Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027027, Thu, 26 May 2016 14:11:42 +0300

our ebats in Ada
'I'm a good, good girl. Here are her special pencils. It was very
considerate and altogether charming of you to invite her next weekend. I
think she's even more madly in love with you than with me, the poor pet.
Demon got them in Strassburg. After all she's a demi-vierge now' ('I hear
you and Dad -' began Van, but the introduction of a new subject was swamped)
'and we shan't be afraid of her witnessing our ébats' (pronouncing on
purpose, with triumphant hooliganism, for which my prose, too, is praised,
the first vowel à la Russe). (2.6)

The French word ébats (frolics) in Ada’s pronunciation sounds like the
vulgar Russian word for “to fuck.” In his poem Mémoire (1872-73) Rimbaud
mentions l’ébat des anges (the play of angels):

L’eau claire; comme le sel des larmes d’enfance,
l’assaut au soleil des blancheurs des corps de femmes;
la soie, en foule et de lys pur, des oriflammes
sous les murs dont quelque pucelle eut la défense;

l’ébat des anges;―non…le courant d’or en marche,
meut ses bras, noirs, et lourds, et frais surtout, d’herbe. Elle
sombre, avant le Ciel bleu pour ciel-de-lit, appelle
pour rideaux l’ombre de la colline et de l’arche.

When Ada discusses the blunders in Fowlie’s version of Rimbaud’s Mémoire,
Marina calls her daughter “angel moy” (my angel):

'By chance, this very morning,' said Ada, not deigning to enlighten her
mother, 'our learned governess, who was also yours, Van, and who -'

(First time she pronounced it - at that botanical lesson!)

'- is pretty hard on English-speaking transmongrelizers - monkeys called
"ursine howlers" - though I suspect her reasons are more chauvinistic than
artistic and moral - drew my attention - my wavering attention - to some
really gorgeous bloomers, as you call them, Van, in a Mr Fowlie's soi-disant
literal version - called "sensitive" in a recent Elsian rave - sensitive! -
of Mémoire, a poem by Rimbaud (which she fortunately - and farsightedly -
made me learn by heart, though I suspect she prefers Musset and Coppée)' -

'...les robes vertes et déteintes des fillettes...' quoted Van

'Egg-zactly' (mimicking Dan). 'Well, Larivière allows me to read him only
in the Feuilletin anthology, the same you have apparently, but I shall
obtain his oeuvres complètes very soon, oh very soon, much sooner than
anybody thinks. Incidentally, she will come down after tucking in Lucette,
our darling copperhead who by now should be in her green nightgown -'

'Angel moy,' pleaded Marina, 'I'm sure Van cannot be interested in Lucette's

'- the nuance of willows, and counting the little sheep on her ciel de lit
which Fowlie turns into "the sky's bed" instead of "bed ceiler." But, to go
back to our poor flower. The forged louis d'or in that collection of fouled
French is the transformation of souci d'eau (our marsh marigold) into the
asinine "care of the water" - although he had at his disposal dozens of
synonyms, such as mollyblob, marybud, maybubble, and many other nick-names
associated with fertility feasts, whatever those are.'

'On the other hand,' said Van, 'one can well imagine a similarly bilingual
Miss Rivers checking a French version of, say, Marvell's Garden -'

'Oh,' cried Ada, 'I can recite "Le jardin" in my own transversion - let me
see -

En vain on s'amuse à gagner

L'Oka, la Baie du Palmier...'

'...to win the Palm, the Oke, or Bayes!' shouted Van. (1.10)

When Ada saw him for the first time, Van looked like un régulier angelochek
(little angel):

Before his boarding-school days started, his father's pretty house, in
Florentine style, between two vacant lots (5 Park Lane in Manhattan), had
been Van's winter home (two giant guards were soon to rise on both sides of
it, ready to frog-march it away), unless they journeyed abroad. Summers in
Radugalet, the 'other Ardis,' were so much colder and duller than those here
in this, Ada's, Ardis. Once he even spent both winter and summer there; it
must have been in 1878.

Of course, of course, because that was the first time, Ada recalled, she had
glimpsed him. In his little white sailor suit and blue sailor cap. (Un ré
gulier angelochek, commented Van in the Raduga jargon.) (1.24)

Raduga being Russian for “rainbow,” Radugalet seems to mean “little
rainbow.” On the other hand, it can be read as raduga let (“a rainbow of
years”). Raduga (1865) is a poem by Tyutchev. In his heart-rending poem
Nakanune godovshchiny 4 avgusta 1864 goda (“On the Eve of the Anniversary
of August 4th., 1864,” 1865) Tyutchev addresses his dead mistress and three
times repeats the phrase angel moy:

Вот бреду я вдоль большой дороги
В тихом свете гаснущего дня...
Тяжело мне, замирают ноги...
Друг мой милый, видишь ли меня?

Всё темней, темнее над землею \xa8C
Улетел последний отблеск дня...
Вот тот мир, где жили мы с тобою,
Ангел мой, ты видишь ли меня?

Завтра день молитвы и печали,
Завтра память рокового дня...
Ангел мой, где б души ни витали,
Ангел мой, ты видишь ли меня?

Wandering along the highway

as daylight quietly dies...

Depressed. My legs don't want to move.

My darling, can you see me?


It's getting darker, darker over all the earth.

Day's last glimmer flying off...

That's the world I shared with you.

My angel, can you see me?


Tomorrow we pray and grieve.

Tomorrow we recall that fateful day.

My angel, wherever souls go,

My angel, can you see me?

(transl. F. Jude)

The name of Tyutchev’s mistress was Elena Denisiev. One of the leitmotivs
of Ada is 'Oh! Qui me rendra mon Hélène. Et ma montagne et le grand chê
ne’ (see Darkbloom’s ‘Notes to Ada’).

In his poem V neprinuzhdyonnosti tvoryashchego obmena… (“In the Ease of
Creative Exchange…” 1908) Mandelshtam asks “who could skillfully combine
Tyutchev’s severity with Verlaine’s childishness giving to the combination
his own stamp:”

В непринужденности творящего обмена

Суровость Тютчева ― с ребячеством Верлэн
а ―

Скажите ― кто бы мог искусно сочетать,

Соединению придав свою печать?

А русскому стиху так свойственно величье,

Где вешний поцелуй и щебетанье птичье!

Verlaine was a close friend of Rimbaud. They also had they own ébats. In
Ada (1.2) there are also allusions to ludicrous blunders in Lowell's
versions of Mandelshtam's poems (see Darkbloom’s ‘Notes to Ada’).

Ada termed the four-year-long period of her first separation with Van “our
black rainbow:”

For their correspondence in the first period of separation, Van and Ada had
invented a code which they kept perfecting during the next fifteen months
after Van left Ardis. The entire period of that separation was to span
almost four years ('our black rainbow,' Ada termed it), from September, 1884
to June, 1888, with two brief interludes of intolerable bliss (in August,
1885 and June, 1886) and a couple of chance meetings ('through a grille of
rain'). Codes are a bore to describe; yet a few basic details must be,
reluctantly, given. (1.26)

Van and Ada use Marvell's Garden and Rimbaud's Mémoire for their coded

In the second period of separation, beginning in 1886, the code was
radically altered. Both Van and Ada still knew by heart the seventy-two
lines of Marvell's 'The Garden' and the forty lines of Rimbaud's 'Mémoire.'
It was from those two texts that they chose the letters of the words they
needed. (ibid.)

Alexey Sklyarenko

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