Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026635, Wed, 18 Nov 2015 17:59:26 +0000

Re: lastochka & other birds in Pale Fire
To Carolyn's query:

No, they are not synonyms.
A swift (Russ. strizh, стриж), Apodus, is a highly aerial bird that belongs to family Apodidae (order Apodiformes). They are the fastest fliers among birds (speed over 100 mph recorded)
They are superficially similar to swallows<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swallow> (Hirundinidae), but are not closely related. (Swifts are more closely related to hummingbirds.)

Nabokov’s swallow is a common barn swallow<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barn_swallow>, Hirundo rustica.
Barn swallow returning from its southern migration is the first European and Russian messenger of spring, as in a saying “one swallow does not make a spring” (μία χελίδὼν ἕαρ ού ποίεῖ), recorded in Aristotle<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotle>'s Nicomachean Ethics<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicomachean_Ethics> - or a staple textbook poem by Alexandr Pleshcheyev<http://en.tchaikovsky-research.net/pages/Aleksey_Pleshcheyev> (1858), put to music by Chaikovsky (as "The Grass Grows Green...") in his “Sixteen Songs for Children, Op. 54”

Nabokov’s choice of a swift over a swallow in his line “That particular swift that went by” might just be an audible preference of a rushing bird in an one-syllable “swift”.
A highly feminine nature of Russian “lastochka” is lost in English translation (“strizh” in Russian is masculine), so I think the names are interchangeable.
Swallow is a very common bird in Russian poetry from Derzhavin to Akhmatova and Mandelstam.
A recent article (in Russian) is attached:
Bel’skaya, L.L. (2013) Lastochka v russkoi poezii [Swallows in Russian poetry], Russkaya rech’ 2: 45-51, which ends with a VN quote from The Gift poem,

Interestingly, Boris Pasternak, in his early Poverkh barierov book, had a well-known 1916 poem about swifts (Strizhi).
I am sure Nabokov knew it well – we know he read Pasternak very carefully.

Victor Fet

From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On Behalf Of Carolyn Kunin
Sent: Sunday, November 15, 2015 1:58 AM
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] lastochka & other birds in Pale Fire

On Nov 14, 2015, at 6:52 AM, Alexey Sklyarenko wrote: Carolyn, you are not inventing or parodying. Lastochka (“The Swift”) in VN’s reading can be listened to here:

Thank you, Alexey. This poem in English and Russian is on an old Spoken Arts LP I still have somewhere. One one side of the record VN reads a chapter from Lolita and on the other a selection of poems. The recording on the web sounds exactly like the reading the way I remember it. So Lastochka is "swallow" and/or "swift"? Are they the same bird? No ornithologist, I.


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