by Vladimir Nabokov

I was given Nabokov’s Collected Poems for Christmas, a gem of a book with poems that span more than fifty years. Several of these poems reveal concerns of the author that aren’t much in evidence in the novels. For example, who would suspect the author of Lolita of being a kind of gnostic, closeted, Orthodox co-redemptionist? Well, the gnosticism wasn’t disguised, although the charge was very ably mocked. But I think it’s a fair reading of the following poem, at any rate.

The Mother

Night falls. He has been executed.
From Golgotha the crowd descends and winds
between the olive trees, like a slow serpent;
and mothers watch as John downhill
into the mist, with urgent words, escorts
gray, haggard Mary.

To bed he’ll help her, and lie down himself,
and through his slumber hear til morning
her tossings and her sobs.
What if her son had stayed at home with her,
and carpentered and sung? What if those tears
cost more than our redemption?

The Son of God will rise, in radiance orbed;
on the third day a vision at the tomb
will meet the wives who brought the useless myrrh;
Thomas will feel the luminescent flesh;
the wind of miracles will drive men mad,
and many will be crucified.

Mary, what are to you the fantasies
of fisherman? Over your grief days skim
insensibly, and neither on the third
nor the hundredth, never will he heed your call
and rise, your brown firstborn who baked mud sparrows
in the hot sun, at Nazareth.


  1. Good poem, thanks so much.

  2. Mary, what are to you the fantasies
    of fisherman?

    This line and some catches in the chest.



  3. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    A few weeks back, I finally got around to skimming the library’s 4-volume set of Nabokov’s Eugene Onegin translation-and-notes-and-appendices. That tendency of his ‘to pile up his predecessors just so he can climb to the top of the heap’, as you put it once, was much in evidence: Every discussion of previous English Onegin translations, and their translators, fell between dismissive and abusive. I loved it. But I also love the very different side of Nabokov that the above poem shows; thank you very much for sharing it.

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