Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027661, Wed, 31 Jan 2018 21:18:41 +0300

Fyodor's poem in The Gift; Annette Blagovo & Bel in LATH
In VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937) Fyodor Konstantinovich Godunov-Cherdyntsev (the narrator and main character) describes the process of composition of one of his poems:

Спустя три часа опасного для жизни воодушевления и вслушивания, он наконец выяснил всё, до последнего слова, завтра можно будет записать. На прощание попробовал вполголоса эти хорошие, тёплые, парные стихи.

Благодарю тебя, отчизна,

за злую даль благодарю!

Тобою полн, тобой не признан,

и сам с собою говорю.

И в разговоре каждой ночи

сама душа не разберёт,

моё ль безумие бормочет,

твоя ли музыка растёт… –

и только теперь поняв, что в них есть какой-то смысл, с интересом его проследил – и одобрил. Изнеможённый, счастливый, с ледяными пятками, ещё веря в благо и важность совершённого, он встал, чтобы потушить свет. В рваной рубашке, с открытой худой грудью и длинными, мохнатыми, в бирюзовых жилах, ногами, он помешкал у зеркала, все с тем же серьёзным любопытством рассматривая и не совсем узнавая себя, эти широкие брови, лоб, с мыском коротко остриженных волос. В левом глазу лопнул сосудец, и скользнувший с угла рудой отлив придавал что-то цыганское тёмному блеску зрачка. Господи, как за эти ночные часы обросли впалые щёки, – словно влажный жар стихотворчества поощрял и рост волос. Он повернул выключатель, но в комнате нечему было сгуститься, и как встречающие на дымном дебаркадере, стояли бледные и озябшие предметы.

After some three hours of concentration and ardor dangerous to life, he finally cleared up the whole thing, to the last word, and decided that tomorrow he would write it down. In parting with it he tried reciting softly the good, warm, farm-fresh lines:

Thank you, my land; for your remotest

Most cruel mist my thanks are due.

By you possessed, by you unnoticed,

Unto myself I speak of you.

And in these talks between somnambules

My inmost being hardly knows

If it’s my demency that rambles

Or your own melody that grows.

And realizing only now that this contained a certain meaning, he followed it through with interest and approved it. Exhausted, happy, with ice-cold soles (the statue lies half-naked in a gloomy park), still believing in the goodness and importance of what he had performed, he got up to turn off the light. In his torn nightshirt, with his skinny chest and long turquoise-veined, hairy legs exposed, he dawdled by the mirror, still with that same solemn curiosity examining and not quite recognizing himself, those broad eyebrows, that forehead with its projecting point of close-cropped hair. A small vessel had burst in his left eye and the crimson invading it from the canthus imparted a certain gypsy quality to the dark glimmer of the pupil. Goodness, what a growth on those hollow cheeks after a few nocturnal hours, as if the moist heat of composition had stimulated the hair as well! He turned the switch, but most of the night had dissolved and all the pale and chilled objects in the room stood like people come to meet someone on a smoky railroad platform. (Chapter One)

Fyodor’s poem brings to mind Lermontov’s poem Blagodarnost’ (“Gratitude,” 1840):

За всё, за всё тебя благодарю я:

За тайные мучения страстей,

За горечь слёз, отраву поцелуя;

За месть врагов и клевету друзей,

За жар души, растраченный в пустыне,

За всё, чем я обманут в жизни был...

Устрой лишь так, чтобы тебя отныне

Недолго я ещё благодарил.

For everything, for everything I thank you:

For the secret torments of passions,

For bitter tears and a poisoned kiss,

For enemies’ revenge and friends’ libel,

For my soul’s ardor, out in desert wasted,

For everything that deceived me in my life…

Just make it happen that from now on

I’ll thank you not for a long time.

In July of 1841, aged twenty-six, Lermontov died in a pistol duel with Martynov. The name of Lermontov’s adversary brings to mind Martin Edelweiss, the main character in VN’s novel Podvig (“Glory,” 1931). At the end of “Glory” Martin leaves for Zoorland (as Martin and Sonya call the Soviet Russia) and never comes back. In VN’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (1974) Vadim Vadimovich (the narrator and main character) describes his novel “The Dare” (that corresponds to VN’s Dar) and mentions a final gratuitous feat accomplished by the hero:

The next chapter deals with the rage and bewilderment of émigré reviewers, all of them priests of the Dostoyevskian persuasion; and in the last pages my young hero accepts a flirt's challenge and accomplishes a final gratuitous feat by walking through a perilous forest into Soviet territory and as casually strolling back. (2.5)

According to Vadim, the original title of his last Russian novel was Podarok Otchizne:

At this point, however, I must say a few words about The Dare (Podarok Otchizne was its original title, which can be translated as "a gift to the fatherland"). (ibid.)

In his poem Fyodor thanks otchizna (fatherland). The poem’s first word, blagodaryu (I thank you), brings to mind not only Lermontov’s Blagodarnost’, but also Annette Blagovo (Vadim’s second wife in LATH). Vadim’s and Annette’s daughter Bel reminds one of Bela, the title character of the first novella in Lermontov’s Geroy nashego vremeni (“A Hero of Our Time,” 1840). In LATH Vadim describes his fellow writers and mentions Suknovalov, author of the popular social satire Geroy nashey ery ("Hero of Our Era"):

I followed my energetic host to the upper floor. The lending library spread like a gigantic spider, bulged like a monstrous tumor, oppressed the brain like the expanding world of delirium. In a bright oasis amidst the dim shelves I noticed a group of people sitting around an oval table. The colors were vivid and sharp but at the same time remote-looking as in a magic-lantern scene. A good deal of red wine and golden brandy accompanied the animated discussion. I recognized the critic Basilevski, his sycophants Hristov and Boyarski, my friend Morozov, the novelists Shipogradov and Sokolovski, the honest nonentity Suknovalov, author of the popular social satire Geroy nashey ery ("Hero of Our Era") and two young poets, Lazarev (collection Serenity) and Fartuk (collection Silence). Some of the heads turned toward us, and the benevolent bear Morozov even struggled to his feet, grinning--but my host said they were having a business meeting and should be left alone. (2.4)

The names Boyarski and Morozov hint at Boyarynya Morozov (1632-75), a partisan of the Old Believer movement who lived in the reign of the tsar Alexey Mikhaylovich. The name Godunov-Cherdyntsev hints at the tsar Boris Godunov (reigned in 1598-1605). Lermontov is the author of “A Song about Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, the Young Oprichnik, and the Valorous Merchant Kalashnikov”(1837) in which the action takes place in the reign of Ivan the Terrible (the 16th century). Martin’s fistfight with Darwin in “Glory” brings to mind the fistfight between Kalashnikov and oprichnik Kiribeevich in Lermontov’s poem. Stalin’s era had a lot in common with that of Ivan the Terrible.

In my post “Vlyublyonnost', You & Reality in LATH” I forgot to mention that Rimbaud is the author of Voyelles (“Vowels,” 1871), a sonnet that was translated into Russian by Gumilyov. Like Rimbaud, VN (who translated into Russian Rimbaud’s poem Le Bateau ivre) had audition colorée (colored hearing, synesthesia). In the Russian version of his autobiography, Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), VN mentions molodaya luna tsveta Yu (“a young moon colored like letter Yu) that hung in the water-color sky colored like letter V:

Утреннюю неудачу иногда возмещала ловля в сумерки или ночью. На крайней дорожке парка лиловизна сирени, перед которой я стоял в ожидании бражников, переходила в рыхлую пепельность по мере медленного угасания дня, и молоком разливался туман по полям, и молодая луна цвета Ю висела в акварельном небе цвета В.

Let me also evoke the hawkmoths, the jets of my boyhood! Colors would die a long death on June evenings. The lilac shrubs in full bloom before which I stood, net in hand, displayed clusters of a fluffy gray in the dusk – the ghost of purple. A moist young moon hung above the mist of a neighboring meadow. (Chapter Six, 5)

According to Lermontov, he was crazy about moist rhymes, as for example on Yu. In his poem Skazka dlya detey (“Fairy Tale for Children,” 1841) Lermontov rhymes na Yu (on Yu) with lyublyu (I love) and lovlyu (I catch).

Alexey Sklyarenko

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