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This report is taken from PN Review 112, Volume 23 Number 2, November - December 1996.

A Far Violin Raymond Tallis

Everything I know about the emigré Russian poet Boris Poplavski's life derives from the two sentences Nabokov devotes to him in his autobiography:

I did not meet Poplavski who died young, a far violin among near balalaikas… His plangent tonalities I shall never forget, nor shall I ever forgive myself the ill-tempered review in which I attacked him for trivial faults in his unfledged verse.

And my acquaintance with his work is confined to the single (translated) line quoted in Nabokov's Speak Memory: 'Go to sleep, O Morella, how awful are aquiline lives.' Even so, the image of the man and the idea of his work have haunted my imagination over the years.

I sometimes wonder whether he is a stray from Nabokov's novel of exile, The Gift, his name assigned in the author's luminous mind to the wrong swarm of frit-illaries, indexed under Memory instead of Fiction. Occasionally, I suspect that he is the product of a characteristically Nabokovian joke, a humiliating trap for scholars and pedants, sprung with their own assumptions of omniscience. A medium-sized reference book, readily available in the reference libraries of this medium-sized town, would provide the answer. But even if I were to go so far as to sit among the coughers, the tramps, and the schoolboys, I am sure I would close X's Encyclopaedia of Modern Russian Literature or Y's Complete Guide to Twentieth Century Russian Verse before finding POPLAVSKI (or his absence) between POLONSKY and ...

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