Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0027159, Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:09:18 +0300

Matthew Arnold, inviolable shade,
Onhava & the Shadows in Pale Fire
Describing Shade's murder by Gradus, Kinbote quotes a line from Matthew
Arnold's poem The Scholar-Gipsy (1853):

His first bullet ripped a sleeve button off my black blazer, another sang
past my ear. It is evil piffle to assert that he aimed not at me (whom he
had just seen in the library--let us be consistent, gentlemen, ours is a
rational world after all), but at the gray-locked gentleman behind me. Oh,
he was aiming at me all right but missing me every time, the incorrigible
bungler, as I instinctively backed, bellowing and spreading my great strong
arms (with my left hand still holding the poem, "still clutching the
inviolable shade," to quote Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888), in an effort to halt
the advancing madman and shield John, whom I feared he might, quite
accidentally, hit, while he, my sweet awkward old John, kept clawing at me
and pulling me after him, back to the protection of his laurels, with the
solemn fussiness of a poor lame boy trying to get his spastic brother out of
the range of the stones hurled at them by schoolchildren, once a familiar
sight in all countries. I felt--I still feel--John's hand fumbling at mine,
seeking my fingertips, finding them, only to abandon them at once as if
passing to me, in a sublime relay race, the baton of life. (note to Line

"The inviolable shade" seems to hint not only at Shade (the author of the
poem that Kinbote holds in his left hand) but also at Viola, Sebastian's
twin sister in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. At the end of VN's novel The
Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941) the narrator (Sebastian's half-brother
V.) says that, despite Sebastian's death, the hero remains:

The bald little prompter shuts his book, as the light fades gently. The end,
the end. They all go back to their everyday life (and Clare goes back to her
grave) - but the hero remains, for, try as I may, I cannot get out of my
part: Sebastian's mask clings to my face, the likeness will not be washed
off. I am Sebastian, or Sebastian is I, or perhaps we both are someone whom
neither of us knows. (Chapter 20)

Similarly, Shade, Kinbote and Gradus can be someone whom neither of them
knows. In fact, they seem to represent three different aspects of Professor
Vsevolod Botkin, an American scholar of Russian descent who went mad after
the suicide of his daughter Nadezhda (whose name means "hope").

In Matthew Arnold's poem the line quoted by Kinbote is preceded by the line
"Still nursing the unconquerable hope:"

Still nursing the unconquerable hope,

Still clutching the inviolable shade,

With a free, onward impulse brushing through,

By night, the silver'd branches of the glade-

Far on the forest-skirts, where none pursue,

On some mild pastoral slope

Emerge, and resting on the moonlit pales

Freshen thy flowers as in former years

With dew, or listen with enchanted ears,

From the dark tingles, to the nightingales!

In Canto Two of his poem Shade says that his daughter always nursed a small
mad hope:

I think she always nursed a small mad hope. (Line 383)

In the next line Shade mentions his book on Pope:

I'd finished recently my book on Pope. (l. 384)

The title of Shade's book on Pope, Supremely Blest, can be traced back to
Pope's Essay on Man (Epistle Two, VI):

See the blind beggar dance, the cripple sing,

The sot a hero, lunatic a king;

The starving chemist in his golden views

Supremely blest, the poet in his Muse.

In Chapter Eight of Eugene Onegin Pushkin speaks of his Muse and mentions
the humble tents of wandering tribes that she visited in the wild depths of
sad Moldavia:

И, позабыв столицы дальной
И блеск и шумные пиры,
В глуши Молдавии печальной
Она смиренные шатры
Племён бродящих посещала,
И между ими одичала,
И позабыла речь богов
Для скудных, странных языков,
Для песен степи ей любезной:

And having forgotten the far capital's

glitter and noisy feasts

in the wild depth of sad Moldavia,

the humble tents

of wandering tribes she visited,

and among them grew savage,

and forgot the speech of the gods

for scant, strange tongues,

for songs of the steppe dear to her. (V: 1-9)

The wandering tribes mentioned by Pushkin are the gypsies. Pushkin is the
author of Tsygany ("The Gypsies," 1824), a romantic poem whose hero has fled
the city and lives with the gypsies (as the scholar in Matthew Arnold's poem

The title of Shade's book on Pope, Supremely Blest, also brings to mind the
beginning of one of the next stanzas in Chapter Eight of EO:

Блажен, кто с молоду был молод,
Блажен, кто во-время созрел;

Кто постепенно жизни холод
С летами вытерпеть умел:

Blest who was youthful in his youth;

blest who matured at the right time;

who gradually the chill of life

with years was able to withstand: (Eight: X: 1-4)

"Gradually" (postepenno) in Line 3 brings to mind Gradus, Shade's murderer.
In his note to (the unwritten) Line 1000 of Shade's poem Kinbote uses this

Gradually I regained my usual composure. I reread Pale Fire more carefully.
I liked it better when expecting less. And what was that? What was that dim
distance music, those vestiges of color in the air? Here and there I
discovered in it and especially, especially in the invaluable variants,
echoes and spangles of my mind, a long ripplewake of my glory. I now felt a
new, pitiful tenderness toward the poem as one has for a fickle young
creature who has been stolen and brutally enjoyed by a black giant but now
again is safe in our hall and park, whistling with the stableboys, swimming
with the tame seal. The spot still hurts, it must hurt, but with strange
gratitude we kiss those heavy wet eyelids and caress that polluted flesh.

In the same Epistle Two (V) of his Essay on Man Pope mentions Zembla:

But where th' extreme of vice, was ne'er agreed:

Ask where's the North? at York, 'tis on the Tweed;

In Scotland, at the Orcades; and there,

At Greenland, Zembla, or the Lord knows where:

No creature owns it in the first degree,

But thinks his neighbour farther gone than he!

Shade's mad commentator, Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved,
the last self-exiled king of Zembla. The name of Zembla's capital, Onhava,
suggests "heaven" (onhava-onhava means in Zemblan "far, far away"). In his
sonnet Shakespeare Matthew Arnold says that Shakespeare made the Heaven of
Heavens his dwelling-place:

Others abide our question. Thou art free.

We ask and ask: Thou smilest and art still,

Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill

That to the stars uncrowns his majesty,

Planting his stedfast footsteps in the sea,

Making the Heaven of Heavens his dwelling-place,

Spares but the cloudy border of his base

To the foil'd searching of mortality:

And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,

Self-school'd, self-scann'd, self-honour'd, self-secure,

Didst walk on Earth unguess'd at. Better so!

All pains the immortal spirit must endure,

All weakness that impairs, all griefs that bow,

Find their sole voice in that victorious brow.

Matthew Arnold's sonnet begins: "Others abide our question." In his poem
"The Nature of Electricity" written after his daughter's death Shade says
that the dead may abide in tungsten filaments and mentions Shakespeare:

The dead, the gentle dead--who knows?--
In tungsten filaments abide,
And on my bedside table glows
Another man's departed bride.

And maybe Shakespeare floods a whole
Town with innumerable lights,
And Shelley's incandescent soul
Lures the pale moths of starless nights.

Streetlamps are numbered, and maybe
Number nine-hundred-ninety-nine
(So brightly beaming through a tree
So green) is an old friend of mine.

And when above the livid plain
Forked lightning plays, therein may dwell
The torments of a Tamerlane,
The roar of tyrants torn in hell.

In his Commentary Kinbote quotes Shade's poem in full and remarks:

Science tells us, by the way, that the Earth would not merely fall apart,
but vanish like a ghost, if Electricity were suddenly removed from the
world. (note to Line 347)

In his poem Smerti ("To Death," 1884) Afanasiy Fet (the poet who was married
to Maria Botkin) says that, while he is alive, Death is merely ten' u nog
moikh (a shadow at my feet), bezlichnyi prizrak (a featureless ghost), mysl'
moya (my thought) and igrushka shatkaya toskuyushchey mechty (an unsteady
plaything of my melancholy fancy):

Я в жизни обмирал и чувство это знаю,
Где мукам всем конец и сладок томный хмель;
Вот почему я вас без страха ожидаю,
Ночь безрассветная и вечная постель!

Пусть головы моей рука твоя коснётся
И ты сотрешь меня со списка бытия,
Но пред моим судом, покуда сердце бьётся,
Мы силы равные, и торжествую я.

Ещё ты каждый миг моей покорна воле,
Ты тень у ног моих, безличный призрак ты;
Покуда я дышу - ты мысль моя, не боле,

Игрушка шаткая тоскующей мечты.

Ten' u nog moikh (a shadow at my feet) brings to mind Tyutchev's poem Teni
sizye smesilis': ("The blue-grey shadows got commingled:" 1835). The
Shadows, Zemblan regicidal organization (Gradus is one of its least
important members), seems to hint at Tyutchev's and Fet's poems. Igrushka
being Russian for "toy; plaything," igrushka shatkaya toskuyushchey mechty
(an unsteady plaything of my melancholy fancy) brings to mind a clockwork
toy mentioned by Shade in Canto One of his poem:

One day,
When I'd just turned eleven, as I lay
Prone on the floor and watched a clockwork toy--
A tin wheelbarrow and pushed by a tin boy--
Bypass chair legs and stray beneath the bed,
There was a sudden sunburst in my head.

And then black night. That blackness was sublime.
I felt distributed through space and time:
One foot upon a mountaintop, one hand
150 Under the pebbles of a panting strand,
One ear in Italy, one eye in Spain,
In caves, my blood, and the stars, my brain.
There were dull throbs in my Triassic; green
Optical spots in Upper Pleistocene,
An icy shiver down my Age of Stone,
And all tomorrows in my funny bone.

During one winter every afternoon
I'd into that momentary swoon.
And then it ceased. Its memory grew dim. (ll. 141-159)

According to Kinbote, he has seen this clockwork toy:

By a stroke of luck I have seen it! One evening in May or June I dropped in
to remind my friend about a collection of pamphlets, by his grandfather, an
eccentric clergyman, that he had once said was stored in the basement. I
found him gloomily waiting for some people (members of his department, I
believe, and their wives) who were coming for a formal dinner. He willingly
took me down into the basement but after rummaging among piles of dusty
books and magazines, said he would try to find them some other time. It was
then that I saw it on a shelf, between a candlestick and a handless alarm
clock. He, thinking I might think it had belonged to his dead daughter,
hastily explained it was as old as he. The boy was a little Negro of painted
tin with a keyhole in his side and no breadth to speak of, just consisting
of two more or less fused profiles, and his wheelbarrow was now all bent and
broken. He said, brushing the dust off his sleeves, that he kept it as a
kind of memento mori--he had had a strange fainting fit one day in his
childhood while playing with that toy. We were interrupted by Sybil's voice
calling from above; but never mind, now the rusty clockwork shall work
again, for I have the key. (note to Line 143)

In the last line of his unfinished poem Shade mentions an empty barrow:

And through the flowing shade and ebbing light
A man, unheedful of the butterfly--
Some neighbor's gardener, I guess--goes by
Trundling an empty barrow up the lane. (ll. 996-999)

According to Kinbote, it was his gardener who went by trundling an empty

Some neighbor's! The poet had seen my gardener many times, and this
vagueness I can only assign to his desire (noticeable elsewhere in his
handling of names, etc.) to give a certain poetical patina, the bloom of
remoteness, to familiar figures and things--although it is just possible he
might have mistaken him in the broken light for a stranger working for a
stranger. This gifted gardener I discovered by chance one idle spring day
when I was slowly wending my way home after a maddening and embarrassing
experience at the college indoor swimming pool. He stood at the top of a
green ladder attending to the sick branch of a grateful tree in one of the
most famous avenues in Appalachia. (note to Line 998)

Kinbote's gardener (nicknamed Balthasar, Prince of Loam) is a Negro. The
title character of Shakespeare's Othello is a Venetian Moor. Queen Disa
(Duchess of Payn, of great Payn and Mone, who married Charles the Beloved)
seems to blend Othello's wife Desdemona with Leonardo's Mona Lisa.

Arnold + EO = Leonardo

EO - Eugene Onegin's initials

Alexey Sklyarenko

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