Nabokov's chess sonnets translated

ArnieChipmunk
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Vladimir NabokovOn ChessCafe, an English translation of three sonnets on chess by Vladimir Nabokov has been published. According to John Roycroft, it is 'the first English verse translation of the trio of linked chess sonnets that Vladimir Nabokov published in the Russian émigré journal Rul' in Berlin in November 1924.'

Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov, most famous to chess players for his 1930 novel The Defense, held a lifelong fascination for chess, publishing problems and writing about the subject on various occasions. (Though it is very unclear how strong he really was as a chess player.) Of chess problems, he wrote that they are 'the poetry of chess':

They demand from the composer the same virtues that characterize all worthwhile art: originality, invention, harmony, conciseness, complexity, and splendid insincerity.


His three early sonnets, including the original Russian text, linking, according to Roycroft, "chess, chess problems, chess history and sex", can be read here. Underneath the article, there's an interesting comment by professional Russian translator Sarah Hurst on some translational issues. It struck us that in the first sonnet, Philidor's opponent is called 'Dyuser', which Roycroft translates as 'Légal'. We have not been able to find the reason for this, since the full name of Légal (he of the mate) was Legall de Kermeur. Perhaps one of our readers knows more about this mysterious (to us) 'Dyuser'?

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, gaining international fame with his novel Lolita (1955) as well as his strong and highly-esteemed opinions on literature and art. His poems, however, are generally regarded as being of lesser importance. His last unfinished novel, The Original of Laura, was recently published posthumously.

(Update: Apparently 'Dyuser' stands for 'Du Sire' or 'Dusserre', which could in fact refer to 'Sire de Legal', although this is questioned by other scholars.)
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