mirror words in Invitation to a Beheading

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Wed, 09/11/2019 - 09:09

When Marthe’s family visits Cincinnatus in the fortress, Cincinnatus's brother-in-law, the wit, suggests that Cincinnatus reads the word ropot (murmur, grumble) backward:

 

Возьми-ка слово "ропот", - говорил Цинциннату его шурин, остряк, - и прочти обратно. А? Смешно получается? Да, брат, - вляпался ты в историю. В самом деле, как это тебя угораздило?

 

"Take the word 'anxiety,'" Cincinnatus's brother-in-law, the wit, was saying to him. "Now take away the word 'tiny', Eh? Comes out funny, doesn't it? Yes, friend, you've really got yourself in a mess. In truth, what made you do such a thing?" (Chapter IX)

 

Ropot in reverse is topor (axe). The words ropot and topor occur in a close proximity to each other in Canto One (ll. 451-455) of Pushkin’s poem Poltava (1829):

 

Он заглушает ропот сонный.
Он говорит: «В неравный спор
Зачем вступает сей безумец?
Он сам, надменный вольнодумец,
Сам точит на себя топор.»

 

But he remorselessly suppresses

The sleepy grumbling in his heart.

He says: “But why’d the madman challenge

A foe so far beyond his measure?

That arrogant free thinker brought

The axe upon his neck himself.

(tr. I. Eubanks)

 

Describing the beheading of Kochubey and Iskra, Pushkin compares the road that leads to the site of the execution to zmeinyi khvost (a serpent’s tail):

 

Толпы кипят. Сердца трепещут.
Дорога, как змеиный хвост,
Полна народу, шевелится.

 

The crowd is boiling. Hearts are racing.

The road is clad in human scales,

And writhes, as if a serpent’s tail.

(Canto Two, ll. 387-389)

 

The road that leads to the fortress in which Cincinnatus is imprisoned resembles a snake:

 

Сообразно с законом, Цинциннату Ц. объявили смертный приговор шепотом. Все встали, обмениваясь улыбками. Седой судья, припав к его уху, подышав, сообщив, медленно отодвинулся, как будто отлипал. Засим Цинцинната отвезли обратно в крепость. Дорога обвивалась вокруг её скалистого подножья и уходила под ворота: змея в расселину. Был спокоен; однако его поддерживали во время путешествия по длинным коридорам, ибо он неверно ставил ноги, вроде ребенка, только что научившегося ступать, или точно куда проваливался, как человек, во сне увидевший, что идет по воде, но вдруг усомнившийся: да можно ли? Тюремщик Родион долго отпирал дверь Цинциннатовой камеры, - не тот ключ, - всегдашняя возня.

 

In accordance with the law the death sentence was announced to Cincinnatus С. in a whisper. All rose, exchanging smiles. The hoary judge put his mouth close to his ear, panted for a moment, made the announcement and slowly moved away, as though ungluing himself. Thereupon Cincinnatus was taken back to the fortress. The road wound around its rocky base and disappeared under the gate like a snake in a crevice. He was calm; however, he had to be supported during the journey through the long corridors, since he planted his feet unsteadily, like a child who has just learned to walk, or as if he were about to fall through like a man who has dreamt that he is walking on water only to have a sudden doubt: but is this possible? Rodion, the jailer, took a long time to unlock the door of Cincinnatus’s cell — it was the wrong key — and there was the usual fuss. (Chapter One)

 

In Pushkin’s Stikhi, sochinyonnye noch'yu vo vremya bessonnitsy ("Verses Composed at Night during the Insomnia," 1830) shyopot (whisper) rhymes with ropot:

 

Мне не спится, нет огня;
Всюду мрак и сон докучный.
Ход часов лишь однозвучный
Раздаётся близ меня,
Парки бабье лепетанье,
Спящей ночи трепетанье,
Жизни мышья беготня...
Что тревожишь ты меня?
Что ты значишь, скучный шёпот?
Укоризна, или ропот
Мной утраченного дня?
От меня чего ты хочешь?
Ты зовёшь или пророчишь?
Я понять тебя хочу,
Смысла я в тебе ищу...

 

I can't sleep, the light is out;
Chasing senseless dreams in gloom.
Clocks at once, inside my room,
Somewhere next to me, resound.
Parcae's soft and mild chatter,
Sleeping twilight's noisy flutter, 
Life's commotion -- so insane..
Why am I to feel this pain?
What's your meaning, boring mumble?
Disapproving, do you grumble
Of the day I spent in vain?
What has made you so compelling?
Are you calling or foretelling?
I just want to understand,
Thus I'm seeking your intent...
(Transl. M. Kneller)

Thanks for the transliteration of Pushkin's words: 'shyopot', 'ropot';  'zmeinyi khvost' and 'topor'. The associations are good. One more thing in regard to your newer posts, just as Cincinnatus is described as 'opaque' in the novel, Hugh Person (some 35 years after Priglashenie na kazn') would be prove to be very 'transparent' for his spectral observers. Or as Robert Alter writes: "Person proves to be most transparent where we would expect him to be most opaque, in the phantasmagoric dream-world he enters whenever he is able to elude the insomnia that plagues him."

At the end of Chekhov's story V ovrage ("In the Ravine," 1900) the road is also compared to a snake:

 

Село уже тонуло в вечерних сумерках, и солнце блестело только вверху на дороге, которая змеёй бежала по скату снизу вверх. Возвращались старухи из леса и с ними ребята; несли корзины с волнушками и груздями. Шли бабы и девки толпой со станции, где они нагружали вагоны кирпичом, и носы и щёки под глазами у них были покрыты красной кирпичной пылью. Они пели. Впереди всех шла Липа и пела тонким голосом, и заливалась, глядя вверх на небо, точно торжествуя и восхищаясь, что день, слава богу, кончился и можно отдохнуть. В толпе была её мать, подёнщица Прасковья, которая шла с узелком в руке и, как всегда, тяжело дышала.

 

The village was already plunged in the dusk of evening and the sun only gleamed on the upper part of the road which ran wriggling like a snake up the slope. Old women were coming back from the woods and children with them; they were bringing baskets of mushrooms. Peasant women and girls came in a crowd from the station where they had been loading the trucks with bricks, and their noses and their cheeks under their eyes were covered with red brick-dust. They were singing. Ahead of them all was Lipa singing in a high voice, with her eyes turned upwards to the sky, breaking into trills as though triumphant and ecstatic that at last the day was over and she could rest. In the crowd was her mother Praskovia, who was walking with a bundle in her arms and breathless as usual. (Chapter IX)