According to Shade, his "frame house on its square of green" is situated “between Goldsworth and Wordsmith:”


                   Maybe some quirk in space
Has caused a fold or furrow to displace
The fragile vista, the frame house between
Goldsworth and Wordsmith on its square of green. (Lines 45-48)


In his Commentary Kinbote writes:


The first name refers to the house in Dulwich Road that I rented from Hugh Warren Goldsworth, authority on Roman Law and distinguished judge. I never had the pleasure of meeting my landlord but I came to know his handwriting almost as well as I do Shade's. The second name denotes, of course, Wordsmith University. In seeming to suggest a midway situation between the two places, our poet is less concerned with spatial exactitude than with a witty exchange of syllables invoking the two masters of the heroic couplet, between whom he embowers his own muse. Actually, the "frame house on its square of green" was five miles west of the Wordsmith campus but only fifty yards or so distant from my east windows. (Note to Lines 47-48)


“The two masters of the heroic couplet” mentioned by Kinbote are Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774), an Irish poet, playwright, essayist and novelist, and William Wordsworth* (1770-1850), an English poet. In Vivian Calmbrood’s poem “The Night Journey” (1931) Chenstone (the fictitious poet to whom Pushkin ascribed his little tragedy “The Covetous Knight,” 1830) mentions his neighbor, the young Wordsworth:


Вообразите гладь речную,
берёзы, вересковый склон.

Там жил я, драму небольшую
писал из рыцарских времён;
ходил я в сюртучке потёртом,
с соседом, молодым Вордсвортом,
удил форелей иногда
(его стихам вредит вода,
но человек он милый), -- словом,
я счастлив был -- и признаюсь,
что в Лондон с манускриптом новым
без всякой радости тащусь.


According to Chenstone, in the country he used to fish trout with Wordsworth, a nice person for whose poetry water is harmful, though (like Southey and Coleridge, Wordsworth was a Lake Poet).


Vivian Calmbrood is an imperfect anagram of Vladimir Nabokov. In Calmbrood’s poem Chenstone (the author’s fellow traveler in his journey to London) mentions a certain Johnson whom they had beaten with a candlestick for a marked article:


Дни Ювенала отлетели.
Не воспевать же, в самом деле,
как за краплёную статью
побили Джонсона шандалом?


Johnson’s “marked article” is G. Ivanov’s abusive review in Chisla (Numbers, No. 1, 1930) of Sirin’s novels and stories. In “The Night Journey” Chenstone mentions adamova golova (Adam’s head) of another hostile critic:


Бедняга! Он скрипит костями,

бренча на лире жестяной,
он клонится к могильной яме
адамовою головой.


VN’s “faithful Zoilus,” G. Adamovich was gay. Kinbote asks God to rid him of his love for little boys:


After winding for about four miles in a general eastern direction through a beautifully sprayed and irrigated residential section with variously graded lawns sloping down on both sides, the highway bifurcates: one branch goes left to New Wye and its expectant airfield; the other continues to the campus. Here are the great mansions of madness, the impeccably planned dormitories – bedlams of jungle music – the magnificent palace of the Administration, the brick walls, the archways, the quadrangles blocked out in velvet green and chrysoprase, Spencer House and its lily pond, the Chapel, New Lecture Hall, the Library, the prisonlike edifice containing our classrooms and offices (to be called from now on Shade Hall), the famous avenue of all the trees mentioned by Shakespeare, a distant droning sound, the hint of a haze, the turquoise dome of the Observatory, wisps and pale plumes of cirrus, and the poplar-curtained Roman-tiered football field, deserted on summer days except for a dreamy-eyed youngster flying - on a long control line in a droning circle - a motor-powered model plane.

Dear Jesus, do something. (note to Lines 47-48)


In one of his dialogues with Kinbote Shade compares Shakespeare to a Great Dane and himself, to a grateful mongrel:


The subject of teaching Shakespeare at college level having been introduced: “First of all, dismiss ideas, and social background, and train the freshman to shiver, to get drunk on the poetry of Hamlet or Lear, to read with his spine and not with his skull.” Kinbote: “You appreciate particularly the purple passages?” Shade: “Yes, my dear Charles, I roll upon them as a grateful mongrel on a spot of turf fouled by a Great Dane.” (Note to Line 172)


At the beginning of his article Pisatel’ Burov (“The Writer Burov,” 1951) G. Ivanov quotes Burov’s words from his book V tsarstve teney (“In the Realm of Shades,” 1951):

"Стократ блестяще написанные повести и рассказы... сегодня художественные пустяки. Чернила умерли, мертвецами бездушными стали слова... Сегодня это больше никому не нужно... Нужны - книги... что потрясать могли бы леса и горы".

И в заключение этих фраз, как вывод из них, властное требование - "Подайте нам Шекспира!"...

Кто это говорит и к кому обращается? Это говорит писатель-эмигрант, обращаясь к современности. Говорит от лица того собирательного русского человека, который за "Ночь" (т. е. за годы последней войны с её безграничной жестокостью и не менее безграничной бессмыслицей) "вырос и прозрел" и которому, чтобы запечатлеть трагические события последних лет, необходим "новый Шекспир" - новый мировой гений, с новыми словами и образами, "потрясающими леса и горы"...


According to Burov (whose name comes from buryi, “brown”), we need a new Shakespeare – a new planetary genius, with new words and images “that would shake forests and mountains.” In VN’s story Usta k ustam (“Lips to Lips,” 1931), a satire on the literary review Chisla in which Burov’s writings appeared, Ilya Borisovich (the story’s main character) was modeled on Burov and Galatov (the editor of Arion) is a recognizable portrait of G. Ivanov. Ilya Borisovich wants to publish in Arion his novel “Lips to Lips” under the penname (derived from the name of his late wife) I. Annenski. In a letter to Ilya Borisovich Galatov asks the permission to change ‘I. Annenski’ to ‘Ilya Annenski,’ so as to avoid confusion with Innokentiy Annenski (1855-1909). The author of Kiparisovyi larets (“The Cypress Casket,” 1910) and of the two Books of Reflections (1906, 1909), Annenski lived in Tsarskoe Selo (a place near St. Petersburg where the Lyceum was founded in 1811) and published his stuff under the penname Nik. T-o. Nikto is Russian for “nobody.” In Pushkin’s little tragedy Mozart and Salieri (1830) Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would):


Когда бы все так чувствовали силу
Гармонии! Но нет: тогда б не мог
И мир существовать; никто б не стал
Заботиться о нуждах низкой жизни;
Все предались бы вольному искусству.


If all could feel like you the power of harmony!
But no: the world could not go on then. None
Would bother with the needs of lowly life;
All would surrender to the free art.

(scene II, transl. A. Shaw)


Nikto b is Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name) backwards. Kinbote completes his work on Shade’s poem and commits suicide on October 19, 1959 (the anniversary of Pushkin’s Lyceum). There is a hope that, after Kinbote’s suicide, Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (the target of Pushkin’s epigrams), will become “full” again.

In his poem Kak v Gretsiyu Bayron – o, bez sozhalen’ya… (“Like Byron to Greece, oh, without regret…” 1928) G. Ivanov mentions blednyi ogon (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 (extremely unreliable) memoirs Peterburgskie zimy (“The St. Petersburg Winters,” 1931) G. Ivanov describes his visit to Alexander Blok in 1909. According to Ivanov, when he (then a boy of fifteen) asked Blok if a sonnet needed a coda, Blok replied that he did know what a coda was. It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s unfinished poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but also the coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane).


In her essay Poety s istoriey i poety bez istorii (“Poets with History and Poets without History,” 1934) Marina Tsvetaev mentions, among other great lyrical poets, Byron, Shelley, Lermontov and Blok:


Кто может рассказать о поэтическом пути (беру самых великих и бесспорных лириков) Гейне, Байрона, Шелли, Верлена, Лермонтова? Они заполонили мир своими чувствами, воплями, вздохами и видениями, залили его своими слезами, воспламенили со всех четырёх сторон своим негодованием…

Учимся ли мы у них? Нет. Мы из-за них и за них страдаем.

Так на мой русский лад перекраивается французская пословица: Les heureux n’ont pas d’histoire.

Исключение — чистый лирик, у которого были, однако, и развитие, и история, и путь, — Александр Блок. Но, сказав «развитие», вижу, что это неверное представление, и слово, противоречащее сущности и судьбе Блока. Развитие предполагает гармонию. Может ли быть развитие — катастрофическим? И может ли быть гармония там, где налицо полный разрыв души? И вот, не для игры слов, строго их выверяя, утверждаю: Блок на всём своём поэтическом пути не развивался, а разрывался.

О Блоке можно сказать, что он от одного себя пытался уйти к какому-то другому себе. От одного, который его мучил, к другому, который мучил его ещё больше. Что характерно, Блок тем самым надеялся уйти от самого себя. Так смертельно раненный человек в страхе бежит от раны, так больной мечется из страны в страну, потом из комнаты в комнату и, наконец, с одного бока на другой.


In the phrase s odnogo boka na drugoy (from one side to another) used by Marina Tsvetaev (the poet of genius who returned to Russia and in August, 1941, committed suicide) VN’s name is in part anagrammatized.


According to Marina Tsvetaev, Blok wanted to escape from of one of his selves to some other self. From the one that tormented him to another one that tormented him even more. In this way Blok hoped to flee from himself. Thus a mortally wounded person tries to escape in panic from his wound, thus a sick man rushes about from country to country,** then from room to room and, finally, tosses in bed from one side to another. Similarly, Professor Vsevolod Botkin (an American scholar of Russian descent whose daughter Nadezhda committed suicide) tries to escape from one of his selves (Shade) that torments him to another self (Kinbote) that torments him even more until he finally meets Gradus (his third self that kills him):


God will help me, I trust, to rid myself of any desire to follow the example of the other two characters in this work. I shall continue to exist. I may assume other disguises, other forms, but I shall try to exist. I may turn up yet, on another campus, as an old, happy, health heterosexual Russian, a writer in exile, sans fame, sans future, sans audience, sans anything but his art. I may join forces with Odon in a new motion picture: Escape from Zembla (ball in the palace, bomb in the palace square). I may pander to the simple tastes of theatrical critics and cook up a stage play, an old-fashioned melodrama with three principles: a lunatic who intends to kill an imaginary king, another lunatic who imagines himself to be that king, and a distinguished old poet who stumbles by chance into the line of fire, and perishes in the clash between the two figments. Oh, I may do many things! History permitting, I may sail back to my recovered kingdom, and with a great sob greet the gray coastline and the gleam of a roof in the rain. I may huddle and groan in a madhouse. But whatever happens, wherever the scene is laid, somebody, somewhere, will quietly set out--somebody has already set out, somebody still rather far away is buying a ticket, is boarding a bus, a ship, a plane, has landed, is walking toward a million photographers, and presently he will ring at my door--a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus. (Note to Line 1000)


*note the correct spelling!

**as Gogol did; in his fragment Rim (“Rome,” 1842) Gogol explains what a coda (an Italian word that means “tail”) is; Gradus can be compared to the real inspector who arrives at the end of Gogol’s Revizor (1835)


Alexey Sklyarenko

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