In Canto Three of his poem John Shade (the poet in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) mentions a Balkan king:


It did not matter who they were. No sound,
No furtive light came from their involute
Abode, but there they were, aloof and mute,
Playing a game of worlds, promoting pawns
To ivory unicorns and ebony fauns;
Kindling a long life here, extinguishing
A short one there; killing a Balkan king… (ll. 816-822)


In his poem Slava (“Fame,” 1942) VN compares his unattractive visitor to the Influence of the Symbolist School on the Balkan Novella:


Как проситель из наглых, гроза общежитий,

как зловещий друг детства, как старший шпион

(шепелявым таким шепотком: а скажите,

что вы делали там-то?), как сон,

как палач, как шпион, как друг детства зловещий,

как в балканской новелле влиянье, как их,

символистов -- но хуже.


Like a blustering beggar, the pest of the poorhouse,

like an evil old schoolmate, like the head spy

(in that thick slurred murmur: “Say, what were you doing

in such and such place?”), like a dream,

like a spy, like a hangman, like an evil old schoolmate,

like the Influence on the Balkan Novella of – er –

the Symbolist School, only worse.


VN is the author of Podvig (“Glory,” 1932). In his poem Ya vezhliv s zhizn’yu sovremennoyu… (“I’m polite with modern life…” 1913) Gumilyov mentions pobeda (victory), slava (glory), podvig (heroic deed) – the pale words that are lost nowadays:


Победа, слава, подвиг — бледные
Слова, затерянные ныне,
Гремят в душе, как громы медные,
Как голос Господа в пустыне.


Victory, glory, heroic deeds –the pale

words that are lost nowadays
are thundering in my soul,
like God’s voice in the desert.


In his poem Gumilyov says that he is not geroy tragicheskiy (a tragic hero):


Но нет, я не герой трагический,
Я ироничнее и суше,
Я злюсь, как идол металлический
Среди фарфоровых игрушек.


Yet I'm no tragic hero - way too rough,
Ironic, jaded, dryly chiding,
An iron idol that's consumed with wrath
Amongst the statuettes of china.


The (imperfect) rhyme sushe (more dryly) – igrushek (toys) brings to mind the rhyme igrushek – lyagushek (frogs) used by Derzhavin at the beginning of his poem Pokhvala komaru (“In Praise of the Mosquito,” 1807):


Пиндар воспевал орла
Митрофанов — сокола́,
А Гомер, хоть для игрушек,
Прославлял в грязи лягушек;
Попе — женских клок власов,
И Вольтер, я мню, в издевку
Величал простую девку,
Ломоносов — честь усов.
Я, в деревне, для забавы,
В подражание их славы,
Проворчу тара-бара.
Стройся, лира восхищенна,
Слышь Виргилья вновь, вселенна:
Я пою днесь Комара!


Pindar sang the eagle,

Mitrofanov – the falcon,

And Homer, even if in jest,

Glorified frogs in the mud;

Pope – the lock of a woman’s hair,

And Voltaire, scoffing, I presume,

Celebrated a simple wench,

Lomonosov – the dignity of mustache.

I, in the country, for my amusement,

in imitation of their glory,

will mutter tara-bara.

Tune up, my rapt lyre,

Listen to Virgil again, Universe:

I sing today the Mosquito!


At the beginning of his poem Shade (an authority on Pope, the poet who mentions Zembla in his Essay on Man) mentions the waxwing:


I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane… (ll. 1-2)


It is Homer (to whom the authorship of Batrachomyomachia or the Battle of Frogs and Mice, a parody of the Iliad, was attributed by the Romans) who dlya igrushek proslavlyal v gryazi lyagushek (“toyed himself with glorifying frogs in the mud”). In Canto One of his poem Shade speaks of his aunt Maud and mentions Chapman’s Homer in modern context:


I was brought up by dear bizarre Aunt Maud,
A poet and a painter with a taste
For realistic objects interlaced
With grotesque growths and images of doom.
She lived to hear the next babe cry.
Her room
We've kept intact. Its trivia create
A still life in her style: the paperweight
Of convex glass enclosing a lagoon,
The verse open at the Index (Moon,
Moonrise, Moor, Moral), the forlorn guitar
The human skull; and from the local Star
A curio: Red Sox Beat Yanks 5-4
On Chapman's Homer, thumbtacked to the door. (ll. 86-98)


In his Commentary Kinbote writes:


A reference to the title of Keats’ famous sonnet (often quoted in America) which, owing to a printer’s absentmindedness, has been drolly transposed, from some other article, into the account of a sports event. For other vivid misprints see note to line 802. (note to Line 98)


In his sonnet On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer (1816) Keats mentions stout Cortez:


Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men

Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.


Hernán Cortés (1485-1547) was a Spanish Conquistador. Gumilyov’s first collection of poetry was Put’ konkvistadorov (“The Way of Conquistadors,” 1905).


The name of Shade’s aunt seems to hint at Maud (1855), a narrative long poem by Tennyson (whose name suggest tennis). In his Commentary Kinbote pairs Tennyson with Housman:


Alfred Housman (1859-1939), whose collection The Shropshire Lad vies with the In Memoriam of Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) in representing, perhaps (no, delete this craven "perhaps"), the highest achievement of English poetry in a hundred years, says somewhere (in a foreword?) exactly the opposite: The bristling of thrilled little hairs obstructed his barbering; but since both Alfreds certainly used an Ordinary Razor, and John Shade an ancient Gillette, the discrepancy may have been due to the use of different instruments. (note to Line 920)


In Speak, Memory VN describes his visit to Cambridge in the 1930s and mentions tennis, A. E. Housman and his book:


As I strolled under those sung trees, I tried to put myself into the same ecstatically reminiscent mood in regard to my student years as during those years I had experienced in regard to my boyhood, but all I could evoke were fragmentary little pictures: M. K., a Russian, dyspeptically cursing the aftereffects of a College Hall dinner; N. R., another Russian, romping about like a child; P. M. storming into my room with a copy of Ulysses freshly smuggled from Paris; J. C. quietly dropping in to say that he, too, had just lost his father; R. C. charmingly inviting me to join him on a trip to the Swiss Alps; Christopher something or other, wriggling out of a proposed tennis double upon learning that his partner was to be a Hindu; T., a very old and fragile waiter, spilling the soup in Hall on Professor A. E. Housman, who then abruptly stood up as one shooting out of a trance; S. S., who was in no way connected with Cambridge, but who, having dozed off in his chair at a literary party (in Berlin) and being nudged by a neighbor, also stood up suddenly—in the middle of a story someone was reading; Lewis Carroll’s Dormouse, unexpectedly starting to tell a tale; E. Harrison unexpectedly making me a present of The Shropshire Lad, a little volume of verse about young males and death. (Chapter Thirteen, 5)


Like VN, Martin Edelweiss (the main character in Podvig) is a Cambridge student. Just like the author, Martin is a sportsman who plays football (as a goalie) for his college team and who later earns his living in Berlin by giving tennis lessons. Unlike his uncle (and step-father) Heinrich Edelweiss, Martin does not despise modern life:


Ещё одна последняя излучина, и вот – берег. Берег, к которому Мартын пристал, был очень хорош, ярок, разнообразен. Он знал, однако, что, например, дядя Генрих твердо уверен, что эти три года плавания по кембриджским водам пропали даром, оттого что Мартын побаловался филологической прогулкой, не Бог весть какой дальней, вместо того чтобы изучить плодоносную профессию. Мартын же, по совести, не понимал, чем знаток русской словесности хуже инженера путей сообщения или купца. Оказалось, что в зверинце у дяди Генриха, – а зверинец есть у каждого, – имелся, между прочим, и тот зверек, который по-французски зовется "черным", и этим черным зверьком был для дяди Генриха двадцатый век. Мартына это удивило, ибо ему казалось, что лучшего времени, чем то, в которое он живет, прямо себе не представишь. Такого блеска, такой отваги, таких замыслов не было ни у одной эпохи. Все то, что искрилось в прежних веках, – страсть к исследованию неведомых земель, дерзкие опыты, подвиги любознательных людей, которые слепли или разлетались на мелкие части, героические заговоры, борьба одного против многих, – все это проявлялось теперь с небывалой силой. То, что человек, проигравший на бирже миллион, хладнокровно кончал с собой, столь же поражало воображение Мартына, как, скажем, вольная смерть полководца, павшего грудью на меч. Автомобильная реклама, ярко алеющая в диком и живописном ущелье, на совершенно недоступном месте альпийской скалы, восхищала его до слез. Услужливость, ласковость очень сложных и очень простых машин, как, например, трактор или линотип, приводили его к мысли, что добро в человечестве так заразительно, что передается металлу. Когда над городом, изумительно высоко в голубом небе, аэроплан величиной с комарика выпускал нежные, молочно-белые буквы во сто крат больше него самого, повторяя в божественных размерах росчерк фирмы, Мартын проникался ощущением чуда. А дядя Генрих, подкармливая своего черного зверька, с ужасом и отвращением говорил о закате Европы, о послевоенной усталости, о нашем слишком трезвом, слишком практическом веке, о нашествии мертвых машин; в его представлении была какая-то дьявольская связь между фокстротом, небоскребами, дамскими модами и коктэйлями. Кроме того, дяде Генриху казалось, что он живет в эпоху страшной спешки, и было особенно смешно, когда он об этой спешке беседовал в летний день, на краю горной дороги, с аббатом, – меж тем как тихо плыли облака, и старая, розовая аббатова лошадь, со звоном отряхиваясь от мух, моргая белыми ресницами, опускала голову полным невыразимой прелести движением и сочно похрустывала придорожной травой, вздрагивая кожей и переставляя изредка копыто, и если разговор о безумной спешке наших дней, о власти доллара, об аргентинцах, соблазнивших всех девушек в Швейцарии, слишком затягивался, а наиболее нежные стебли уже оказывались в данном месте съеденными, она слегка подвигалась вперед, причем со скрипом поворачивались высокие колеса таратайки, и Мартын не мог оторвать взгляд от добрых седых лошадиных губ, от травинок, застрявших в удилах. "Вот, например, этот юноша, – говорил дядя Генрих, указывая палкой на Мартына, – вот он кончил университет, один из самых дорогих в мире университетов, а спросите его, чему он научился, на что он способен. Я совершенно не знаю, что он будет дальше делать. В мое время молодые люди становились врачами, офицерами, нотариусами, а вот он, вероятно, мечтает быть летчиком или платным танцором". Мартыну было невдомек, чего именно он служил примером, но аббат, по-видимому, понимал парадоксы дяди Генриха и сочувственно улыбался. Иногда Мартына так раздражали подобные разговоры, что он был готов сказать дяде – и, увы, отчиму – грубость, но вовремя останавливался, заметив особое выражение, которое появлялось на лице у Софьи Дмитриевны всякий раз, как Генрих впадал в красноречие. Тут была и едва проступавшая ласковая насмешка, и какая-то грусть, и бессловесная просьба простить чудаку, – и еще что-то неизъяснимое, очень мудрое. И Мартын молчал, втайне отвечая дяде Генриху примерно так: "Неправда, что я в Кембридже занимался пустяками. Неправда, что я ничему не научился. Колумб, прежде чем взяться через западное плечо за восточное ухо, отправился инкогнито для получения кое-каких справок в Исландию, зная, что тамошние моряки – народ дошлый и дальноходный. Я тоже собираюсь исследовать далёкую землю". (Chapter XXX)


According to Martin, he too plans to explore dalyokuyu zemlyu (a distant land). The last entry in Kinbote’s Index to Pale Fire is “Zembla, a distant northern land.”


Martin compares himself to Columbus who went incognito to Iceland before “taking the eastern ear across the western shoulder.” In his poem Slava VN says that he keeps endlessly passing incognito into the flame-licked night of his native land:


Но воздушным мостом моё слово изогнуто

через мир, и чредой спицевидных теней

без конца по нему прохожу я инкогнито

в полыхающий сумрак отчизны моей.

Я божком себя вижу, волшебником с птичьей

головой, в изумрудных перчатках, в чулках

из лазурных чешуй. Прохожу. Перечтите

и остановитесь на этих строках.


But my word, curved to form an aerial viaduct,

spans the world, and across in a strobe-effect spin

of spokes I keep endlessly passing incognito

into the flame-licked night of my native land.

To myself I appear as an idol, a wizard

bird-headed, emerald gloved, dressed in tights

made of bright-blue scales. I pass by. Reread it

and pause for a moment to ponder these lines.


In Slava VN mentions Akakiy Akakievich, the pathetic main character in Gogol’s story Shinel’ (“The Overcoat,” 1842):


                                   Есть вещи, вещи,

которые... даже... (Акакий Акакиевич

любил, если помните, "плевелы речи",

и он как Наречье, мой гость восковой),

и сердце просится, и сердце мечется,

и я не могу.


                              There are matters, matters,

which, so to speak, even… (Akakiy Akakievich

had a weakness, if you remember, for “weed words,”

and he’s like an Adverb, my waxy guest),

and my heart keeps pressing, and my heart keeps tossing,

and I can’t any more…


Akakiy Akakievich’s surname, Bashmachkin comes from bashmachyok (little shoe) and brings to mind Botkin (Shade’s, Kinbote’s and Gradus’ “real” name). According to Kinbote (the author of a book on surnames), Botkin is the one who makes bottekins (fancy footwear):


A Commentary where placid scholarship should reign is not the place for blasting the preposterous defects of that little obituary. I have only mentioned it because that is where I gleaned a few meager details concerning the poet's parents. His father, Samuel Shade, who died at fifty, in 1902, had studied medicine in his youth and was vice-president of a firm of surgical instruments in Exton. His chief passion, however, was what our eloquent necrologist calls "the study of the feathered tribe," adding that "a bird had been named for him: Bombycilla Shadei" (this should be "shadei," of course). The poet's mother, nee Caroline Lukin, assisted him in his work and drew the admirable figures of his Birds of Mexico, which I remember having seen in my friend's house. What the obituarist does not know is that Lukin comes from Luke, as also do Locock and Luxon and Lukashevich. It represents one of the many instances when the amorphous-looking but live and personal hereditary patronymic grows, sometimes in fantastic shapes, around the common pebble of a Christian name. The Lukins are an old Essex family. Other names derive from professions such as Rymer, Scrivener, Limner (one who illuminates parchments), Botkin (one who makes bottekins, fancy footwear) and thousands of others. My tutor, a Scotsman, used to call any old tumble-down buildings a "hurley-house." But enough of this. (note to Line 71)


In another note Kinbote says that Shade listed Gogol among Russian humorists:


Speaking of the Head of the bloated Russian Department, Prof. Pnin, a regular martinet in regard to his underlings (happily, Prof. Botkin, who taught in another department, was not subordinated to that grotesque "perfectionist"): "How odd that Russian intellectuals should lack all sense of humor when they have such marvelous humorists as Gogol, Dostoevski, Chekhov, Zoshchenko, and those joint authors of genius Ilf and Petrov." (note to Line 172)


In Speak, Memory VN speaks of his ancestor and mentions Nova Zembla and Dostoevski, the author of The Double, etc.:


My great-great-grandfather, General Aleksandr Ivanovich Nabokov (1749–1807), was, in the reign of Paul the First, chief of the Novgorod garrison regiment called “Nabokov’s Regiment” in official documents. The youngest of his sons, my great-grandfather Nikolay Aleksandrovich Nabokov, was a young naval officer in 1817, when he participated, with the future admirals Baron von Wrangel and Count Litke, under the leadership of Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Vasiliy Mihaylovich Golovnin, in an expedition to map Nova Zembla (of all places) where “Nabokov’s River” is named after my ancestor. The memory of the leader of the expedition is preserved in quite a number of place names, one of them being Golovnin’s Lagoon, Seward Peninsula, W. Alaska, from where a butterfly, Parnassius phoebus golovinus (rating a big sic), has been described by Dr. Holland; but my great-grandfather has nothing to show except that very blue, almost indigo blue, even indignantly blue, little river winding between wet rocks; for he soon left the navy, n’ayant pas le pied marin (as says my cousin Sergey Sergeevich who informed me about him), and switched to the Moscow Guards. He married Anna Aleksandrovna Nazimov (sister of the Decembrist). I know nothing about his military career; whatever it was, he could not have competed with his brother, Ivan Aleksandrovich Nabokov (1787–1852), one of the heroes of the anti-Napoleon wars and, in his old age, commander of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg where (in 1849) one of his prisoners was the writer Dostoevski, author of The Double, etc., to whom the kind general lent books. Considerably more interesting, however, is the fact that he was married to Ekaterina Pushchin, sister of Ivan Pushchin, Pushkin’s schoolmate and close friend. Careful, printers: two “chin” ’s and one “kin.” (Chapter Three, 1)


Dvoynik (“The Double,” 1914) is a poem by Alexander Blok. In Speak, Memory VN speaks of his first love and mentions Blok, a poet of the so-called “Symbolist” school:


WHEN I first met Tamara—to give her a name concolorous with her real one—she was fifteen, and I was a year older. The place was the rugged but comely country (black fir, white birch, peatbogs, hayfields, and barrens) just south of St. Petersburg. A distant war was dragging on. Two years later, that trite deus ex machina, the Russian Revolution, came, causing my removal from the unforgettable scenery. In fact, already then, in July 1915, dim omens and backstage rumblings, the hot breath of fabulous upheavals, were affecting the so-called “Symbolist” school of Russian poetry—especially the verse of Alexander Blok. (Chapter Twelve, 1)


Kinbote and Gradus were born on July 5, 1915. Shade (who shares K.’s and G.’s birthday) was born in 1898 and is thus seventeen years their senior. In a letter of Oct. 31, 1838 (Dostoevski’s seventeenth birthday!), to his younger brother Mikhail Dostoevski twice uses the word gradus (degree):


Друг мой! Ты философствуешь как поэт. И как не ровно выдерживает душа градус вдохновенья, так не ровна, не верна и твоя философия. Чтоб больше знать, надо меньше чувствовать, и обратно, правило опрометчивое, бред сердца.


My friend, you philosophize like a poet. And just because the soul cannot be forever in a state of exaltation, your philosophy is not true and not just. To know more one must feel less, and vice versa. Your judgment is featherheaded – it is a delirium of the heart.


Философию не надо полагать простой математической задачей, где неизвестное - природа... Заметь, что поэт в порыве вдохновенья разгадывает бога, следовательно, исполняет назначенье философии. Следовательно, поэтический восторг есть восторг философии... Следовательно, философия есть та же поэзия, только высший градус её!..


According to Dostoevski, philosophy is not a mathematical problem where the unknown is nature; it is poetry, only a higher degree of poetry.


Martin Gradus (the father of Shade’s murderer) is a namesake of Martin Edelweiss (the protagonist in Podvig). Sonya Zilanov (the girl with whom Martin is hopelessly in love) has the same first name as Martin’s mother, Sofia Dmitrievna. The maiden name of Martin’s mother, Indrikov comes from Indrik (the legendary animal of Russian fairy tales, unicorn) and brings to mind “ivory unicorns” mentioned by Shade in Canto Three of his poem (see the quote above). The “real” name of Sybyl Shade (the poet’s wife) seems to be Sofia Botkin (born Lastochkin). Lastochka (“The Swallow,” 1792-94) is a poem by Derzhavin. In the poem’s closing lines (written after the death of ‘Plenira,’ the poet’s first wife) Derzhavin compares his soul to the swallow:


Душа моя! гостья ты мира:
Не ты ли перната сия? —
Воспой же бессмертие, лира!
Восстану, восстану и я, —
Восстану, — и в бездне эфира
Увижу ль тебя я, Пленира?


My soul! You are a guest in the world:

Isn’t you this feathered creature?

So sing of immortality, my lyre!

I too, I too will raise,

I will raise – and in the abyss of ether

Will I see you, my Plenira?


In his poem Lebed’ (“The Swan,” 1804) Derzhavin compares himself to a swan and says again that he will live after death:


Необычайным я пареньем
От тленна мира отделюсь,
С душой бессмертною и пеньем,
Как лебедь, в воздух поднимусь.


В двояком образе нетленный,
Не задержусь в вратах мытарств;
Над завистью превознесенный,
Оставлю под собой блеск царств.


Да, так! Хоть родом я не славен,
Но, будучи любимец муз,
Другим вельможам я не равен
И самой смертью предпочтусь.


Не заключит меня гробница,
Средь звёзд не превращусь я в прах;
Но, будто некая цевница,
С небес раздамся в голосах.


И се уж кожа, зрю, перната
Вкруг стан обтягивает мой;
Пух на груди, спина крылата,
Лебяжьей лоснюсь белизной.


Лечу, парю — и под собою
Моря, леса, мир вижу весь;
Как холм, он высится главою,
Чтобы услышать богу песнь.


С Курильских островов до Буга,
От Белых до Каспийских вод,
Народы, света с полукруга,
Составившие россов род,


Со временем о мне узнают:
Славяне, гунны, скифы, чудь,
И все, что бранью днесь пылают,
Покажут перстом — и рекут:


«Вот тот летит, что, строя лиру,
Языком сердца говорил,
И, проповедуя мир миру,
Себя всех счастьем веселил».


Прочь с пышным, славным погребеньем,
Друзья мои! Хор муз, не пой!
Супруга! облекись терпеньем!
Над мнимым мертвецом не вой.


I'll leave the mortal world behind,

Take wing in an flight fantastical,

With singing, my eternal soul

Will rise up swan-like in the air.


Possessing two immortal traits,

In Purgatory I won't not linger,

But rising over jealousy

I'll leave behind me kingdoms' shine.


'Tis so! Though not renowned by birth,

I am the muses favorite,

From other notables a world apart-

I'll be preferred by death itself.


The tomb will not confine me,

I will not turn to dust among the stars,

But like a heavenly set of pipes,

My voice will ring out from the sky.


And now I see that feathered skin

My figure covers all around.

My breast is downy and my back is winged,

I shine with pearly swan-like white.


I fly, I soar-and see below

The world entire-- oceans, woods.

Like mountains they lift up their heads

To hear my lofty hymn to God.


From Kuril Islands to the river Bug,

From White Sea to the Caspian,

Peoples from half the world

Of whom the Russian race's comprised,


Will hear of me in time:

Slavs, Huns, the Scythians, and Finns,

And others locked today in battle,

Will point at me and they'll pronounce:


"There flies the one who tuned his lyre

To speak the language of the heart,

And preaching peace to the whole world,

Enjoyed the happiness of all."


Forget a big and stately funeral,

My friends! Cease singing, muses' choir!

My wife! With patience gird yourself!

Don't keen upon what seems a corpse.


In Canto Two of his poem Shade compares his daughter Hazel to the dingy cygnet:


Alas, the dingy cygnet never turned
Into a wood duck. (ll. 318-319)


In his Commentary Kinbote compares a goose’s feet to a frogman’s black rubber flaps:


A pretty conceit. The wood duck, a richly colored bird, emerald, amethyst, carnelian, with black and white markings, is incomparably more beautiful than the much-overrated swan, a serpentine goose with a dirty neck of yellowish plush and a frogman's black rubber flaps.

Incidentally, the popular nomenclature of American animals reflects the simple utilitarian minds of ignorant pioneers and has not yet acquired the patina of European faunal names. (note to Line 319)


In H. Ch. Andersen’s fairy tale The Ugly Duckling a homely bird matures into a beautiful swan. In Speak, Memory VN compares Tamara to the heroine of H. Ch. Andersen’s fairy tale The Little Mermaid:


Finally, under a certain condition (accepted by Tamara with the fortitude of Hans Andersen’s little mermaid), the cottage was rented, and a glorious summer immediately enveloped us, and there she was, my happy Tamara, on the points of her toes, trying to pull down a racemosa branch in order to pick its puckered fruit, with all the world and its trees wheeling in the orb of her laughing eye, and a dark patch from her exertions in the sun forming under her raised arm on the raw shantung of her yellow frock. We lost ourselves in mossy woods and bathed in a fairy-tale cove and swore eternal love by the crowns of flowers that, like all little Russian mermaids, she was so fond of weaving, and early in the fall she moved to town in search of a job (this was the condition set by her mother), and in the course of the following months I did not see her at all, engrossed as I was in the kind of varied experience which I thought an elegant littérateur should seek. (Chapter Thirteen, 2)


In Chapter Four (XLII: 9) of Eugene Onegin Pushkin mentions a heavy goose with red feet:


И вот уже трещат морозы
И серебрятся средь полей...
(Читатель ждёт уж рифмы розы;
На вот, возьми её скорей!)
Опрятней модного паркета
Блистает речка, льдом одета.
Мальчишек радостный народ
Коньками звучно режет лёд;
На красных лапках гусь тяжёлый,
Задумав плыть по лону вод,
Ступает бережно на лёд,
Скользит и падает; весёлый
Мелькает, вьётся первый снег,
Звездами падая на брег.


And there the frosts already crackle

and silver midst the fields

(the reader now expects the rhyme “froze-rose” –

here you are, take it quick!).

Neater than modish parquetry,

the ice-clad river shines.

The gladsome crew of boys

cut with their skates resoundingly the ice;

a heavy goose with red feet,

planning to swim upon the bosom of the waters,

steps carefully upon the ice,

slidders, and falls. The gay

first snow flicks, whirls,

falling in stars upon the bank.


In his EO Commentary (vol. II, p. 470) VN points out that morozy-rozy (“froze-rose”) is a Russian example of what Pope calls (in his Essay on Criticism, ll. 349-351) “sure returns of still-expected rhymes:”


Where-e’er you find the cooling western breeze,

In the next line, it whispers thro’ the trees


Hazel Shade’s “real” name seems to be Nadezhda Botkin. In Chapter Five (VII: 13-14) of EO Pushkin describes the Yuletide divination and mentions nadezhda (hope):


Что ж? Тайну прелесть находила
И в самом ужасе она:
Так нас природа сотворила,
К противуречию склонна.
Настали святки. То-то радость!
Гадает ветреная младость,
Которой ничего не жаль,
Перед которой жизни даль
Лежит светла, необозрима;
Гадает старость сквозь очки
У гробовой своей доски,
Всё потеряв невозвратимо;
И всё равно: надежда им
Лжёт детским лепетом своим.


Yet — in her very terror

she found a secret charm:

thus has created us nature,

inclined to contradictions.

Yuletide is here. Now that is joy!

Volatile youth divines —

who nought has to regret,

in front of whom the faraway of life

extends luminous, boundless;

old age divines, through spectacles,

at its sepulchral slab,

all having irrecoverably lost;

nor does it matter: hope to them

lies with its childish lisp.


Derzhavin’s Lebed’ is an imitation of Horace’s Ode 20, Book II. Derzhavin’s poem Pamyatnik (“Monument,” 1795) is an imitation of Horace’s Ode 30, Book III (in his great poem Exegi monumentum, 1836, Pushkin parodied Derzhavin’s Pamyatnik). Russian for “ode,” oda rhymes with “coda.” It seems that, to be completed, Shade’s almost finished poem needs not only Line 1000 (identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”), but – like some sonnets – also a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”).


Alexey Sklyarenko

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