Love (My Sighs Speak, Each One a Grievous Thing) — The Rusty Door Opens

Day 328 of A Year of War and Peace

Before Dante could brave the icy pits of Hell or ascend the crucibles of Purgatory in order to meet his beloved Beatrice in Paradise he first had to meet the woman. Their introduction, documented in his immortal prosimetrum Vita Nouva, actually presaged the great sufferings he’d later endure on his path to her in the Divina Commedia. “At that moment,” he writes of their meeting, “the natural spirit, which dwelleth where our nourishment is administered, began to weep, and in weeping said these words: ‘Alas! how often shall I be disturbed from this time forth.’ I say that, from that time forward, Love quite governed my soul.”

If suffering is indeed the constant consort of romantic love as Dante has it then Pierre is in trouble. Deep trouble. For today when he is reunited with Natasha he is aware immediately that he is in love with her and probably always has been. Tolstoy writes, “The more he tried to hide it the more clearly — clearer than any words could have done — did he betray to himself, to her, and to Princess Marya, that he loved her.”

On the one hand we should be very happy for Pierre and for Natasha. Love is a wonderful thing. After all the pain they’ve been through lately they deserve a little respite from their sorrow. On the other hand, as the infinite pages of forgotten teenage poetry can attest, romantic love is also the author of unspeakable heartbreak and misery. “Love,” Dante writes in the Vita Nouva, “also gathers to such power in me / That my sighs speak, each one a grievous thing.”

Pierre doesn’t need any of that. He’s already been hurt by Helene. Further, he’s only freshly entered into the blissful state of detachment. As we read early in today’s chapter he now moves forward well disposed towards the world but “instinctively on guard for fear of binding himself in any way.” This is a practical application of the intellectual stoic case for detachment we’ve so frequently written about at A Year of War and Peace. But the brain, we must remember, is the most overrated organ. The heart, quite literally, flexes its muscle and displays its power over the mind. How is Pierre to resist his attraction to Natasha? I mean, really, the passage where we watch him fall in love is one of the great romantic passages in world literature:

Clearly there is little to help him. Or her. The stoics have precious little to say about romantic love though it’s safe to say they’d be opposed to Love rather than Reason governing the soul. In order, then, for Pierre to maintain his newfound mental tranquility and indulge his feelings for Natasha it’s probably best for him to adopt a romance of moderation. That may not sound sexy but it does sound smart.

DAILY MEDITATION

If a man should transgress moderation, the things which give the greatest delight would become the things which give the least.

Epictetus, Enchiridion

This is the three hundred and twenty eighth installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

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For my friends and family, love. For my enemies, durian fruit.

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