NABOKV-L post 0003063, Fri, 24 Apr 1998 10:02:36 -0700

Query: a cow's udder (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. See reply below posting.

'Mr Goodman's large soft pinkish face is remarkably like a cow's udder,' V
observes on leaving him. This puzzles me. It is certainly unflattering but
what is it supposed to mean? How does it connect, if it does, with the
following passage from LATH: 'Somewhere in Abyssinia drunken Rimbaud was
reciting to a surprised Russian traveler the poem Le Tramway ivre (. . . En
blouse rouge, a face en pis de vache, le bourreau me trancha la tête aussi.
. . )'. Would Russian be any help here??

EDITOR's Response: Yes, Russian does help. The "cow's udder" is from a
well known poem by Nikolai Gumilyov "Zabludivshiisia Tramvai" [The Lost
Street Car]. It is a hallucinatory, surreal tram trip that crosses the
Neva, the Nile, and the Seine, among other fiercer, more exotic places and
times. [Gumilyov, as well as being the leading Acmeist poet, was an
adventurer in exotic climes. He was executed for his role in an
anti-Bolshevik plot.]
Stanza eight of the longish poem (in the Markov-Sparks
translation reads:

"A man in a red shirt, face like an udder,
Cuts my head off too on the blocks.
It is lying together with the others
On the very bottom in a slippery box.

The LATH! allusion is a typical VN crossblend of Rimbaud's 1871 "Le Bateau
ivre." and Gumilyov's streetcar. Rimbaud, like Gumilyov, spent time in

Both poems are frequent touch stones in VN's oeuvre. Gumilyov's poem in
particular contains many motifs later scattered throughout VN work. (Good
topic for a seminar paper.)