NABOKV-L post 0026024, Tue, 17 Feb 2015 15:02:38 -0200

Wordplay 'Peacock-herl",
"alder" and Goethe's lines "bist du nicht willig..." from the
Erlkoenig - harlequins and fisherwomen - correction

De: Jansy Mello []
Enviada em: terça-feira, 17 de fevereiro de 2015 14:25
Para: Vladimir Nabokov Forum
Assunto: [NABOKV-L] Wordplay 'Peacock-herl", "alder" and Goethe's lines
"bist du nicht willig..." from the Erlkoenig - harlequins and fisherwomen

JM: …another connection (that other VN-readers may have already puzzled out)
related to The peacock-herl is the body of a certain sort of artificial fly
also called "alder." Until now, alder-fly fishing and anglers in CK’s notes
and index had always seemed to be a gratuitous indication towards the other
Alderking references by C.Kinbote, nothing more [ ] I had been tied to the
visual images related to the peacock-herl, not to its sound when the “h” is
mute. Now I wonder if, in his references to fishing, Nabokov hadn’t been
enjoying the coincidence of the strictly verbal links of the sounds
“herl/“alder”, repeated in relation to the Alder/ Erlkoenig’s “Erl”, to
reverberate the alderfly bait…

Jansy Mello: Actually there is a verbal connection that is more than the
one solely related to “sound” (herl-erl) and it is almost possible to
ascertain that VN was aware of it!

Among the entries related to Erlkönig there was an indication of the
commedia del’arte figure of the harlequin, but I skipped it for the time.
Here is what I got from the Etymology online information:
harlequin (n.) 1580s, from Middle French harlequin, from Old French
Herlequin, Hellequin, etc., leader of la maisnie Hellequin, a troop of
demons who rode the night air on horses. He corresponds to Old English Herla
cyning "King Herla," mythical character sometimes identified as Woden;
possibly also the same as the German Erlkönig "Elf King" of the Goethe poem.
Sometimes also associated with Herrequin, 9c. count of Boulogne, who was
proverbially wicked. In English pantomime, a mute character who carries a
magic wand. His Italian form, arlecchino, is one of the stock characters of
commedia del'arte. From his ludicrous dress comes the English adjective
meaning "particolored" (1779).

I had also left aside the information about Goethe’s ballad “Erlkoenig” and
a fisherwoman [“Goethe's ‘Erlkönig’ was always intended to be sung, and it
occurs in his play Die Fischerin (The Fisherwoman, 1782).]. The elements, in
“Pale Fire”, linked to angling and fishing mentioned a boy [Kinbote’s notes
to 1. Lines 609-614:... This describes rather well the "chance inn," …where
I am trying to coordinate these notes… Now it is quieter, except for an
irritating wind rattling through the withered aspens, and Cedarn is again a
ghost town, and there are no summer fools or spies to stare at me, and my
little blue-jeaned fisherman no longer stands on his stone in the stream,
and perhaps it is better so. 2. Index: “his logcabin in Cedarn and the
little angler, a honey-skinned lad, naked except for a pair of torn
dungarees, one trouser leg rolled up, frequently fed with nougat and nuts,
but then school started or the weather changed, 609”] .
However, Kinbote seems to be deliberately vague on the matter of “genders”
(this is not well expressed, there are too many convolutions to render,
Kinbote suggested, for Shade’s verse on line 584, that the late rider in
Goethe’s poem might have been a woman (the mother). Later, he returned to
the father and, at last, associated the Erlkoenig himself to “another
fabulous ruler” (not a rider, though). Btw: he referred to his note to line
664, but there’s none to be found in the Index.

Line 584: The mother and the child

Es ist die Mutter mit ihrem Kind (see note to line 664).

John Shade’s lines, discoursing about IPH on line 584 are: (“ Does that
small solemn boy/ Know of the head-on crash which on a wild”/) “March night
killed both the mother and the child?”) A wild windy March night reminiscent
of the one in which Hazel committed suicide…

Line 662: Who rides so late in the night and the wind

This line, and indeed the whole passage (lines 653-664), allude to the
well-known poem by Goethe about the erlking, hoary enchanter of the
elf-haunted alderwood, who falls in love with the delicate little boy of a
belated traveler. One cannot sufficiently admire the ingenious way in which
Shade manages to transfer something of the broken rhythm of the ballad (a
trisyllabic meter at heart) into his iambic verse:

, , ,

662 Who rides so late in the night and the wind

663 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

, , , ,

664 . . . . It is the father with his child

Goethe’s two lines opening the poem come out most exactly and beautifully,
with the bonus of an unexpected rhyme (also in French: vent-enfant), in my
own language:

, , ,

Ret woren ok spoz on natt ut vett?

, , , ,

Eto est votchez ut mid ik dett.

Another fabulous ruler, the last king of Zembla, kept repeating these
haunting lines to himself both in Zemblan and German, as a chance
accompaniment of drumming fatigue and anxiety, while he climbed through the
bracken belt of the dark mountains he had to traverse in his bid for

The mélange of characters associated to Goethe’s poem and John Shade’s verse
and life is to be found on various parts of PF’s verses and CK’s notes. The
soothing voice of the father to his sick child is heard in John Shade’s
soothing explanations to his wife in relation to the wild wind rattling
against the windowpanes while she worries about her daughter (mysterious
wind, father, mother and child, here a daughter). The cause of the noise
echoes a prowling C.Kinbote while the lines are being read in July, not on
the actual March night of Hazel’s accident *. Fisherwoman, fisherman,
angler, mother, father, child (daughter, son).


* C.Kinbote: “On certain nights, when long before its inhabitants’ usual
bedtime the house would be dark on the three sides I could survey… July 11,
the date of Shade’s completing his Second Canto. It was a hot, black,
blustery night. I stole through the shrubbery to the rear of their house. I
could see Sybil and John, her on the edge of a divan…As I strained to see
better, standing up to my knees in a horribly elastic box hedge, I dislodged
the sonorous lid of a garbage can. This of course might have been mistaken
for the work of the wind, and Sybil hated the wind. She at once left her
perch, closed the window with a great bang, and pulled down its strident
blind…Not only did I understand then that Shade regularly read to Sybil
cumulative parts of his poem but it also dawns upon me now that, just as
regularly, she made him tone down or remove from his Fair Copy everything
connected with the magnificent Zemblan theme…”

Lines 47-48: the frame house between Goldsworth and Wordsmith

“Stealthy rustles, the footsteps of yesteryear leaves, an idle breeze, a dog
touring the garbage cans — everything sounded to me like a bloodthirsty
prowler. I kept moving from window to window, my silk nightcap drenched with
sweat, my bared breast a thawing pond, and sometimes, armed with the judge’s
shotgun, I dared beard the terrors of the terrace. I suppose it was then, on
those masquerading spring nights with the sounds of new life in the trees
cruelly mimicking the cracklings of old death in my brain, I suppose it was
then, on those dreadful nights, that I got used to consulting the windows of
my neighbor’s house in the hope for a gleam of comfort (see notes to lines
47-48). But on those March nights their house was as black as a coffin…”

Line 62: often

John Shade: 43-47 "Was that the phone?" You listened at the

Nothing. Picked up the
program from the floor.

More headlights in the
fog. There was no sense

In window-rubbing: only
some white fence

And the reflector poles
passed by unmasked.


You gently yawned and
stacked away your plate.

We heard the wind. We
heard it rush and throw

480 Twigs at the windowpane.
Phone ringing? No.

I helped you with the
dishes. The tall clock

Kept on demolishing young
root, old rock.


And when we lost our child

I knew there would be
nothing: no self-styled

Spirit would touch a
keyboard of dry wood

650 To rap out her pet name; no
phantom would

Rise gracefully to welcome
you and me

In the dark garden, near
the shagbark tree.

"What is that funny
creaking — do you hear?"

"It is the shutter on the
stairs, my dear."

"If you’re not sleeping,
let’s turn on the light.

I hate that wind! Let’s
play some chess." "All right."

"I’m sure it’s not the
shutter. There — again."

"It is a tendril fingering
the pane."

"What glided down the roof
and made that thud?"

660 "It is old winter tumbling
in the mud."

"And now what shall I do?
My knight is pinned."

Who rides so late in the
night and the wind?

It is the writer’s grief.
It is the wild

March wind. It is the
father with his child.

Later came minutes, hours,
whole days at last,

When she’d be absent from
our thoughts, so fast

Did life, the woolly
caterpillar run.

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