Falkberg, Mutraberg & Paberg in Pale Fire

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sun, 06/26/2022 - 10:06

Describing the King’s escape from Zembla, Kinbote (in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962, Shade’s mad commentator who imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) mentions the green, gray, bluish mountains – Falkberg with its hood of snow, Mutraberg with the fan of its avalanche, Paberg (Mt. Peacock), and others:


Great fallen crags diversified the wayside. The nippern (domed hills or "reeks") to the south were broken by a rock and grass slope into light and shadow. Northward melted the green, gray, bluish mountains – Falkberg with its hood of snow, Mutraberg with the fan of its avalanche, Paberg (Mt. Peacock), and others – separated by narrow dim valleys with intercalated cotton-wool bits of cloud that seemed placed between the receding sets of ridges to prevent their flanks from scraping against one another. Beyond them, in the final blue, loomed Mt. Glitterntin, a serrated edge of bright foil; and southward, a tender haze enveloped more distant ridges which led to one another in an endless array, through every grade of soft evanescence. (note to Line 149)


Paberg seems to blend påfågel (Swedish for “peacock;” the Swedish word fågel corresponds to German Vogel and means “bird”) with Vilhelm Moberg (1898-1973), a Swedish author whose play Domaren (“The Judge,” 1957) was made into a film (that entered the 1961 Cannes Film Festival) by Alf Sjöberg. Abram Hannibal’s second wife, Christine Regina Sjöberg (1717-81) was Pushkin’s great-grandmother. The Polish word for “nut,” mutra was borrowed from German Mutter (which means in German “mother” and “nut”). In his Foreword to the first edition of Chapter One of Eugene Onegin Pushkin writes: “The author, on his mother's side, is of African descent. His great-grandfather, Abram Petrovich Hannibal, was abducted at the age of eight from the African shores and taken to Constantinople.” Pushkin is the author of Poltava (1829), a poem whose characters include the Russian tsar Peter I and the King of Sweden Charles XII, and Mednyi vsadnik (“The Bronze Horseman,” 1833). Falkberg hints at Falconet, the author of an equestrian statue of Peter the First. Great fallen crags mentioned by Kinbote bring to mind grom-kamen’ (the Thunder Stone, the monument's pedestal), the largest stone ever moved by humans (it originally weighed about 1500 tonnes, but was carved down during transportation to its current size and weight of 1,250 tons). The hero of “The Bronze Horseman,” Eugene goes mad after the death of his sweetheart Parasha who perished in the disastrous Neva flood of 1824. Botkin goes mad and becomes Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade’s “real” name) who drowned in Lake Omega. In a poem addressed to Bryusov Sergey Solovyov says that, in the book of Russian verse, Pushkin is alpha and Bryusov omega:


Пушкин - альфа, ты - омега
В книге русского стиха.


Shade’s murderer, Gradus is a member of the Shadows (a regicidal organization). Bryusov is the author of Zerkalo teney (“The Mirror of Shadows,” 1912), a collection of poetry. In the penultimate line of his poem Stokgol’m (“Stockholm,” 1906) Bryusov mentions zerkalo Melara (the mirror of Mälaren):


Словно над глубями зеркала
Ты из гранита возник,
В зыби стремительной Мэлара
Свой разбивая двойник.

Сын вечно женственной родины,
Весь ты в любимую мать!
Трудно ль в осанке усвоенной
Нежность души угадать!

Ты, как сосна Далекарлии, —
Строен, задумчив и прям.
Годы тебя не состарили,
Снегом скользнув по кудрям.

Витязь пленительный Севера,
Ты головой не поник!
Весело в зеркале Мэлара
Твой ускользает двойник.


The last word in Bryusov’s poem is dvoynik (the double). Shade’s poem is almost finished when the author is killed by Gradus. Kinbote believes that, to be completed, Shade’s poem needs but one line (Line 1000, identical to Line 1: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain”). But it seems that, like some sonnets, Shade's poem also needs a coda (Line 1001: “By its own double in the windowpane”).


Falkberg and Paberg (Mt. Peacock) also bring to mind Yastreb, pavlin i sova (“The Falcon, the Peacock and the Owl”), a fable by Antioch Kantemir (1708-44), a son of the Moldavian Prince, the Russian envoy in London and in Paris (where he became a close friend of Montesquieu and Voltaire). In his poem Predvestiya (“Omens") dated January 9, 1905 (known as the Bloody Sunday) Bryusov mentions the bronze Giant who created the ghost city and someone who is all-seeing, like an owl:


Сознанье строгое есть в жестах Немезиды:
Умей читать условные черты:
Пред тем как сбылись Мартовские Иды,
Гудели в храмах медные щиты…


Священный занавес был в скинии распорот:
В часы Голгоф трепещет смутный мир…
О, бронзовый Гигант! ты создал призрак-город,
Как призрак-дерево из семени — факир.


В багряных свитках зимнего тумана
Нам солнце гневное явило лик втройне,
И каждый диск сочился, точно рана…
И выступила кровь на снежной пелене.


А ночью по пустым и гулким перекресткам
Струились шелесты невидимых шагов,
И город весь дрожал далеким отголоском
Во чреве времени шумящих голосов…


Уж занавес дрожит перед началом драмы,
Уж кто-то в темноте — всезрящий, как сова, —
Чертит круги, и строит пентаграммы,
И шепчет вещие заклятья и слова.

9 января 1905



Во сне такое не приснится:

Ноль отменяет Единицу.


You can’t see such a thing even in dreams:

Naught cancels Unit.