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Mary, p. 41: Podtyagin’s melancholy

October 25, 2009

The old poet, Podtyagin, talking to Ganin, reflects in this conversation on the value of poetry:

“Do you know, Anton Sergeyevich, today I remembered those old magazines which used to print your poetry.  And the birch groves.”

“Did you really?”  The old man turned with a look of good-natured irony.  “What a fool I was—for the sake of those birch trees I wasted all my life, I overlooked the whole of Russia.”

Podtyagin’s “missing the forest for the trees” seems at once to be N’s reflection on the missed relation between specificity and totalilty in the romantic poetry of the Russian past, and perhaps an early comment on his lifelong fascination with the vexed relation between “literature” and “reality.”

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