Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026290, Mon, 13 Jul 2015 23:36:02 +0300

Mamay in On Rulers; actors in The Paris Poem
In his poem O pravitelyakh ("On Rulers," 1945) VN compares Stalin (who said
that life became better and merrier) to Khan Mamay ("a particularly evil
Tartar prince of the fourteenth century"):

Умирает со скуки историк:

за Мамаем все тот же Мамай.

В самом деле, нельзя же нам с горя

поступить, как чиновный Китай,

кучу лишних веков присчитавший

к истории скромной своей,

от этого, впрочем, не ставшей

ни лучше, ни веселей.

The historian dies of sheer boredom:

on the heels of Mamay comes another Mamay.

Does our plight really force us to do

what did bureaucratic Cathay

that with heaps of superfluous centuries

augmented her limited history

which, however, hardly became

either better or merrier.

In the battle of Kulikovo (1380) the Russians led by Prince Dmitri
(nicknamed Donskoy) defeated the Tartars led by Khan Mamay. Na pole
Kulikovom ("In the Field of Kulikovo," 1908) is a cycle of poetry by
Alexander Blok. In VN's story Lik (1939) Alexander Lik's real name seems to
be Kulikov. Lik is an actor. In his Parizhskaya poema ("The Paris Poem,"
1943) VN mentions aktyory (actors):

В этой жизни, богатой узорами

(неповторной, поскольку она

по-другому, с другими актерами,

будет в новом театре дана):

In this life, rich in patterns (a life

unrepeatable, since with a different

cast, in a different manner,

in a new theater it will be given):

"The Paris Poem" was written after the battle of Stalingrad (August 1942 to
February 1943) in which the Russians defeated the Germans. The dominant
height overlooking the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) is called Mamaev
kurgan (the Mamay tumulus). The battle of Stalingrad can be compared to the
battle of Kulikovo and to the battle of Poltava (1709) in which the Russians
led by Peter I defeated the Swedes led by Karl XII. I notice that in a
letter to Edmund Wilson VN compares Pushkin's poem Poltava (1829) to his
novel Podvig ("Glory," 1930). The characters of Pushkin's Poltava include
Orlik, Mazepa's adviser. There is lik in Orlik. One of the two main
characters in VN's Lik is Oleg Koldunov. His surname comes from koldun (a
sorcerer). Koldun is a character in Gogol's Strashnaya mest' ("The Terrible
Vengeance"), the story directly alluded to in "The Paris Poem" (see my
previous post). Btw., in 882 Oleg (who governed Rus during the reign of
Ryurik's young son Igor) took Kiev, the city on the Dnepr, and made it the
capital of Rus. In "The Abyss" Lik plays Igor, a young Russian who is
compared to yabloko razdora (the apple of discord). There is Blok in

Alexey Sklyarenko

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