The University Poem

By Vladimir Nabokov, in the LRB:


‘So then you’re Russian? It’s the first time
I have met a Russian …’
And the lively, delicately bulging
eyes examine me. ‘You take your tea
with lemon, I already know.
I also know that you have icons
where you live, and samovars.’
A pretty girl. A British glow
spreads across her tender skin.
She laughs, she speaks at a quick clip:
‘Frankly, our town is dullish,
though the river’s charming!
Do you row?’ Big girl,
with sloping shoulders, hands that are large,
bereft of rings.


Thus, at the vicar’s, over tea,
brand-new acquaintances, we chat,
and I endeavour to be droll.
In troubling, dulcet worry lost
at the legs that she has crossed
and at her vivid lips I peer,
then, once again, I quickly shift
my cheeky gaze. She, as expected,
has come with aunt, although the latter
is busy with her left-wing patter – ,
and, contradicting her, the vicar,
a timid man (large Adam’s apple),
with a brown-eyed, canine squint,
chokes upon a nervous cough.