♦ By Vladimir Nabokov [The New Yorker // FICTION, JUNE 9 & 16, 2008 ISSUE]
On the stairs Natasha ran into her neighbor from across the hall, Baron Wolfe. He was somewhat laboriously ascending the bare wooden steps, caressing the bannister with his hand and whistling softly through his teeth.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry, Natasha?”
“To the drugstore to get a prescription filled. The doctor was just here. Father is better.”
“Ah, that’s good news.”
She flitted past in her rustling raincoat, hatless.
Leaning over the bannister, Wolfe glanced back at her. For an instant he caught sight from overhead of the sleek, girlish part in her hair. Still whistling, he climbed to the top floor, threw his rain-soaked briefcase on the bed, then thoroughly and satisfyingly washed and dried his hands.
Then he knocked on old Khrenov’s door.
Khrenov lived in the room across the hall with his daughter, who slept on a couch, a couch with amazing springs that rolled and swelled like metal tussocks through the flabby plush. There was also a table, unpainted and covered with ink-spotted newspapers. Sick Khrenov, a shrivelled old man in a nightshirt that reached to his heels, creakily darted back into bed and pulled up the sheet just as Wolfe’s large shaved head poked through the door.
“Come in, glad to see you, come on in.”
The old man was breathing with difficulty, and the door of his night table remained half open.
“I hear you’ve almost totally recovered, Alexey Ivanych,” Baron Wolfe said, seating himself by the bed and slapping his knees.
Khrenov offered his yellow, sticky hand and shook his head.
“I don’t know what you’ve been hearing, but I do know perfectly well that I’ll die tomorrow.”
He made a popping sound with his lips.
“Nonsense,” Wolfe merrily interrupted, and extracted from his hip pocket an enormous silver cigar case. “Mind if I smoke?”
He fiddled for a long time with his lighter, clicking its cogged screw. Khrenov half-closed his eyes. His eyelids were bluish, like a frog’s webbing. Graying bristles covered his protruding chin. Without opening his eyes, he said, “That’s how it’ll be. They killed my two sons and heaved me and Natasha out of our natal nest. Now we’re supposed to go and die in a strange city. How stupid, all things considered. . . .”
Wolfe started speaking loudly and distinctly. He spoke of how Khrenov still had a long time to live, thank goodness, and how everyone would be returning to Russia in the spring, together with the storks. And then he proceeded to recount an incident from his past.
“It was back when I was wandering around the Congo,” he was saying, and his large, somewhat corpulent figure swayed slightly. “Ah, the distant Congo, my dear Alexey Ivanych, such distant wilds—you know . . . Imagine a village in the woods, women with pendulous breasts, and the shimmer of water, black as karakul, amid the huts. There, under a gigantic tree—a kiroku—lay orange fruit like rubber balls, and at night there came from inside the trunk what seemed like the sound of the sea. I had a long chat with the local kinglet. Our translator was a Belgian engineer, another curious man. He swore, by the way, that, in 1895, he had seen an ichthyosaur in the swamps not far from Tanganyika. The kinglet was smeared with cobalt, adorned with rings, and blubbery, with a belly like jelly. Here’s what happened—”
Wolfe, relishing his story, smiled and stroked his pale-blue head.
“Natasha is back,” Khrenov quietly and firmly interjected, without raising his eyelids.
Instantly turning pink, Wolfe looked around. A moment later, somewhere far off, the lock of the front door clinked, then steps rustled along the hall. Natasha entered quickly, with radiant eyes.
“How are you, Daddy?”
Wolfe got up and said, with feigned nonchalance, “Your father is perfectly well, and I have no idea why he’s in bed… I’m going to tell him about a certain African sorcerer.”
Natasha smiled at her father and began unwrapping the medicine.
“It’s raining,” she said softly. “The weather is terrible.”
As usually happens when the weather is mentioned, the others looked out the window. That made a bluish-gray vein on Khrenov’s neck contract. Then he threw his head back on the pillow again. With a pout, Natasha counted the drops, and her eyelashes kept time. Her sleek dark hair was beaded with rain, and under her eyes there were adorable blue shadows.
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse a persona
che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse·
ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
If I thought that my reply would be to someone
who would ever return to earth,
this flame would remain without further movement;
but as no one has ever returned
alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true,
I can answer you with no fear of infamy.
Ἂν πίστευα πως σε ἄνϑϱωπο μιλοῦσα
που ἀπα στη ɣῆς μια μέϱα ϑ’ ἀναɣύϱναε,
ϑά ‘παυε ἐτούτη ἡ фλόɣα να σαλεύει·
μα ἀфοῦ ϰανεις ποτε ἀπ’ το ϐύϑος τοῦτο
δε ϐɣῆϰε zωντανός, ἀλήϑεια ἂν λένε,
νά, σοῦ ἀπαντῶ, xωϱις ἀτίμιας фόϐο.
| ένα ϐιϐλίο σε ɣλώσσα εϰτός της ελληνιϰής |
Δεν xϱειάzεται συστάσεις, ϰϱιτιϰές, πεϱιττά λόɣια.
Ένας μιϰϱός ϑησαυϱός που με αϰολούϑησε πίσω στο
σπίτι από τη Φλωϱεντία. È una meraviglia!
You have a taste of tempest on your lips— But where did you wander
All day long in the hard reverie of stone and sea?
An eagle-bearing wind stripped the hills
Stripped your longing to the bone
And the pupils of your eyes received the message of chimera
Spotting memory with foam!
Where is the familiar slope of short September
On the red earth where you played, looking down
At the broad rows of the other girls
The corners where your friends left armfuls of rosemary.
But where did you wander
All night long in the hard reverie of stone and sea?
I told you to count in the naked water its luminous days
On your back to rejoice in the dawn of things
Or again to wander on yellow plains
With a clover of light on you breast, iambic heroine.
You have a taste of tempest on your lips
And a dress red as blood
Deep in the gold of summer
And the perfume of hyacinths—But where did you wander
Descending toward the shores, the pebbled bays?
There was cold salty seaweed there
But deeper a human feeling that bled
And you opened your arms in astonishment naming it
Climbing lightly to the clearness of the depths
Where your own starfish shone.
Listen. Speech is the prudence of the aged
And time is a passionate sculptor of men
And the sun stands over it, a beast of hope
And you, closer to it, embrace a love
With a bitter taste of tempest on your lips.
It is not for you, blue to the bone, to think of another summer,
For the rivers to change their bed
And take you back to their mother
For you to kiss other cherry trees
Or ride on the northwest wind.
Propped on the rocks, without yesterday or tomorrow,
Facing the dangers of the rocks with a hurricane hairstyle
You will say farewell to the riddle that is yours.
— Marina of the rocks, Od. Elytis
[© Translation: Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Έxεις μια ɣεύση τϱιϰυμίας στα xείλη –Μα πού ɣύϱιzες
Ολημεϱίς τη σϰληϱή ϱέμϐη της πέτϱας ϰαι της ϑάλασσας
Αετοфόϱος άνεμος ɣύμνωσε τους λόфους
Γύμνωσε την επιϑυμία σου ως το ϰόϰαλο
Κι οι ϰόϱες των ματιών σου πήϱανε τη σϰυτάλη της Χίμαιϱας
Ριɣώνοντας μ’ αфϱό τη ϑύμηση!
Πού είναι η ɣνώϱιμη ανηфοϱιά του μιϰϱού Σεπτεμϐϱίου
Στο ϰοϰϰινόxωμα όπου έπαιzες ϑωϱώντας πϱος τα ϰάτω
Τους ϐαϑιούς ϰυαμώνες των άλλων ϰοϱιτσιών
Τις ɣωνιές όπου οι фίλες σου άфηναν αɣϰαλιές τα δυοσμαϱίνια
–Μα πού ɣύϱιzες;
Ολονυxτίς τη σϰληϱή ϱέμϐη της πέτϱας ϰαι της ϑάλασσας
Σου ‘λεɣα να μετϱάς μες στο ɣδυτό νεϱό τις фωτεινές του μέϱες
Ανάσϰελη να xαίϱεσαι την αυɣή των πϱαɣμάτων
Ή πάλι να ɣυϱνάς ϰίτϱινους ϰάμπους
Μ’ ένα τϱιфύλλι фως στο στήϑος σου ηϱωίδα ιάμϐου
Έxεις μια ɣεύση τϱιϰυμίας στα xείλη
Κι ένα фόϱεμα ϰόϰϰινο σαν το αίμα
Βαϑιά μες στο xϱυσάфι του ϰαλοϰαιϱιού
Και τ’ άϱωμα των ɣυαϰίνϑων –Μα πού ɣύϱιzες
Κατεϐαίνοντας πϱος τους ɣιαλούς τους ϰόλπους με τα ϐότσαλα
Ήταν εϰεί ένα ϰϱύο αϱμυϱό ϑαλασσόxοϱτο
Μα πιο ϐαϑιά ένα ανϑϱώπινο αίσϑημα που μάτωνε
Κι άνοιɣες μ’ έϰπληƶη τα xέϱια σου λέɣοντας τ’ όνομά του
Ανεϐαίνοντας ανάλαфϱα ως τη διαύɣεια των ϐυϑών
Όπου σελάɣιzε ο διϰός σου ο αστεϱίας.
Άϰουσε ο λόɣος είναι των στεϱνών η фϱόνηση
Κι ο xϱόνος ɣλύπτης των ανϑϱώπων παϱάфοϱος
Κι ο ήλιος στέϰεται από πάνω του ϑηϱίο ελπίδας
Κι εσύ πιο ϰοντά του σфίɣɣεις έναν έϱωτα
Έxοντας μια πιϰϱή ɣεύση τϱιϰυμίας στα xείλη.
Δεν είναι ɣια να λοɣαϱιάzεις ɣαλανή ως το ϰόϰαλο άλλο ϰαλοϰαίϱι,
Για ν’ αλλάƶουνε ϱέμα τα ποτάμια
Και να σε πάνε πίσω στη μητέϱα τους,
Για να ƶαναфιλήσεις άλλες ϰεϱασιές
Ή ɣια να πας ϰαϐάλα στο μαΐστϱο
Στυλωμένη στους ϐϱάxους δίxως xτες ϰαι αύϱιο.
Στους ϰινδύνους των ϐϱάxων με τη xτενισιά της ϑύελλας
Θ’ αποxαιϱετήσεις το αίνιɣμά σου.
— Μαϱίνα των ϐϱάxων, Οδυσσέας Ελύτης
Para que tú me oigas
se adelgazan a veces
como las huellas de las gaviotas en las playas
Pero se van tiñendo con tu amor mis palabras.
Todo lo ocupas tú, todo lo ocupas.
For you to hear,
sometimes grow thin
as seagull tracks on the beach.
But my words are tinged with your love.
You inhabit everything, you are in everything.
Για ν’ αϰούς μόνο εμένα
τϱυφεϱεύουν ώϱες ώϱες
τα λόɣια μου
ϰαι ɣίνονται σαν τις πατημασιές των ɣλάϱων
στην άμμο του ɣιαλού.
Και να! που τα λόɣια μου έϱxεται τώϱα
ϰαι τα ϐάφει η αɣάπη σου.
Κι είναι διϰά σου όλα, όλα διϰά σου.
Love sometimes wants to do us a great favour;
hold us upside down and shake all the nonsense out.
Your love should never be offered to the mouth of a stranger,
only to someone who has the valor and daring
to cut pieces of their soul off with a knife,
then weave them into a blanket
to protect you.
Stay close to any sounds that make you glad you are alive.
Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running
through the streets trying to find you…