Kinbote describes his family crest as having a bird called "silktail", which resembles a waxwing. The silktail also is like a small firebird:


Incidentally, it is curious to note that a crested bird called in Zemblan sampel (‘silktail’), closely resembling a waxwing in shape and shade, is the model of one of the three heraldic creatures (the other two being respectively a reindeer proper and a merman azure, crined or) in the armorial bearings of the Zemblan King, Charles the Beloved…” (PF p.57)


This is where more overt references to alchemy first appear in Pale Fire. These images are heraldic “emblems”, also called “charges”.  Many emblems share a base with alchemic images. Alchemists used “emblemata”, symbolic engraved images, to illustrate their craft.

The first emblem is the silktail.  Kinbote hints broadly at the connection to John Shade’s waxwing (“shape and shade”), and thus boasts his connection to Shade.  The silktail’s Latin name is “Lamprolia victoria”. The Latin word for silk, however is “bombycis” which would relate it further to John Shade’s “bombycillus shadei” waxwing. The silktail actually resembles a small Bird of Paradise and is of the order Paradisaeidae. From a book by Ronald d. Gray, “Goethe The Alchemist”:


Bird of Paradise is an alchemy symbol and is sometimes represented as a pheasant or a peacock…The ‘peacock’s feathers’ were a widespread symbol in all alchemical literature, representing either the Philosophers’ Stone itself, or the stage in the Magnum Opus immediately preceding it.”


The pheasant stands for a person of resources; the peacock for immortality.


More subtly suggested is Nabokov’s early émigré nom de plume, “Sirin”. The sirin was a fabulous bird, one of the three birds of paradise in Russian folklore. 

John Shade writes of pheasant's feet as clues "pointing backwards" a la Sherlock Holmes.

There is thus a string of connections waxwing/Sterbevogel/death/silktail/firebird/phoenix/peacock/alchemy/rebirth/clues/Shade/Kinbote/Nabokov

On Sun, Dec 17, 2017 at 9:50 AM, Hen Hanna <> wrote:
       These links   ( waxwing = Sterbevogel, microphoenix ...)
            seem new to Nabokov scholarship,
       and if so, pls give credit to me (as HenHanna (no space)),
    as  Prof Maar does (to VN-list posts) in his books' footnotes.

So, a waxwing is both a death-bird   and
                                a micro-firebird (of rebirth),
        which seems fitting
         and esp.  interesting to me
              because of FW (Finnegans Wake) connections.

Kreuzvogel --  it   'cross'es   over to the other side ?


        waxwing = Sterbevogel, or  Pestvogel, (Krieg(s)vogel, ...)
                                      in Switzerland
                (   omen of war,   disease,  or freezing weather  )
                                  (recurring every 7 years)

The Flying Dutchman
 "Die Frist ist um, und abermals verstrichen sind sieben Jahr"
  (The time has come and seven years have again elapsed)


                for [Sterbevogel]
                other sources more suitable / reliable than
                 this book     can easily be found :

Bird Magic: Wisdom of the Ancient Goddess for Pagans & Wiccans
                 Sandra Kynes - 2016 - ‎Body, Mind & Spirit

To German speakers, they were known as sterbevogel, “death birds,”
because huge flocks would swoop in and devour vast amounts of fruit
before it could be harvested.165

              In Irish folklore, the waxwing was regarded as a
harbinger of the banshee who would wail when death was nigh.

 In addition, the red spots of color on some of the wing feathers were
called “drops of hellfire.”166     To others,  the red drops looked
more like sealing wax, which is the source of the bird's common name,
... .................


Nos oiseaux - Volumes 51-52 - Page 227
                  2004 - ‎Snippet view -

Elles sont à l'origine du nom anglais « Waxwing », mais aussi des
appellations «incendiaria», «incineraria» et même « microphoenix »
(Brisson 1760, t. Il, p.  334), rappel de l'oiseau légendaire qui
renaît du feu.
Car depuis l'Antiquité, le Jaseur a acquis la triste
réputation d'incendiaire de villages, auxquels il boutait le feu en
laissant tomber des braises sur les toits. Comme tous les phénomènes
rares, atmosphériques (arc-en-ciel), astronomiques (comètes,
météorites) ou biologiques ...

 ( ... For since antiquity, the Jasper? [waxwing] has acquired the sad
reputation of incendiary  (of) villages, which he fired the fire by
dropping embers on the roofs. )

                  microphoenix --  see  “drops of hellfire”  above


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: "Mary H. Efremov" <>
Date: Sat, 25 Mar 2017 22:20:11 -0400
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] reflected sky, even & odd in PF

there is a scientific or literary reason for everything in VN;s books

-----Original Message-----
From: Hen Hanna <henhanna@GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Sat, Mar 25, 2017 10:06 pm
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] reflected sky, even & odd in PF

On 3/24/17, Alexey Sklyarenko <> wrote:
> At the beginning of his poem Pale Fire John Shade (one of the three main
> characters in VN’s novel Pale Fire, 1962) compares himself to the shadow of
> the waxwing and mentions the reflected sky:
> I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
> By the false azure in the windowpane
> I was the smudge of ashen fluff--and I
> Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky (ll. 1-4)

      I did wonder,   why waxwing?   why that particular bird?

              It turns out that waxwings are known for that.

Spring Is in the Air and So Are Intoxicated Birds | Audubon
2011/03/02 - Cedar waxwings and robins are most likely to gorge on
fermented blackberries, pyracantha or juniper berries ... Tipsy birds
may be more likely to smash into windows, so consider putting decals
on the large reflective surfaces.

2012/05/25 - Flocks of cedar waxwings died en masse outside Los
Angeles after overdoing it on berries from the Brazilian pepper tree.

                I  was reading a trivia book, and  found this.   HH

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