NABOKV-L post 0017630, Wed, 28 Jan 2009 22:24:36 -0200

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[NABOKOV] Notes on Pale Fire, D.Zimmer
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Recent postings stimulated me to return to the German translation of "Fahles Feuer". It is interesting to compare DZ's style and the commentaries I'm more familiar with. DZ's (the few I read) are very succint and matter-of-fact, inspite of the condensed precise information that they convey.

On page 434, verse 90 ("next baby","nächste Baby"), it takes him only nine lines to inform that there was a "Klatschgeschichte" (an idle talk) concerning Shade's hypothetical baby, whose mother (the girl in the black leotard) had died, together with her child, in an accident and to offer his reading ("Tatsächlich besagt der Vers nur"): "Maud Shade, born in 1869, lived in the house with her nephew's parents and witnessed John's birth (1898) and his daughter Hazel's (1934). Maud died in 1950."

Now for Pale Fire's lines 238-46 ( "An empty emerald case, squat and frog-eyed/ Hugging the trunk; and its companion piece,/ A gum-logged ant. / That Englishman [...] je nourris/les pauvres cigales [...] Lafontaine was wrong:[...] Dead is the mandible, alive the song." )
Also Kinbote's commentaries: line 238 ..."semitransparent envelope left on a tree trunk by an adult cicada[...]Lafontaine's La Cigale et la Fourmi (see lines 243-244)...the ant, is about to be embalmed in amber; line 240: "the sea gulls of 1933 are all dead, of course...a bulky monument [...] not yet unshrouded."
In his notes to the poem, DZ (page 437: "La Fontaine irrte") straightforwardly offers the traditional spelling , instead of Shade's and Kinbote's ( "Lafontaine") - from which the reference to a "fountain" almost disappears, before he informs that ants, with their strong mandibles, often eat up cicada-larvae, whereas in PF the cicada-nymph survives whereas the ant is embalmed. The reader is trusted to deduce from this information that "dead is the mandible, alive the song" refers to the victorious cicada, to make the connection bt. "sea gulls" and "cicadas" and, perhaps, even to conjecture about those two different "shrouds" that antecipate the monumental Queen Victoria's, soon to be innaugurated.

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