Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026650, Mon, 23 Nov 2015 12:26:34 +0300

July & Gradus in Pale Fire
BW: No matter which of the many interpretations of Pale Fire one may prefer,
it is difficult to accept the necessity of the proposed second line of the
couplet ( . . . by its own double in the windowpane).

This is not a couplet. Line 1001 is the coda of Shade's poem. In Italian
coda means "tail." In a letter of Nov. 18, 1831, to Yazykov Pushkin quotes
Khvostov's epistle to him in which Khvostov (whose name comes from khvost,
"tail") says that he became an ally of zodiac and mentions July ("in my old
age I sang of July"):

Хвостов написал мне послание, где он помолодел и тряхнул стариной. Он

Приближася похода к знаку,

Я стал союзник Зодиаку;

Холеры не любя пилюль,

Я пел при старости июль

и проч. в том же виде. Собираюсь достойно отвечать союзнику Водолея, Рака и
Козерога. Впрочем всё у нас благополучно.

Pushkin wanted to reply to "the ally of Aquarius, Cancer and Capricorn."
Alas, my patchy knowledge of English (reflected in repetitiousness and gaps
in my posts) prevents me from replying to Barry Warren's criticism. I'm
afraid that he did miss something in my arguments, though:

According to Gogol, Pushkin said that Yazykov should have entitled his first
book of poetry Khmel' ("Intoxication"). In his Commentary Kinbote says that
the whole clan of Gradus (Shade's murderer whose name to a Russian ear
suggests alcohol) seems to have been in the liquor business (note to Lines
17, 29). According to Kinbote, Gradus "contended that the real origin of his
name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a
Latin suffix had adhered, making in Vinogradus" (ibid.). In his essay on
Yazykov (included in "The Silhouettes of Russian Writers") the critic (and
VN's friend) Yuli Ayhenvald says that it was some sultry summer noon that
stifled Yazykov's poetry and quotes Yazykov's poem in which vinograd is

Настал какой-то знойный полдень, который и задушил его поэзию. Как
своеобразно говорит прежний поэт, теперешний "непоэт":

Попечитель винограда,
Летний жар ко мне суров;
Он противен мне измлада,
Он, томящий до упада,
Рыжий враг моих стихов:

A guardian of grape,

The summer heat is hard on me;

I hate it from infancy.

Trying one to the point of exhaustion,

It is the red enemy of my verses...

The name Yazykov comes from yazyk (tongue; language). This fact is stressed
by Gogol who compares Yazykov's command of language to an Arab's command of
his horse:

"Имя Языков пришлось ему недаром. Владеет он языком, как араб диким конём
своим, и ещё как бы хвастается своею властью... Всё, что выражает силу
молодости, не расслабленной, но могучей, полной будущего, стало вдруг
предметом стихов его. Так и брызжет юношеская свежесть от всего, к чему он
ни прикоснётся".

Kon' (horse) rhymes with ogon' (fire). This rhyme occurs in Chapter Two of
Pushkin's Mednyi vsadnik ("The Bronze Horseman," 1833), in which "Count
Khvostov, the poet beloved by heavens," is also mentioned:

А в сём коне какой огонь!
Куда ты скачешь, гордый конь,
И где опустишь ты копыта?

And what fire is in this steed!

The proud horse, where do you speed?

And where will you put down your hooves?

Pushkin died in the prime of life and talent, never entering the rich autumn
of his genius. His last long poem, "The Bronze Horseman," is also his best.
As VN points out in his EO Commentary, after Pushkin's death his works were
mutilated by unscrupulous translators.

Shade (who shares with Kinbote and Gradus their birthday, July 5) wrote his
last poem, Pale Fire, in July. It was almost finished, when the poet was
killed by Gradus. I suspect that the killer Gradus is Kinbote's alter ego
and the last line of Shade's last poem is: (see top of this post)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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