Silence

Day 234 of A Year of War and Peace

ot since John Bunyan’s Christian has a man awoke and beheld such a spiritually significant dream as Pierre does today. We can only hope that, unlike Pierre’s previous experience with spiritual awakening, he is able to consistently apply the lessons he has learned in the dream as he makes his progress forward.

Having returned from the Battle of Borodino and settled into bed at his inn Pierre tries to get some rest. He’s shook from his near slumber, however, by a series of booming cannon reports. Turns out it’s just some post-traumatic stress disorder hallucinations. He looks outside and everything is fine. As he covers his head with some blankets to try to sleep he thinks about the horror of the battle. He compares his fearful and agitated reaction to that of the soldiers who seemed to endure the assault with a heroic and stonily stoic patience.

He falls asleep wishing he was like those soldiers.

In his dreamscape he’s attending a dinner at his beloved English Club. On one side of the table sit his old masonic benefactor Joseph Alexéevich Bazdéev and some of the stoic soldiers from Borodino. On the other side of the table are members of Pierre’s aristocratic set: Dolokhov, Anatole, Denisov. The aristocratic set is loud and boisterous. Bazdéev tries to communicate something to Pierre over their riot. The soldiers, naturally, are calm and collected. Eventually, Bazdéev is able to make himself understood over the commotion. This is what he has to say:

“To endure war is the most difficult subordination of man’s freedom to the law of God,” the voice had said. “Simplicity is submission to the will of God; you cannot escape from Him. And they are simple. They do not talk, but act. The spoken word is silver but the unspoken is golden. Man can be master of nothing while he fears death, but he who does not fear it possesses all. If there were no suffering, man would not know his limitations, would not know himself.”

Here Bazdéev sets up Pierre’s soldiers as the paradigm for how best to live in the world. The world, as Pierre has seen and Bazdéev confirms, is a place of great suffering, a relentless war of sound and fury. Yet nature, as we’ve discussed before, says nothing about this state of things. Bazdéev’s recommendation, then, is to meet life as it meets you: with silence.

Silence is the opposite of how Pierre has traditionally approached things. From the very beginning, way back at Anna Pavlovna’s initial soiree, Pierre has always been itching to speak, to comment, to express himself. This part of his character is represented in the dream by the loud aristocratic set. A new life, that of the silent stoic soldier, awaits him on the other side of the table should he decide to follow in their path.

Perhaps this time his commitment to a new life will not be as fleeting his dream was today.

DAILY MEDITATION

Be silent for the most part, or, if you speak, say only what is necessary and in a few words. Talk, but rarely, if occasion calls you, but do not talk of ordinary things — of gladiators or horses races or athletes or of meats or drinks — these are topics that arise everywhere — but above all do not talk about men in blame or compliment or comparison. If you can, turn the conversation of your company by your talk to some fitting subject; but if you should chance to be isolated among strangers, be silent. Do not laugh much, nor at many things, nor without restraint.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This is the two hundred and thirty fourth 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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