Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026649, Mon, 23 Nov 2015 06:47:38 +0300

two ping-pong tables & erlking in Pale Fire
"Come, come," said Professor Hurley, "do you mean, John, you really don't have a mental or visceral picture of that stunning blonde in the black leotard who haunts Lit. 202?" Shade, all his wrinkles beaming, benignly tapped Hurley on the wrist to make him stop. Another tormentor inquired if it was true that I had installed two ping-pong tables in my basement. I asked, was it a crime? No, he said, but why two? "Is that a crime?" I countered, and they all laughed. (Foreword)

Two ping-pong tables installed by Kinbote can hint at Dva lesnykh tsarya (“Two Forest Kings,” 1933), an essay by Marina Tsvetaev in which she compares Lesnoy tsar’ (“The Forest King,” 1818), Zhukovski’s Russian version of Goethe’s Erlkönig (1782), to the original. In his Commentary Kinbote quotes Goethe’s poem in English and in Zemblan:

This line, and indeed the whole passage (lines 653-664 <http://www.shannonrchamberlain.com/palefirepoem.html#line653> ), 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 freedom. (note to Line 662)

In a letter of Nov. 9, 1836 (a few days after Pushkin sent his first challenge to d'Anthès, the Dutch Minister's adopted son), to Pushkin Zhukovski mentions bezumnoe zlodeystvo (a mad villainy):

Дай мне счастие избавить тебя от безумного злодейства, а жену твою от совершенного посрамления.

Grant me the happiness to save you from a mad villainy and your wife from the complete disgrace.

Alexey Sklyarenko

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