D E C E M B E R 1 9 4 1
SOFTEST OF TONGUESby Vladimir Nabokov
Hear Vladimir Nabokov's son and translator, Dmitri Nabokov, introduce and read this poem, in a recording made specially for Atlantic Unbound (requires the RealAudio RealPlayer).
(For help, see a note about the audio.)
Return to the editors' introduction to the April, 2000, issue.
Return to "Nabokov's Butterflies" (April 2000).
To many things I've said the word that cheats
the lips and leaves them parted (thus: prash-chai
which means "good-bye") -- to furnished flats, to streets,
to milk-white letters melting in the sky;
to drab designs that habit seldom sees,
to novels interrupted by the din
of tunnels, annotated by quick trees,
abandoned with a squashed banana skin;
to a dim waiter in a dimmer town,
to cuts that healed and to a thumbless glove;
also to things of lyrical renown
perhaps more universal, such as love.
Thus life has been an endless line of land
receding endlessly.... And so that's that,
you say under your breath, and wave your hand,
and then your handkerchief, and then your hat.
To all these things I've said the fatal word,
using a tongue I had so tuned and tamed
that -- like some ancient sonneteer -- I heard
its echoes by posterity acclaimed.
But now thou too must go; just here we part,
softest of tongues, my true one, all my own....
And I am left to grope for heart and art
and start anew with clumsy tools of stone.
Copyright © 1941 by Vladimir Nabokov. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; December 1941; Softest of Tongues; Volume 168, No. 765; page 765.