Met Him Pike Hoses: I Sailed With Thee Along the Peruvian Coast Last Voyage
In a sense there is only one book though it takes many forms. Much like Sonya’s Egyptian transmigration of souls from animal to human and into animal again, the human experience is expressed here in one book and there in another. That is why Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren’s method of syntopical reading — the search for understanding and knowledge through the critical analysis of two or more books on the same subject — is such a fruitful practice. By comparing and contrasting multiple sources our comprehension of any given subject is more deeply illuminated.
William Blake, that master of illumination, speaks to today’s theme — the passing of the innocence of childhood and the coming of dreadful experience — in his poem “Night.” In that poem innocence is preserved by the vigilant protection of angels. This protection is so absolute that even lions may lie with lambs and the peace is preserved. The parallels to the Rostov siblings are clear.
For a while now we’ve been building up to their transition to adulthood. We started out with them in raw childhood as they innocently chased a toy into the thick of their parent’s party. But now, with Nikolai already having been to war and Natasha engaged to be married, we find them on the cusp of adulthood.
This transformation is reflected in the transitional setting of these recent chapters. It’s Christmas time, we’re approaching the New Year, and winter has covered the earth in forgetful snow, its future thaw promising a new day.
There are further parallels. Blake places “Night” as the final of the Innocence poems. Tolstoy, likewise, closes out the Rostov children’s childhood in these final chapters of Book Two. What follows in Blake is the fearful Experience of “The Chimney Sweeper,” “The Sick Rose”, and “London.” There are challenges — marks of weakness, marks of woe — in the mail for the Rostov children too as War and Peace progresses.
They don’t appear to be ready for it. They’re still content to live as if they’re under the protection of Blake’s Innocence angels. They spend the first half of today’s chapter happily reminiscing about their childhood and smiling with pleasure over their memories. It’d be foolish to count on the everlasting protection of Blake’s angels though. Eventually, experience comes knocking. A Year of War and Peace has spoken before of the benefits of negative visualization (here, here, and here) as a tool to prepare oneself for the knocks of life. We’ll do it again in the hopes that it helps the Rostovs as they venture forward into experience. They’re going to need it. Things are about to get bad.
For a man who paints everything black, who constantly fears the worst and takes measures accordingly, will not be disappointed so often in this world, as one who always looks upon the bright side of things.
Arthur Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life