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Mary, pp. 91-93: the poems in the letters?

July 15, 2010

The letters between Ganin and Mary contain four snippets from poems, only one of which is identified as authored by Podtyagin: “The full moon shines over forest and stream, / Look at the ripples–how richly they gleam!”  A fairly extensive web search has not revealed (to me, at least) the source of the other passages; the only reference I could find was an unanswered query from Alex Billington on the Nabokov-L listserv asking about the source of the three other passages.  It’s entirely possible, of course, that these are contrivances of Nabokov himself offering a mocking perspective on Ganin’s exaggerated romantic ideals, especially as two of the three snippets are quite sentimental in nature, and the third comes off as parody (“Write to them that my little boy Lyov / I kiss as much as I can, / That an Austrian helmet from Lvov / To bring for his birthday I plan / But a separate note to my father–“).  The notion of a child’s birthday gift of an “Austrian helmet” (doubtless taken from the head of a dead soldier lying on a World War I battlefield) poeticized in this cant-like passage as a mnemonic device for recalling a the “kisses” of a love affair sardonically suggests the rigid compartmentalizing of the past taking place in Ganin’s memory; nor can the “cute,” fortuitous end-rhyming of Lyov with Lvov (the former, the name of the boy; the latter, a Ukrainian city, also known as “Lviv”) be overlooked.  I’m positing for now that Nabokov wrote these lines within the letters, but if anyone reading this knows if any of these passages are simply being cited by N and authored by someone else, please comment.

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