Everybody, in a word, was content - even the political mischiefmakers who were contentedly making mischief paid by a contented Sosed (Zembla's gigantic neighbor)…


At forty, not long before the collapse of his throne, he had attained such a degree of scholarship that he dared accede to his venerable uncle's raucous dying request: “Teach, Karlik!” (Kinbote's note to line 12)


Sosed is Russian for "neighbor," karlik means “dwarf.” In the Prologue of The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale (1833) Pushkin calls Sweden Russia’s nadmennyi sosed ("arrogant neighbor"):


И думал он:
Отсель грозить мы будем шведу,
Здесь будет город заложён
На зло надменному соседу.


And he [Peter I] thought:
‘The Swede from here will be frightened;
Here a city will be wrought
To spite the arrogant neighbor.'


In Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (Two: XII: 1-5) Lenski is Onegin’s polurusskiy sosed (half-Russian neighbor):


Богат, хорош собою, Ленской
Везде был принят как жених;
Таков обычай деревенской;
Все дочек прочили своих
За полурусского соседа


Wealthy, good-looking, Lenski

was as a suitor everywhere received:

such is the country custom;

all for their daughters planned a match

with the half-Russian neighbor.


Pushkin is the author of an epigram on Count Vorontsov, the Governor General of New Russia who asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Karl Nesselrode (whom Tyutchev calls karlik in one of his poems), to rid him of Pushkin, “a weak imitator of Byron:”


Полу-милорд, полу-купец,
Полу-мудрец, полу-невежда,
Полу-подлец, но есть надежда,
Что будет полным наконец.


Half-milord, half-merchant,

Half-sage, half-ignoramus,

Half-scoundrel, but there's a hope

That he will be a full one at last.


The “prefix” polu- (half-, semi-, demi-) occurs five times in the first three lines of G. Ivanov’s poem Polu-zhalost’. Polu-otvrashchene (“Half-pity. Half-disgust…” 1953):


Полу-жалость. Полу-отвращенье.
Полу-память. Полу-ощущенье,
Полу-неизвестно что,
Полы моего пальто…
Полы моего пальто? Так вот в чем дело!
Чуть меня машина не задела
И умчалась вдаль, забрызгав грязью.
Начал вытирать, запачкал руки…
Все ещё мне не привыкнуть к скуке,
Скуке мирового безобразья!


The poem’s second half brings to mind a scene described by Kinbote in his Foreword to Pale Fire:


February and March in Zembla (the two last of the four "white-nosed months," as we call them) used to be pretty rough, too, but even a peasant's room there presented a solid of uniform warmth--not a reticulation of deadly drafts. It is true that, as usually happens to newcomers, I was told I had chosen the worst winter in years--and this at the latitude of Palermo. On one of my first mornings there, as I was preparing to leave for college in the powerful red car I had just acquired, I noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Shade, neither of whom I had yet met socially (I was to learn later that they assumed I wished to be left alone), were having trouble with their old Packard in the slippery driveway where it emitted whines of agony but could not extricate one tortured rear wheel out of a concave inferno of ice. John Shade busied himself clumsily with a bucket from which, with the gestures of a sower, he distributed handful of brown sand over the blue glaze. He wore snowboots, his vicuna collar was up, his abundant gray hair looked berimed in the sun. I knew he had been ill a few months before, and thinking to offer my neighbors a ride to the campus in my powerful machine, I hurried out toward them. A lane curving around the slight eminence on which my rented castle stood separated it from my neighbors' driveway, and I was about to cross that lane when I lost my footing and sat down on the surprisingly hard snow. My fall acted as a chemical reagent on the Shades' sedan, which forthwith budged and almost ran over me as it swung into the lane with John at the wheel strenuously grimacing and Sybil fiercely talking to him. I am not sure either saw me.


In G. Ivanov’s poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron, o, bez sozhalen’ya (“Like Byron to Greece, oh, without regret…” 1927) the third-to-last line is Kak Bayron za blednym ognyom (Like Byron after a pale fire):


Как в Грецию Байрон, о, без сожаленья,
Сквозь звёзды и розы, и тьму,
На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья…
— И ты не поможешь ему.
Сквозь звёзды, которые снятся влюблённым,
И небо, где нет ничего,
В холодную полночь — платком надушённым.
— И ты не удержишь его.
На голос бессмысленно-сладкого пенья,
Как Байрон за бледным огнём,
Сквозь полночь и розы, о, без сожаленья…
— И ты позабудешь о нём.


In his “Ode to his Excellency Count Dm. Iv. Khvostov” (1825) Pushkin compares Khvostov sailing to Greece to Byron (the poet who died in Greece):


И се — летит продерзко судно
И мещет громы обоюдно.
Се Бейрон, Феба образец.
Притек, но недуг быстропарный,

Строптивый и неблагодарный

Взнес смерти на него резец.


…Вам с Бейроном шипела злоба,
Гремела и правдива лесть.
Он лорд — граф ты! Поэты оба!
Се, мнится, явно сходство есть.

Никак! Ты с верною супругой
Под бременем Судьбы упругой
Живёшь в любви — и наконец
Глубок он, но единобразен,
А ты глубок, игрив и разен,
И в шалостях ты впрям певец.


Like Eugene Onegin, Pushkin’s Ode to Count Khvostov is provided with footnotes. VN’s Pale Fire (1962) consists of Kinbote’s Foreword to PF, Shade’s poem in heroic couplets, Kinbote’s Commentary and Index to PF.


In Tvorchestvo i remeslo ("Creative Work and Handicraft," 1917), a review of Blok's and Bryusov's collections of poetry, G. Ivanov quotes (imprecisely) the lines from Pushkin's “parody on Count Khvostov:”


Как не вспомнить пародию Пушкина на графа Хвостова:


Он (Байрон) лорд, ты — граф, поэты оба,
Се, мнится, явно сходство есть.


Невольно кажется, что Брюсов принял эти строки всерьёз.


In his article G. Ivanov (who doubts that pathology can be a lyric poet's theme) quotes Bryusov’s poem Devochka s tsvetami ("A Girl with Flowers," 1913):


Из-под кружев панталон
Выступают ножки стройно…
Ах! Пока их беспокойно
Не томил недетский сон!
Увидав пятно на юбке,
Ты надула мило губки.
Снова мило их надуй!
Эти губки слишком красны,
Ax! Пока угрюмо-страстный
Не сжимал их поцелуй!


Its dangerous subject is the same as in VN's story Volshebnik ("The Enchanter," 1939) and in his novel L o l i t a (1955). Ugryumo-strastnyi potseluy (a morose passionate kiss) mentioned in the poem’s closing lines brings to mind ugryumyi, tusklyi ogn’ zhelan’ya (a morose, tarnished fire of desire) in the closing line of Tyutchev’s poem Lyublyu glaza tvoi, moy drug… (“I love your eyes, my dear…” 1836):


Люблю глаза твои, мой друг,
С игрой иx пламенно-чудесной,
Когда иx приподымешь вдруг
И, словно молнией небесной,
Окинешь бегло целый круг...

Но есть сильней очарованья:
Глаза, потупленные ниц
В минуты страстного лобзанья,
И сквозь опущенныx ресниц
Угрюмый, тусклый огнь желанья.


Russian for “shade” and “shadow” is ten’. In his poem Zaklinanie (“The Invocation,” 1830) Pushkin calls the beloved shade of a dead mistress:


Явись, возлюбленная тень,
Как ты была перед разлукой,
Бледна, хладна, как зимний день,
Искажена последней мукой.


Appear, the beloved shade,
As you were before our separation:
Pale, cold, like a wintry day
Disfigured by the last torture.


In Pushkin’s “Invocation” zloba (malice, the word that in “Ode to Count Khvostov” rhymes with oba, “both”) rhymes with groba (Gen. of grob, “coffin”):


Зову тебя не для того,
Чтоб укорять людей, чья злоба
Убила друга моего,
Иль чтоб изведать тайны гроба


I call thee, not in order
To reproach people whose malice
My friend hath slain.
Nor to fathom the grave's mysteries…


The rhyme groba – oba occurs in Fyodor’s poem about lastochka (swallow) in VN’s novel Dar (“The Gift,” 1937):


Однажды мы под вечер оба

стояли на старом мосту.

Скажи мне, спросил я, до гроба

запомнишь вон ласточку ту?

И ты отвечала: ещё бы!

И как мы заплакали оба,

как вскрикнула жизнь на лету...

До завтра, навеки, до гроба –

однажды, на старом мосту...


One night between sunset and river
On the old bridge we stood, you and I,
Will you ever forget it, I queried,
– That particular swift that went by?
And you answered, so earnestly: Never!

And what sobs made us suddenly shiver,
What a cry life emitted in flight!
Till we die, till tomorrow, for ever,
You and I on the old bridge one night.


According to Kinbote (note to Line 247), the maiden name of Shade’s wife, Irondell, comes from the French for “swallow.”


Kinbote's Zembla has a lot in common with Ultima Thule of VN's unfinished novel Solus Rex (1942). Ultima Thule (1915) is a poem by Bryusov (included in "Seven Colors of Rainbow" reviewed by G. Ivanov). In his memoir essay on Bryusov (included in "Necropolis," 1939) Hodasevich speaks of Bryusov's hope to direct Russian literature under the Bolsheviks and uses the word gradusy (degrees):


А какая надежда на то, что в истории литературы будет сказано: "В таком-то году повернул русскую литературу на столько-то градусов".


One of the three main characters of PF is the killer Gradus. The word nadezhda (hope) used by Hodasevich occurs in Pushkin’s epigram on Vorontsov: “but there’s a hope / that he will be a full one at last.” It seems that Shade, Kinbote (who completes his Foreword to PF on the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum) and Gradus represent three different aspects of one and the same person: presumably, of V. Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent who becomes “full” again after Kinbote’s suicide on Oct. 19, 1959)!


Bryusov’s sister Nadezhda Yakovlevna married Samuil Kissin, the hero of another memoir essay in Hodasevich’s “Necropolis:” Muni. According to Hodasevich (Muni’s best friend and alter ego), at one point Muni attempted to become another person, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Beklemishev (see also my post of August 6, 2012 “Bryusov & Salieri”)..


Alexey Sklyarenko

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