Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023781, Fri, 15 Mar 2013 21:09:14 +0100

Pale Fire QUERY - Line 992

In answer to Barrie Akin’s Pale Fire query.

"Lampost" is definitely a typo. The Vintage edition gives “lamppost”.

There seem to be at least two possible ways of reading line 992.

The first one has to do with the horseshoes mentioned in the previous line. The horseshoe game is played by pitching horseshoes as close as possible to a stake which is also called a “leaner”. If the horseshoe is pitched so close that it leans against the stake, the image in the poem is easier to understand.

Interestingly, the French translation makes this crystal clear, albeit by adding something in line 992 (le fer) and making a definite interpretive choice :

Quelque part on lance des fers à cheval. Bing Bang.

(Le fer s’appuie contre son réverbère, comme un ivrogne.)

But there still remains a slight grammatical problem (ignored by the French translators) as “horseshoes” in line 991 is plural and does not agree with “its”. This leads me to my second hypothesis. What if line 992 refers to line 990 and it is Sybil’s shadow which does the leaning against the shagbark tree. The tree is now compared to a lamppost and the shadow looks like a drunk because it is aslant. The problem with this reading is that one might wonder why the bracketed segment does not immediately follow line 990. And I cannot think of a reasonable answer as reversing lines and turning what is now 992 into 991 (and 991 into 992) would not cause any major versification problem because the rhyme remains intact. What would disappear, though, is any trace of ambiguity as it would be obvious that the bracketed fragment refers to line 990.

The line order adopted in the poem leads me to conclude that Shade (or/and Nabokov of course) wants to preserve the dual reading and force his reader to hesitate. This would not be particularly surprising in Pale Fire where enigmatic passages are numerous.

René Alladaye
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