The Pinnacle of Gogol’s Poetry

NikolayGogol_leftA white-shrouded dead man
Stretches himself out of his grave—
And solemnly wipes
The dust off his bones, atta boy!

From the widely-disdained Hanz Kuechelgarten, quoted in Nabokov’s book, and presumably translated by that author. There’s plenty of these proto-Zombies hauling themselves up out of graves in The Terrible Vengeance, one of his scattered Ukrainian Tales which is nonetheless delightful despite its rambling plotlessness, its vacuous caricatures, and its unsatisfying romances. Richard Pevear writes that Gogol’s first critics “could not account” for their liking of Gogol and “invented reasons that were simply beside the point. The real reason was no doubt the unusual texture of Gogol’s writing.”—its leaping, flying, ecstatic variation; its endless and seemingly effortless ridiculousness, the quivering of his stupendous nose and the tapdancing of his dainty white feet. This is of course the scientific judgment provided by a literary scientist.

Gogol can be pulled apart and examined with microscopic pincers like one of Nabokov’s butterflies, with all kinds of juicy purple grapes born from the wings (and the genitalia), but the root of it all lies in the fun of his careening style. One can say to Gogol’s skeleton, surging from its grave, I think you’re wonderful—or one can simply say, “atta boy!”

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