the hall.

I was in time to overhear brief fame
And have a cup of tea with you: my name
Was mentioned twice, as usual just behind
(one oozy footstep) Frost. (ll. 419-426)

In his Commentary Kinbote writes:

The reference is, of course, to Robert Frost (b. 1874). The line displays
one of those combinations of pun and metaphor at which our poet excels. In
the temperature charts of poetry high is low, and low high, so that the
degree at which perfect crystallization occurs is above that of tepid
facility. This is what our modest poet says, in effect, respecting the
atmosphere of his own fame.

Frost is the author of one of the greatest short poems in the English
language, a poem that every American boy knows by heart, about the wintry
woods, and the dreary dusk, and the little horsebells of gentle
remonstration in the dull darkening air, and that prodigious and poignant
end--two closing lines identical in every syllable, but one personal and
physical, and the other metaphysical and universal. I dare not quote from
memory lest I displace one small precious word.

With all his excellent gifts, John Shade could never make his snowflakes
settle that way. (note to Line 426)

Shade’s mad commentator, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved,
the last self-exiled king of Zembla. The name of Zemblan capital, Onhava
hints at Heaven. In the Commentary (vol. III, p. 23) to his translation of
Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin VN quotes Delvig’s words “the nearer to heaven,
the colder one's verses get:”

It was Delvig who quipped that the nearer to heaven, the colder one's verses
get (as reported by Pushkin in a MS note), and it was Delvig who intended to
kiss Derzhavin's hand when the latter visited the Lyceum (see n. to Eight:
II: 3).

In his poem “To V. A. Zhukovski” (1819) Vyazemski (the author of “The
First Snow,” 1822) discusses rhymes and mentions Derzhavin:

Хочу ль сказать, к кому был Феб из русских
ласков, ―
Державин рвётся в стих, а втащится Хераск

When I want to say to whom of the Russians Phoebus was affectionate,

Derzhavin is bursting into my verse but Kheraskov will drag himself in.

The second line is a paraphrase of Boileau’s words in his Satire II A M.
Molière: “La raison dit Virgile et la rime Quinault.” In his Diary (the
entry of April 3, 1821) Pushkin criticizes the first line and notes that the
unexpected rhyme laskov (affectionate) \xa8C Kheraskov does not reconcile him
to such a cacophony (komu byl Feb iz russkikh laskov):

Читал сегодня послание Вяземского к Жуко
вскому. Смелость, сила, ум и резкость; но ч
то за звуки! ?Кому был Феб из русских ласко
в?. Неожиданная рифма Херасков не примиря
ет меня с такой какофонией.

In the same epistle to Zhukovski Vyazemski rhymes rozy (roses) with morozy

И, в самый летний зной в лугах срывая розы,
Насильственно пригнать с Уральских гор м
орозы. (ll. 43-44)

and right ’mid summer’s heat, while searching meads for “roses” [rozy],

drive thither, by sheer force, from Ural Mountains “frosts” [morozy]

The rhyme morozy \xa8C rozy famously occurs in Chapter Four (XLII: 1-4) of
Pushkin’s EO:

И вот уже трещат морозы
И серебрятся средь полей...
(Читатель ждет уж рифмы розы;
На, вот возьми её скорей!)

And there the frosts already crackle

and silver midst the fields

(the reader now expects the rhyme “froze-rose \xa8C

here you are, take it quick!).

In his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 470) VN points out that morozy \xa8C rozy is
a Russian example of what Pope calls (in his Essay on Criticism, ll.
349-351) “sure returns still-expected rhymes:”

Where-e’er you find the cooling western breeze,

In the next line, it whispers thro’ the trees…

Shade is an authority on Pope. In his note to Lines 417-421 of Shade’s poem
Kinbote points out that “See the blind beggar dance, the cripple sing” is
a line in Pope’s Essay on Man:

The draft yields an interesting variant:

417 I fled upstairs at the first quawk of jazz
And read a galley proof: "Such verses as
'See the blind beggar dance, the cripple sing,
The sot a hero, lunatic a king'
Smack of a heartless age." Then came your call

This is, of course, from Pope's Essay on Man. One knows not what to wonder
at more: Pope's not finding a monosyllable to replace "hero" (for example,
"man") so as to accommodate the definite article before the next word, or
Shade's replacing an admirable passage by the much flabbier final text. Or
was he afraid of offending an authentic king? In pondering the near past I
have never been able to ascertain retrospectively if he really had "guessed
my secret," as he once observed (see
<> note to line

In Line 991 of his poem Shade mentions horseshoes:

Somewhere horseshoes are being tossed. Click. Clunk.

In a twelve-line fragment Kak bystro v pole, vkrug otkrytom… (“How fast in
open country runs…” 1828) quoted by VN in his EO Commentary (vol. II, p.
471) Pushkin mentions his reshoed steed, zemlya (the ground) resounding
under the steed’s hoof and moroz (frost):

Как быстро в поле, вкруг открытом,
Подкован вновь, мой конь бежит!
Как звонко под его копытом
Земля промерзлая звучит!
Полезен русскому здоровью
Наш укрепительный мороз:
Ланиты, ярче вешних роз,
Играют холодом и кровью.

Печальны лес и дол завялый,
Проглянет день ― и уж темно,
И, будто путник запоздалый,
Стучится буря к нам в окно...

How fast in open country runs

reshoed, my steed,

how ringingly under his hoof

the frozen ground resounds!

Good for the Russian health

is our straightening frost:

cheeks, brighter than spring roses,

sparkle with cold and blood…

At the end of his note to Line 991 Kinbote says: “I was holding all Zembla
[Shade’s poem] pressed to my heart.”

In his Essay on Man (Epistle Two, V) Pope mentions Zembla:

But where th' extreme of vice, was ne'er agreed:

Ask where's the North? at York, 'tis on the Tweed;

In Scotland, at the Orcades; and there,

At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where:

No creature owns it in the first degree,

But thinks his neighbour farther gone than he!

Gradus being Russian for “degree,” the phrase “in the first degree”
brings to mind the name of Shade’s murderer (who wanted to kill Kinbote,
Shade’s neighbor). Opasnyi sosed (“A Dangerous Neighbor,” 1811) is a
narrative poem by Vasiliy Lvovich Pushkin (A. S. Pushkin’s uncle).
Pushkin’s EO begins: Moy dyadya samykh chestnykh pravil… (My uncle has
most honest principles). In Chapter Five of EO Pushkin calls Buyanov, the
main character in “A Dangerous Neighbor,” moy brat dvoyurodnyi (my first
cousin). I suggest that Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of
Russian descent who went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the
suicide of his daughter Nadezhda) is VN’s first cousin. In his poem On
Translating ‘Eugene Onegin’ (1955) VN calls his honest roadside prose
“all thorn, but cousin to your [Pushkin’s] rose.” The EO stanza “is
patterned on a sonnet.” It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs
not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing
slain”), but \xa8C like some sonnets \xa8C also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own
double in the windowpane”).

In his Table Talk (1830-37) Pushkin contrasts characters created by
Shakespeare to those of Molière:

Лица, созданные Шекспиром, не суть, как у М
ольера, типы такой-то страсти, такого-то п
орока, но существа живые, исполненные мно
гих страстей, многих пороков. Обстоятельс
тва развивают перед зрителем их разнообр
азные и многосторонние характеры. У Молье
ра Скупой скуп - и только; у Шекспира Шейло
к скуп, сметлив, мстителен, чадолюбив, ост
роумен. У Мольера лицемер волочится за же
ною своего благодетеля, лицемеря; принима
ет имение под сохранение, лицемеря; спраш
ивает стакан воды, лицемеря. У Шекспира ли
цемер произносит судебный приговор с тще
славною строгостию, но справедливо; он оп
равдывает свою жестокость глубокомыслен
ным суждением государственного человека;
он обольщает невинность сильными, увлека
тельными софизмами, не смешною смесью наб
ожности и волокитства. Анджело лицемер, п
отому что его гласные действия противоре
чат тайным страстям! А какая глубина в это
м характере!

The characters created by Shakespeare are not, as in Molière, basically
types of such and such a passion, such and such a vice, but living beings
filled with many passions, many vices. Circumstances develop their varied
and many-sided personalities before the viewer. In Molière, the miserly \xa8C
and thst’s all; in Shakespeare, Shylock is miserly, acute, vindictive,
philoprogenitive, and witty. In Molière, the hypocrite dangles after the
wife of his benefactor ― hypocritically; he takes the estate into his care
― hypocritically; and asks for a glass of water ― hypocritically. In
Shakespeare, the hypocrite passes sentence with vainglorious severity ― but
justly. He justifies his cruelty with the profound judgement of a

statesman. He seduces innocence with powerful, convincing sophisms ― not
with a ridiculous mixture of piety and rakery. Angelo is a hypocrite because
his public acys contradict his hidden passions. And what profundity there is
in this character!

In his Angelo (1833), a narrative poem based on Shakespeare’s play Measure
for Measure, Pushkin compares the disguised Duke to a roaming comet and to
Harun al Rashid:

Пока народ считал его в чужих краях
И сравнивал, шутя, с бродящею кометой,
Скрывался он в толпе, всё видел, наблюдал
И соглядатаем незримым посещал
Палаты, площади, монастыри, больницы,
Развратные дома, театры и темницы.
Воображение живое Дук имел;
Романы он любил, и может быть, хотел
Халифу подражать Гаруну Аль-Рашиду.

And while the people thought he was abroad

(They nicknamed him, in jest, “The Roaming Comet”),

He hid among the crowds, observing all.

Thus like an unseen spy he visited

The palace, hospitals, and monasteries,

The brothels, the squares, the theatres, the jails.

The Duke, possessed of vivid fancy, loved

To read good fiction, and perhaps he’d hoped

To emulate caliph Harun al Rashid. (Part Three, I)

(transl. I. Eubanks)

Harun al Rashid is the caliph portrayed in The Thousand and One Nights. Its
seems that, in its finished form, Shade’s poem should have 1001 lines.

In his poem Portret (“The Portrait,” 1828) Pushkin compares Countess
Agrafena Zakrevski (who is portrayed in Chapter Eight of EO as “Cleopatra
of the Neva”) to bezraschyotnaya kometa v krugu raschilennom svetil (an
incomputable comet amidst the calculated planets):

С своей пылающей душой,

С своими бурными страстями,

О жёны Севера, меж вами

Она является порой

И мимо всех условий света

Стремится до утраты сил,

Как беззаконная комета

В кругу расчисленном светил.

With her burning soul,

With her stormy passions,

Oh, northern women, amidst you

She sometimes appears.

And, past all world’s conditions,

She speeds till her strengths are exhausted,

Like an injudicious comet

In the circle of calculated planets.

A comet has a tail. In his fragment “Rome” (1842) Gogol mentions the
Italian sonnetto colla coda and in a footnote explains that coda means

Fet + Botkin + den’ + noch’ + oblako + Venera/Erevan + Gradus = Feb +
nikto + ten’ + doch’ + Nabokov + general + dar + us

Fet \xa8C Afanasiy Fet (Shenshin), a poet (1820-92)

Botkin \xa8C Maria Botkin (the maiden name of Fet’s wife); Vsevolod Botkin
(Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name)

den’ \xa8C day

noch’ \xa8C night

oblako \xa8C cloud

Venera \xa8C Venus

Feb \xa8C Phoebus (Apollo as the sun god)

nikto \xa8C nobody

ten’ \xa8C shade, shadow

doch’ \xa8C daughter

dar \xa8C gift; cf. Dar (“The Gift,” 1937), a novel by VN

us \xa8C moustache hair; whisker; antenna, feeler; tendril

Alexey Sklyarenko

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