Book//mark - The Gift | Vladimir Nabokov, 1935-37

Дар, Dar / The Gift, 1952                                                                                                      Vladimir Nabokov



“Have you ever happened, reader, to feel that subtle sorrow of parting with an unloved abode? The heart does not break, as it does in parting with dear objects. The humid gaze does not wander around holding back a tear, as if it wished to carry away in it a trembling reflection of the abandoned spot; but in the best corner of our hearts we feel pity for the things which we did not bring to life with our breath, which we hardly noticed and are now leaving forever. This already dead iventory will not be resurrected in one's memory..” 

“Thus it transpired that even Berlin could be mysterious. Within the linden's bloom the streetlight winks. A dark and honeyed hush envelops us. Across the curb one's passing shadow slinks: across a stump a sable ripples thus. The night sky melts to peach beyond that gate. There water gleams, there Venice vaguely shows. Look at that street--it runs to China straight, and yonder star above the Volga glows! Oh, swear to me to put in dreams your trust, and to believe in fantasy alone, and never let your soul in prison rust, nor stretch your arm and say: a wall of stone.” 

“It happens that over a long period you are promised a great success, in which from the very start you do not believe, so dissimilar is it from the rest of fate's offering, and if from time to time you do think of it, then you do so as it were to indulge your fantasy - but when, at last, on a very ordinary day with a west wind blowing, the news comes - simply, instantaneously and decisevely destroying any hope in it - then you are suddenly amazed to find that although you did not believe in it, you had been living with it all this time, not realizingt he constant, close presence of the dream, which had long since grown fat and independent, so that now you cannot get it out of your life without making a hole in that life.” 

“And Schyogolev launched on a discussion of politics. Like many unpaid windbags he thought that he could combine the reports he read in the papers by paid windbags into an orderly scheme, upon following which a logical and sober mind (in this case his mind) could with no effort explain and foresee a multitude of world events. The names of countries and of their leading representatives became in his hands something in the nature of labels for more or less full but essentially identical vessels, whose contents he poured this way and that. France was AFRAID of something or other and therefore would never allow it. England was AIMING at something. This statesman CRAVED a rapprochement, while that one wanted to increase his PRESTIGE. Someone was PLOTTING and someone was STRIVING for something. In short, the world Schyogolev created came out as some kind of collection of limited, humorless, faceless and abstract bullies, and the more brains, cunning and circumspection he found in their mutual activities the more stupid, vulgar and simple his world became.” 

“Lined with lindens of medium size, with hanging droplets of rain distributed among their intricate black twigs according to the future arrangements of leaves (tomorrow each drop would contain a green pupil; complete with a smooth tarred surface some thirty feet across and variegated sidewalks (hand-built and flattering to the feet) it rose at a barely perceptible angle, beginning with the post office and ending with the church, like an epistolary novel.”

“As he crossed towards the pharmacy at the corner he involuntary turned his head because a burst of light that had ricocheted from his temple, and saw, with that quick smile with which we greet a rainbow or a rose, a blindingly white parallelogram of sky being unloaded from the van-a dresser with mirror across which, as across a cinema screen passed a flawlessly clear reflection of boughs sliding and swaying, not arboreally, but with human vacillation, produced by the nature of those who were carrying the sky, these boughs, this gliding façade.” 

“The theory I find most tempting - that there is no time, that everything is the present situated like a radiance outside our blindness.”

“The oft repeated complaints of poets that, alas, no words are available, that words are incapable of expressing our thingummy-bob feelings (and to prove it a torrent of trochaic hexameters is let loose) seemed to him just as senseless as the staid conviction of the eldest inhabitant of a mountain hamlet that yonder mountain has never been climbed by anyone and never will be.”

“The strategy of inspiration and the tactics of the mind, the flesh of poetry and the spectre of translucent prose.”

“The author ought on the one hand to generalize reminisces by selecting elements typical of any successful childhood-hence their seeming obviousness; and on the other hand he has allowed only his genuine quiddity to penetrate into his poems-hence their seeming fastidiousness.” 

“Farther on it became very nice: the pines had come into their own, and beneath their pinkish, scaly trunks the feathery foliage of the low rowans and vigorous greenery of oaks broke the stripiness of the pinewood sun into an animated dapple.” 

“Then, after all the excitement, I shall experience a certain satiation of suffering--perhaps on the mountain pass to a kind of happiness which it is too early for me to know (I know only that when I reach it, it will be with pen in hand).” 

“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.” 

“After being made transparent by the strength of the light, it was now assimilated to the shimmering of the summer forest with its satiny pine needles and heavenly-green leaves, with its ants running over the transfigured, most radiant-hued wool of the laprobe, with its birds, smells, hot breath of nettles and spermy odour of sun-warmed grass, with its blue sky where droned a high-flying plane that seemed filmed over with blue dust, the blue essence of the firmament.”

“She hardly spoke to him, although by certain signs-not so much by the pupils of her eyes as by their lustre that seemed slanted at him-he felt that she was noticing every glance of his and that all her movements were restricted by the lightest shrouds of that very impression she was producing on him; and because it seemed completely impossible to him that he should have any part in her life, he suffered when he detected anything particularly enchanting in her and was glad and relieved when he glimpsed some flaw in her beauty. Her pale hair which radiantly and imperceptibly merged into the sunny air around her head, the light blue vein on her temple, another on her long, tender neck, her delicate hand, her sharp elbow, the narrowness of her hips, the weakness of her shoulders and peculiar forward slant of her graceful body, as if he floor over which, gathering speed like a skater, she hastened was always sloping away towards the haven of the chair or table on which lay the object she sought-all this was perceived by him with agonize distinctness.” 

“Only in China is the early mist so enchanting…as into any abyss, the river runs into the murk of prematutinal twilight that still hangs in the gorges, while higher up, along flowing waters, all glimmers and scintillates, and quite a company of blue magpies has already awakened in the willows by the mill.” 

“Powdered to a deathly pallor, wearing black gloves and black stockings and an old seal-skin coat thrown open, she had descended the iron steps of the coach, glancing with equal quickness first at him and then what was underfoot, and the next moment, her face twisted with the pain of happiness, was clinging to him…it had seemed to him that the beauty of which he had been so proud had faded, but as his vision adjusted itself to the twilight of the present, so different at first from the distantly receding light of memory, he once again recognized in her everything he had loved.”

“Ought one not to reject any longing for one’s homeland, for any homeland besides that which is with me, within me, which is stuck like silver sand of the sea to the skin of my soles, lives in my eyes, my blood, gives depth and distance to the background of life’s every hope? Some day, interrupting my writing, I will look through the window and see a Russian autumn.”

“Then, when I fell under the spell of butterflies, something unfolded in my soul and I relived all my father’s journeys, as if I myself had made them: in my dreams I saw the winding road, the caravan, the many-hued mountains, and envied my father madly, agonizingly, to the point of tears – hot and violent tears that would suddenly gush out of me at table as we discussed his letters from the road or even at the simple mention of a far, far place.”


Vladimir Nabokov, The Gift, 1935-37

Published in serial form in a Paris emigré magazine in 1938 without Chapter Four.


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