It’s Only Natural
Down below, the little town could be seen with its white, red-roofed houses, its cathedral, and its bridge, on both sides of which streamed jostling masses of Russian troops. At the bend of the Danube, vessels, an island, and a castle with a park surrounded by the waters of the confluence of the Enns and the Danube, became visible, and the rocky left bank of the Danube covered with pine forests, with a mystic background of green tree-tops and bluish gorges. The turrets of a convent stood out beyond a wild virgin pine-forest, and far away on the other side of the Enns the enemy’s horse patrols could be discerned.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
These are some of the opening lines from today’s reading. Their naturalistic, simple description of the Austrian countryside attains an empyreal, meditative state for the reader. The chapter concludes with something similar. Sandwiched between these two splendid pastoral passages, however, is a gallery of brutal human lunacies ranging from the wanton discharge of heavy weaponry to talk of sexually assaulting a nunnery.
The presentation of such sharp dynamics is a classic Tolstoyan literary technique. We’ll encounter many more as we progress through the novel. He often employs this technique during a battle scene or as the prelude to a battle scene. To me what Tolstoy is trying to express is that nature, in all its wide, eternal grandeur, is absolutely indifferent to the human struggle. That is to say, no matter the folly, the feeling, or the frustrations we experience, nature takes no notice. It does not care. We are nearly nothing, just an insignificant part of the whole.
For everything that happens in the universe one can readily find reason to praise providence, if one has within oneself these two qualities, the ability to see each particular event in the context of the whole, and a sense of gratitude.
Epictetus, The Discourses