NABOKV-L post 0026611, Wed, 11 Nov 2015 01:20:04 +0300

coda & oda in Pale Fire
It seems that to be completed Shade's unfinished poem needs two lines: Line
1000 and Line 1001. Line 1000 = Line 1 = Line 131 (I was the shadow of the
waxwing slain), Line 1001 (By its own double in the windowpane) is the
poem's coda. In Italian coda means "tail." In his Oda ego siat. gr. Dm. Iv.
Khvostovu ("Ode to his Excellency Count D. I. Khvostov," 1825) Pushkin
compares Khvostov (whose name comes from khvost, "tail") to Byron. In his
poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron, o, bez sozhalen'ya: ("Like Byron to Greece, oh,
without regret:" 1927) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon' (pale fire). G.
Ivanov (who, as a boy of fifteen, asked Blok if a sonnet needed a coda) is
the author of Ulichnyi podrostok ("The Street Adolescent"), a sonnet with a
coda. Podrostok ("The Adolescent," 1875) is a novel by Dostoevski, the
author of Dvoynik ("The Double," 1848).

According to Kinbote, had he been a poet, he would have composed an ode to

I am choosing these images rather casually. There are purists who maintain
that a gentleman should use a brace of pistols, one for each temple, or a
bare botkin (note the correct spelling), and that ladies should either
swallow a lethal dose or drown with clumsy Ophelia. Humbler humans have
preferred such sundry forms of suffocation, and minor poets have even tried
such fancy releases as vein tapping in the quadruped tub of a drafty
boardinghouse bathroom. All this is uncertain and messy. Of the note very
many ways known of shedding one's body, falling, falling, falling is the
supreme method, but you have to select your sill or ledge very carefully so
as not to hurt yourself or others. Jumping from a high bridge is not
recommended even if you cannot swim, for wind and water abound in weird
contingencies, and tragedy ought not to culminate in a record dive or a
policeman's promotion. If you rent a cell in the luminous waffle, room 1915
or 1959, in a tall business center hotel browing the star dust, and pull up
the window, and gentle--not fall, not jump--but roll out as you should for
air comfort, there is always the chance of knocking clean through into your
own hell a pacific noctambulator walking his dog; in this respect a back
room might be safer, especially if giving on the roof of an old tenacious
normal house far below where a cat may be trusted to flash out of the way.
Another popular take-off is a mountaintop with a sheer drop of say 500
meters but you must find it, because you will be surprised how easy it is to
miscalculate your deflection offset, and have some hidden projection, some
fool of a crag, rush forth to catch you, causing you to bounce off it into
the brush, thwarted, mangled and unnecessarily alive. The ideal drop is from
an aircraft, your muscles relaxed, your pilot puzzled, your packed parachute
shuffled off, cast off, shrugged off--farewell, shootka (little chute)! Down
you go, but all the while you feel suspended and buoyed as you somersault in
slow motion like a somnolent tumbler pigeon, and sprawl supine on the
eiderdown of the air, or lazily turn to embrace your pillow, enjoying every
last instant of soft, deep, death-padded life, the voluptuous crucifixion,
as you stretch yourself in the growing rush, in the nearing swish, and then
your loved body's obliteration in the Lap of the Lord. If I were a poet I
would certainly make an ode to the sweet urge to close one's eyes and
surrender utterly unto the perfect safety of wooed death. Ecstatically one
forefeels the vastness of the Divine Embrace enfolding one's liberated
spirit, the warm bath of physical dissolution, the universal unknown
engulfing the miniscule unknown that had been the only real part of one's
temporary personality. (Note to Line 493)

Hodasevich's poem Zhiv Bog! Umyon, a ne zaumen: ("God alive! I'm not beyond
my coherence:" 1923) ends in the lines:

О, если б мой предсмертный стон

Облечь в отчётливую оду!

Oh, if I could make an articulate ode

Of my last expiring groan!

Another poem from Hodasevich's collection Evropeyskaya noch' ("European
Night") ends in the lines:

Счастлив, кто падает вниз головой:

Мир для него хоть на миг - а иной.

Happy is the one who falls head down:

If only for a moment, the world looks different to him.

Kinbote, who commits suicide on Oct. 19, 1959 (the Lyceum anniversary; on
Oct. 19, 1830, Pushkin burnt Chapter Ten of Eugene Onegin), after completing
his work on Shade's poem, manages to make an articulate ode of his last
expiring groan. Shade, Kinbote and the killer Gradus seem to represent three
different aspects of V. Botkin, the American scholar of Russian descent who
went mad after his daughter's death. There is a hope that, after Kinbote's
suicide, Botkin will be "full" again.

Яго + Блок + ода + конец = яблоко + кода + гонец = ягодка + бок + Олонец =
око + глянец + Набоков + еда - Нева/вена/Вена = Голконда + оборванец +
янтарь + Ева - вратарь - Нева

Яго - Iago (a character in Shakespeare's Othello)

Блок - A. A. Blok (the poet who, according to G. Ivanov, did not know what a
coda is); one of the essays in Hodasevich's memoir book Necropolis (1939) is
Gumilyov and Blok

ода - ode

конец - end

яблоко - apple; cf. "the fortress of an apple" mentioned by Shade in
Kinbote's Foreword to PF

кода - coda

гонец - courier; herald

ягодка - little berry (diminutive of yagoda); in VN's Soglyadatay ("The
Eye," 1930) Smurov mentions yadovitaya sovetskaya yagodka ("poisonous Soviet
berry"), a Soviet spy exposed by Weinstock (the owner of a book shop in

бок - side

Олонец - Olonets (a city in the North Russia); Derzhavin wrote his great ode
Vodopad ("The Waterfall") when he was a governor of the Province of Olonets;
in PF the (probably fictitious) name of one of the two Soviet experts in
Zembla is Niagarin; Hodasevich is the author of a book on Derzhavin; a few
days before his death Derzhavin began one of his greatest odes ("The River
of Times") that remained unfinished

око - eye

глянец - gloss, luster

Набоков - Nabokov

еда - food

Нева - the Neva

вена - vein

Вена - Vienna

Голконда - Golconda (the capital of a medieval sultanate in India famous for
the diamonds that were produced there); in his Foreword to PF Kinbote
mentions an exiled prince who is unaware of the Golconda in his cuff links

оборванец - ragamuffin

янтарь - amber; according to Kinbote, Mrs. Goldsworth's intellectual
interests were fully developed, going as they did from Amber to Zen; the
Russian word for "amber" begins with ya, the last letter of the alphabet

Ева - Eve; cf. The Three Faces of Eve, a 1957 film based on a case of
multiple personality

вратарь - goalkeeper; at Cambridge VN was a goalkeeper of his College's
football team

Alexey Sklyarenko

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