"Some kind of link-and-bobolink..."

She had strange fears, strange fantasies, strange force
Of character—as when she spent three nights
Investigating certain sounds and lights
In an old barn. . . .
        Pale Fire, ll. 344-347

. . . For brief periods of time it responded to the alphabet she recited by staying put until the right letter was called whereupon it gave a small jump of approval. . . . The jumble of broken words and meaningless syllables which she managed at last to collect came out in her dutiful notes as a short line of simple letter-groups. I transcribe:
    pada ata lane pad not ogo old wart alan ther tale feur far rant lant tal told
                Pale Fire, Note to l. 347, p. 188

    pada ata lane pad not ogo old wart alan ther tale feur far rant lant tal told

Line 270: My dark Vanessa   . . . In this connection a couple of lines from one of Swift's poems (which in these backwoods I cannot locate) have stuck in my memory:
        When, lo! Vanessa in her bloom
        Advanced like Atalanta's star
    As to the Vanessa butterfly, it will reappear in lines 993-995 (to which see note). Shade used to say that its Old English name was The Red Admirable, later degraded to The Red Admiral. It is one of the few butterflies I happen to be familiar with. . . .
                Pale Fire, Commentary, p. 172

. . . The barn ghost seems to have expressed himself with the empasted difficulty of apoplexy or of a half-awakening from a half-dream slashed by a sword of light on the ceiling, a military disaster with cosmic consequences that cannot be phrased distinctly by the thick unwilling tongue. . . .
. . . I have pored endlessly with a commentator's infinite patience and disgust, over the crippled syllables in Hazel's report to find the least allusion to the poor girl's fate. Not one hint did I find. . . . anything here that might be construed, however remotely, as containing a warning, or having some bearing on the circumstances of her soon-coming death.
                Pale Fire, Note to l. 347, p. 189

Maud Shade was eighty when a sudden hush
Fell on her life. We saw the angry flush
And torsion of paralysis assail
Her noble cheek. . . .
She still could speak. She paused, and groped, and found
What seemed at first a serviceable sound,
But from adjacent cells impostors took
The place of words she needed, and her look
Spelt importation as she sought in vain
To reason with the monsters in her brain.
                Pale Fire, ll. 195-208

    pada ata lane pad not ogo old wart alan ther tale feur far rant lant tal told




In a letter to scholar Andrew Field, 26 September 1966, Nabokov himself offered this "translation" of the message's meaning:
"Padre should not go to the lane to be mistaken for old Goldswart (worth) after finishing his tale (pale) feur (fire), [which in Shakespeare's play is accompanied by] the word 'arrant' (farant) [and this] with 'lant' makes up the Atalanta butterfly in Shade's last scene. It is told by the spirit in the barn."
      Quoted in Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years

      (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991; p. 454)
In Nabokov's Pale Fire, Brian Boyd paraphrases the message this way:
". . . we can now see a message to Hazel to tell her 'father (pada, pa, da, padre) he is not to go across the lane to old Goldsworth's, as an atalanta butterfly dances by, after he finishes "Pale Fire" (tale feur), at the invitation of someone from a foreign land who has told and even ranted his tall tale to him.'"
      (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999; p. 110)

One minute before his death, as we were crossing from his desmesne to mine and had begun working up between the junipers and ornamental shrubs, a Red Admirable (see note to line 270) came dizzily whirling around us like a colored flame. Once or twice before we had already noticed the same individual, at that same time, on that same spot, where the low sun finding an aperture in the foliage splashed the brown sand with a last radiance while the evening's shade covered the rest of the path. One's eyes could not follow the rapid butterfly in the sunbeams as it flashed and vanished, and flashed again, with an almost frightening imitation of conscious play which now culminated in its settling upon my delighted friend's sleeve. It took off, and we saw it next moment sporting in an ecstasy of frivolous haste around a laurel shrub, every now and then perching on a lacquered leaf and sliding down its grooved middle like a boy down the banisters on his birthday. Then the tide of the shade reached the laurels, and the magnificent, velvet-and-flame creature dissolved in it.
                Pale Fire, Commentary to ll. 993-995, p. 290
Where are you? In the garden. I can see
Part of your shadow near the shagbark tree. . . .
A dark Vanessa with a crimson band
Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand
And shows its ink-blue wingtips flecked with white.
                Pale Fire, ll. 989-995
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