August 19, 1959, Cedarn Utana

Submitted by MARYROSS on Fri, 06/26/2020 - 15:52

Kinbote signs his foreword to Pale Fire with the date “August 19, 1959, Cedarn Utana.” This date contains crucial information to understanding the novel.

 

I was not raised Christian, so I was unaware of this date. I thought it must have some import, so I googled it and found out it is the day celebrated in the Roman Christian calendar that Jesus reveals to his disciples the radiant glory of his true identity, known as the “Transfiguration of Christ.” This event is emphasized with more reverence in the Eastern Orthodox, celebrated traditionally in the old Julian calendar on August 6.

This fits in perfectly with my arguments of a Jungian substrate to PF. The Jungian path of psycho-spiritual transformation, “individuation,” leads to the revelation of the true “self.” I have maintained that Kinbote/Botkin undergoes a classic Jungian “hero’s journey,” but fails in the end because he never comes to terms with his “anima,” the archetype of the feminine.

I searched “transfiguration” the Nabokovian archives, and discovered that Alexey Sklyarenko mentions the August 6 date on August 19. 2010. He shares a poem by Boris Pasternak, “August,” that features the Transfiguration. I thank Alexey for this valuable information. What I would like to add, is that I believe this poem is a seminal source and key to Pale Fire, particularly to Shade’s poem.

The poet awakens in tears from a dream. He dreamt that he was dead and he sees his lost lover come to his wake. He realizes that death is not glorification but  cold and unfeeling.  He wants to forfeit the promised glory and just follow his love and his art. The important lines are:

 

Farewell to the azure of Transfiguration

And the gold of the Second coming.

Soothe the woe of my fatal hour

With a woman's parting caress

 

Farewell to the azure of Transfiguration

And the gold of the Second coming.

Soothe the woe of my fatal hour

With a woman's parting caress

 

Farewell to the trackless years!

Let's say goodbye, o, woman who hurls

A challenge to the abyss of humiliation.

I am your battlefield. 

 

Farewell to you unfurled wing-span,

Free, persistent flight,

The world's image, captured in a word,

Creative work, and miracle-working. 

Compare this to Shade’s “false azure of the windowpane.” The “true azure” is the state of god-realization (transfiguration). However, the poet, Pasternak, like a waxwing flying into a window, realizes that his aspirations of mystical transcendence (“free, persistent flight”) cannot compete with the allure of the “world” and woman and art. This is why Kinbote, like the Cedar Waxwing, hits the wall of his transformation, in “Cedarn.” This is the nexus of Nabokov’s dilemma of the artist. This is why Kinbote undergoes the classic quest of individuation but in the end, fails. He does not deal effectively with his “anima” challenge – Sybil. He is finished, yet he hopes to go on as some new incarnation, rather than ego-surrender. He knows that if he reincarnates he will be faced with a “bigger, more competent” antagonist than his shadow – his anima.

“…the encounter with the shadow is the 'apprentice-piece' in the individual's development...that with the anima is the 'masterpiece.” (C.G. Jung)

 

Full poem here:

 

AUGUST

By Boris Pasternak

(From “The Poems of Yuri Zhivago”)

 

As promised and without deception,

The sun passed through in early morning

In a slanting saffron stripe

From the curtain to the sofa. 

 

It covered with burning ochre

The neighboring woods, village houses,

My bed, the wet pillow

And the strip of wall behind the bookshelf. 

 

I remembered for what reason

The pillow was slightly damp.

I dreamed that you were coming to my wake,

One after another through the woods. 

 

You were coming in a crowd, in ones and twos,

Suddenly, someone remembered that it was

August sixth by the old calendar,

The Transfiguration of Christ. 

 

Usually, a light without fire

Pours this day from Mt. Tabor

And autumn, clear as an omen,

Compels the gaze of all.

 

And you walked through the scant, beggarly

Naked trembling alder grove

Into the ginger-red cemetery woods,

Burning like glazed ginger bread.

 

A solemn sky verged

Upon its silent heights,

And distance called out

In drawling rooster voices.

 

In the woods, among the gravestones

Death stood like a government surveyor,

Looking at my dead face

To dig my grave to measure.

 

All sensed the presence

Of someone's calm voice nearby.

It was my old prophetic voice

That rang, untouched by decay:

 

Farewell to the azure of Transfiguration

And the gold of the Second coming.

Soothe the woe of my fatal hour

With a woman's parting caress

Farewell to the trackless years!

Let's say goodbye, o, woman who hurls

A challenge to the abyss of humiliation.

I am your battlefield.

 

Farewell to you unfurled wing-span,

Free, persistent flight,

The world's image, captured in a word,

Creative work, and miracle-working.  1953