In his Commentary to Shade’s poem Kinbote mentions Black Rose Paladins:


Actually Odon happened to be one of the most prominent actors in Zembla and was winning applause in the Royal Theater on his off-duty nights. Through him the King kept in touch with numerous adherents, young nobles, artists, college athletes, gamblers, Black Rose Paladins, members of fencing clubs, and other men of fashion and adventure. (note to Line 130)


As I pointed out before, in his poem V restorane (“At the Restaurant,” 1910) Alexander Blok (the author of “Verses about the Beautiful Lady,” 1904) mentions a black rose:


Я послал тебе чёрную розу в бокале

Золотого, как небо, аи.

I sent you a black rose

in the goblet of Ay, golden as the sky.


On the other hand, in his poem Zhil na svete rytsar’ bednyi (“There was once a poor knight…” 1829) Pushkin mentions paladiny (paladins) proclaiming the names of their ladies, while the poem’s hero shouts: “Lumen coelum, sancta Rosa!


Между тем как паладины
Ввстречу трепетным врагам
По равнинам Палестины
Мчались, именуя дам,


Lumen coelum, sancta Rosa!

Восклицал всех громче он,
И гнала его угроза
Мусульман со всех сторон.


When the Paladins proclaiming
Ladies' names as true love's sign
Hurled themselves into the battle
On the plains of Palestine,

Lumen coelum, sancta Rosa!
Shouted he with flaming glance,
And the fury of his menace
Checked the Mussulman's advance.


In the preceding stanza vera (faith) and lyubov’ (love) are mentioned:


Полон верой и любовью,
Верен набожной мечте,
Ave, Mater Dei кровью
Написал он на щите.


Filled with purest love and fervor,
Faith which his sweet dreams did yield
In his blood he traced the letters
A.M.D. upon his shield.


Vera, Nadezhda (hope) and Lyubov’ are the three daughters of Sophia (wisdom). One is tempted to assume that, while Hazel’s real name seems to be Nadezhda, Sybil’s (and Queen Disa’s) real name is Sofia. In Griboedov’s Woe from Wit (1824) Chatski is in love with Sofia (Famusov’s daughter who is enamored with Molchalin). V. Botkin’s wife was born Sofia Lastochkin. Lastochki (“The Swallows,” 1884) is a famous poem by Afanasiy Fet (who was married to Maria Botkin).


In Dostoevski’s Idiot (1869) Aglaya (the youngest of the three Epanchin sisters) quotes Pushkin’s poem about the poor and pale knight. The name of the novel’s main character (who ends up in a Swiss mad house), Prince Myshkin, comes from myshka (little mouse). In his Commentary Kinbote mentions a cat-and-mouse game (in Russian, koshki-myshki):


A hickory. Our poet shared with the English masters the noble knack of transplanting trees into verse with their sap and shade. Many years ago Disa, our King's Queen, whose favorite trees were the jacaranda and the maidenhair, copied out in her album a quatrain from John Shade's collection of short poems Hebe's Cup, which I cannot refrain from quoting here (from a letter I received on April 6, 1959, from southern France):



The gingko leaf, in golden hue, when shed,

A muscat grape,
Is an old-fashioned butterfly, ill-spread
In shape.


When the new Episcopal church in New Wye (see note to line 549) was built, the bulldozers spared an arc of those sacred trees planted by a landscaper of genius (Repburg) at the end of the so-called Shakespeare Avenue, on the campus. I do not know if it is relevant or not but there is a cat-and-mouse game in the second line, and "tree" in Zemblan is grados. (note to Line 49)


According to Kinbote, Gradus (Shade’s murderer) contended that the real origin of his name should be sought in the Russian word for grape, vinograd, to which a Latin suffix had adhered, making it Vinogradus (note to Line 17). Pushkin’s poem Vinograd (“The Grapes,” 1824) begins: Ne stanu ya zhalet’ o rozakh (I won’t be sorry about the roses).


Gamblers mentioned by Kinbote in his note to Line 130 and Queen Disa (the wife of Charles the Beloved, the last king of Zembla) bring to mind Hermann, the mad gambler in Pushkin’s story Pikovaya dama (“The Queen of Spades,”  1833). At the beginning of the story Hermann mentions nadezhda:


— Игра занимает меня сильно, — сказал Германн, — но я не в состоянии жертвовать необходимым в надежде приобрести излишнее.

"The play interests me very much," said Hermann: "but I am not in the position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous."


When Hermann loses his third game with Chekalinski, the latter says: Vasha dama ubita (“your queen has lost”). Ubita means “killed.” At the end of his Commentary Kinbote (who commits suicide after completing his work on Oct. 19, 1959, the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum) says: My work is finished. My poet is dead. (note to Line 1000)


Kinbote’s first name, Charles, brings to mind the patronymic of the narrator and main character of VN’s novel Otchayanie (“Despair,” 1934), a namesake of Pushkin’s gambler. In VN’s novel Hermann Karlovich murders Felix, a tramp who, as Hermann believes, is his perfect double. It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem needs two more lines:


I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

By its own double in the window pane.


Alexey Sklyarenko

(19 October, 2015)

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