Vladimir Nabokov

27 Masonic Symbols in Pale Fire

By MARYROSS, 13 March, 2024

Masons present their teachings through symbols and rituals, which they feel presents more of an overall gestaltische absorption than mere words. The symbols are visual illustrations of the basic precepts, called “emblamata.” From several online sources I have deduced the 33 main symbols. Twenty-seven of these may be found in Pale Fire. What are the chances of that?!


 (Not found are: Keystone, Acacia sprig, Trestle Board, Anchor, Ark, Pavement, gavel, 24” Gauge, Tyler’s Sword)


Below I have compiled a list of the 27. The numbers of occurrences are in brackets. I have only chosen one example from the text for each symbol. The meanings of each symbol are too complex to include here. The esoteric influence on Pale Fire is notable.


The Square [14] & Compass [1]                     “a compass rose of ivory”      

The Letter G                                                  “The Big G

Pillar [5]                                                         “a little pillar of library books”

The Broken Column  [3]                                “against a smooth column

Cable [2] Tow                                                “Cable headquarters?”

Blazing [1] Star [70] (blaze [11])                    “study window was simply blazing."

Apron [2]                                                       “that boom under her apron”

Sheaf of Corn [1]                                           "corny as a cook-out chef apron." 

Masonic shoe/slipper [15/10]                        “Gemmed turf a brown shoe lay!” 

Beehive [1]                                                     “In this hive I'm Locked up.”

Two-headed eagle [3]                                  “his wife, a dilapidated eagle”

The Moon [12]                                                “The moon is a thief”

Solomon’s Temple [7]                                   “in the temple light of the stacks”

Hour Glass [1]                                                 “an hour was equal to 480 ounces of fine sand”

The Level [7]                                                  “Three hours later he trod level ground.”

The Scythe (mow [6])                                    “staggering up a slippery, recently mown meadow”

The Masonic Pencil [10]                                 “A rapid pencil sketch of Spring”

The Number 7 [20]                                        “a bright little parricide aged seven”

Cedar (of Lebanon) [11]                                 “my cave in Cedarn”

Rough [4] & Perfect [22] Ashlar                    “This is extremely rough in appearance”

Key [14]                                                          “hiding my keys”

Staircase [5]                                                   “clattered down a helical staircase

Jacob’s [2] Ladder [2]                                   “He stood at the top of a green ladder”

Handshake [2]                                                “this lofty handshake

The Plumb      [4]                                           “such as plumbing instructions”

Masonic Pavement (1)                                    “stone-paved underground passage”

Lemniscate                                                      "the miracle of a lemniscate"

These are only examples of illustrated emblemata. In Pale Fire there are a number of other indications of Freemasonry, such as the Gradus/Grail connection, the Grand Architect, Alchemy, Tri-part Man, etc. that I have mentioned in other posts.



4 months ago

Masonic PF allusions

Updated 04/08/24

The following are more words with Masonic allusions in Pale Fire. The previous list was of actual symbols (emblamata), while these are concepts, ideas, frequently used words associated with Freemasonry.

Here are good sources for symbols: https://freemasoninformation.com/masonic-symbols/

And for concepts and symbols: https://freemasoninformation.com/masonic-symbols/


The Three Graces/Muses:

Faith/faithful [10]                               “Old Faithful!” 

Hope/hopeful/hopeless [31]               “the sensation for which poets hope”

Love(r) (not lovely) [54]                    “then your loved body's obliteration in the Lap of the Lord”


The Three Pillars:

 Beauty [12]                                         “exquisite beauty with highly indecent subject matter”

Strength [2]                                         “fervently asked God for guidance and strength

Wisdom [1]                                          “wisdom of this easy aphorism” (“No free man needs a God”)


The Three Jewels [12]:                         “Crown Jewels” (3: “crown, necklace and scepter” 

The Square [14]                                  “square of green”

The Level [7]                                       “Three hours later he trod level ground

The Plumb-rule [4]                             “Lethe leaks in the dreary terms of defective plumbing”


Masonic Blue:

Blue: 50                                               I loved your poemin the Blue Review.

Azure: 4                                              “By the false azure in the windowpane”

Cobalt:                                                   “Kobaltana”


Mason(ry) [3]                                     “ work in surrounding layers of masonry”

Free (man) [18]                                   “No free man needs a God”

Lodge [9]                                             “sense of superiority over his low-lodged jailers”

Fraternity 920                                     “nice fraternity boys”

Journey [10]                                       “my automobile journey from New Wye to Cedarn”

Apprentice [1]                                       “together with his three young apprentices” 

Fellow/(Fellowcraft) [20]                   “I am the most impractical fellow in the world.”

Craft [3]                                              “by their following the craft system”

Master(piece) [12]                              “two masters of the heroic couplet”

Worthy (Master) [3]                           the worthy Ferz ("chessqueen") Bretwit

Brother [11]                                         “brothers among the followers of the King”

Knight [4]                                            “my knight is pinned”

Initiation [1]                                          “ Initiation took place on Saturday”

Veil [4]                                                 "we both had seen "beyond the veil"

Degree [9]                                           “did hold for him some degree of pleasure”

Steps [23]                                            “ran three steps down and nine steps up”     

Grade [5]                                             “an elaborate, twisting, marvelously graded road”

Gradual [15]                                         “poet seems to name here (gradual, gray) a man”

Graduate [1]                                         “a Korean graduate student”

Ceremonial [1]                                     “ceremonial duties, in light and shadow

Ritual [4]                                              traced to various reckless rituals in student fraternities”

Emblem [4]                                         "Emblem, meaning 'blooming' in Zemblan"

Light [141]                                            “light and shade effects”

Dark [64]                                             “gone--presently to darken our pages again.

Password [2]                                       “Harmony, indeed, was the reign’s password” 

Secret [33]                                           “My secret stamp,/The Shade impress, the mystery inborn” 

Sign [15]                                              Give me the sign," he avidly said”

Grip [4]                                               “warmth of my hand gripping yours, poor Shade!”

Cipher [2]                                           “not at all sure I have deciphered properly”

Code [2]                                              “craft system … using two different sets of code words”

Legend [3]                                           “a wild, misty, almost legendary Zembla!”

Oath [1]                                              An unprintable oath escaped from him”

Sanctus sanctorum                              “the ‘intact’ sanctuary

Porch [15]                                           “well do I recall seeing him from my porch


Francis Bacon (“father”of FM)          “Baconian acrostics” 

33 (Bacon’s cipher number)               “which we had visited in thirty-three

Our Francis (RC code word)[2]          “John Francis Shade”


Three Ruffians (rough [4])                  “three companions[…]those roughs”          

Rough [4]/Smooth [6] Stone [23]       “against a smooth column

Mystery/mysterious [14]                   “The Shade impress, the mystery inborn”

Mystic(al) [3]                                     “Uniting mystically her and me”

Magic/magician [7]                              “the young Prince took Oleg to the magical closet”

Conjure/conjuror [6]                           “He suffocates and conjures in two tongues”

Abracadabra [1]                                  “to seek a secret design in the abracadabra”


Tiles: 4                                                “the ace of spades lying on the tiled floor”   

Wine [8]                                              “I shall sample your wine with pleasure”

Grape [3]                                            “Russian word for grapevinograd

Mosaic: 2                                             “the sectile mosaic of the court”

Cairns [4]                                             Steinmann

Tracing (Board) [5]                              “A male hand traced from Florida to Maine”  

 Architect(ure) [4]                                “Your modern architect”

Astronomer [2]                                    “star over the blue eminently suits an astronomer” 

Philosophy [1]                                      “the respectable institute of higher philosophy” 

Philosopher [1]                                     “names of celebrated poets, painters, philosophers

Know(ledge) [128]                               “a remarkable case of foreknowledge”

Gnosis [1]                                             “whatever my agnostic friend might say in denial”


Devil (not ‘Mandevil’) [3]                    “God makes hungry, the Devil thirsty”

Satan [2]                                              “little devils whom Satan commissions”

Angel [4]                                             “bare-kneed mountain lad like a tawny angel

Spark: 3                                               “that spark on that key

Vegetarian: 3                                       “made of me a vegetarian for life” 

Robe [5]                                              “a monarch to appear in the robes of learning”

Grave [9]                                             A grave in Reason's early spring”

Widow [13]                                         a self-made widow

Soul [20]                                             There in the background of my soul it stood”

Eternal/eternity [8]                             And I'll turn down eternity” 

June 23 St. Johns’ Day                       “a conversation the poet and I had on June 23” 

Northeast corner [1]                           “facing the window, in the northeast corner” 

Southwest corner [3]                          vestibule in the southwest corner of the Palace”

Immortal [2]                                        signs being able to contain immortal imagery”

Homosexuality [2]                              “Zemblan ingledom/ Uranograd”

Religion [4]                                         “a religion of her own”

Treasure [14]                                      “still in quest of a buried treasure”  

Quest [4]                                             “The awful perplexities of his quest” 

Resurrection [1]                                  “What moment inthe gradual decay/Does resurrection choose ?