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W&P Week 6: One/Two/8

For 2/23/2021 * OUP Edition to p. 159

Chapter 24

At dinner that night, Andrei and his father talk about Napoleon (“a great general,” says Andrei) and about the impending campaign; the women get short shrift after Andrei’s father loses interest in conversing with Liza when she gets emotional. The estate’s architect, Mikhail Ivanovich, has been invited to join the dinner even as he is not of the right social class.

Chapter 25

Andrei is packing for his impending departure, and has a conversation with his sister Marya about Liza’s; she feels sorry about her being left behind in the country like this shortly before the birth of her child. He does admit the marriage is not happy, but cannot say why (115). Marya asks him to wear an icon on a silver chain, and he agrees to do so. There is an odd encounter with Marya’s companion, M’elle Bourienne, in the hallway; she is “ecstatic,” he is contemptuous–is the implication that they had an affair / relationship in the past? (115). Andrei and his father have manly goodbyes, including talking again about the inevitability of marriages being unhappy (117) and about the possibility that Andrei could die. Andrei asks his father to let a potential male heir grow up with him, not Liza. He then says good-bye to the women (Liza faints, greatly annoying her father in law.

Book 1, Part 2

SCENE CHANGE / TIME CHANGE: AUSTRIAN COUNTRYSIDE, OCT 1805

Chapter 1

It is October 1805 and the Russian army is in little villages in Austria near Braunau. The particular regiment the story tracks is supposed to be on parade for the commander-in-chief, Kutuzov, even though the men have just marched hundreds of miles. Their regimental commander sees to it that the men get spiffed up, and specifically rakes Dolokhov over the coals, because he is wearing his officer’s coat although he has been demoted to enlisted man.

Chapter 2

It turns out that Kutuzov actually wanted to see the regiment in bad shape (to make a point to his Austrian allies), but too late–they are all in order. In the company of Andrei, who has become Kutuzov’s adjutant, and other staff, he is inspecting the men, and also singles out Dolokhov for a reprimand of past behavior–but also makes clear to the regimental commander (somehow) that Dolokhov will regain officer status after the next time they see action. He himself is determined not to drink or gample until he has been reinstated. As they march on, the simple soldiers talk about their commander and Napoleon (in a diction I assume is supposed to signal dialect? Or lack of education? 127) and sing as they march.

Chapter 3

Kutuzov is talking to his officers. Andrei is tasked with writing summary of the current battle news from the Austrians; he is happy and competent and in his element (131), but as he leaves the room to do so, he encounters the Austrian commander, Mack, who has just lost an important battle against Napoleon. He berates his friends Nesvitsky and Zherkov, who are laughing about this pathetic man, instead of taking the bad war news seriously.

SCENE CHANGE: ANOTHER AUSTRIAN VILLAGE

Chapter 4

We are now with the hussar squadron that includes Nikolai Rostov in a village nearby. His commander and roommate, Denisov, is a dissolute man who only has women on his mind (he cannot pronounce his “r”s–what is the point about that?). After a brief conversation, Denisov is called away to see the quartermaster, and tells Nikolai to put his purse/wallet under his pillow. An officer named Telyanin, whom Nikolai dislikes, comes in and hangs out for a while; when Denisov comes back, he cannot find his purse. Nikolai realizes that Telyanin took it and confronts him directly. Telyanin bursts into tears and returns the purse.

Chapter 5

In the aftermath, Nikolai’s fellow officers think that Nikolai committed a great mistake by telling people publicly about Telyanin’s theft and has been called a liar by his regimental commander, a vindictive man named Bogdanich, and now refuses to back down, risking a duel with the commander. His friends try to convey to him that the colonel had no choice except to call him a liar to preserve the honor of the regiment. But then news comes of Mack’s surrender and the fact that they are about to go into battle, and all shifts to action mode.

Chapter 6

Complicated military history for October 23 (see OUP footnote on 1325), but the upshot is that there is a bridge in a town named Enns (OUP apparatus map: pretty useless, but included) that the Russian troops need to cross, and that bridge plays a key part in the action of that day. A group of officers are watching the troop movement from a hill and dream of ransacking a nearby convent (a guy named Nesvitsky seems to be especially obsessed with the nun fantasy); then the first grenade comes flying by. Everyone is very excited and “joyous” (147; gross!).

Chapter 7

Nesvitsky and Denisov are both watching masses of troops and some civilians crossing the bridge and are trying to figure out how to get across themselves. There is tension between infantry and cavalry (the hussars presumably being part of that).

Chapter 8

The Russian infantry crosses the bridge, the hussars follow last, under Denisov. The French army is only 700 yards away and the idea is that they need to destroy/burn the bridge but not engage in fighting–even though Nikolai Rostov, in his first action ever, and Denisov etc. really want to. There is cannon fire but their colonel, Bogdanich (part German, indicated by the weird word order in his speeches?), gets them across and there is considerable hesitation before the bridge is set on fire while the French are close enough to fire grape shot. Nikolai is in the middle of it, but useless (without burning straw) and suddenly very scared. He feels very cowardly but then realizes no one else really cares, since they know what it’s like to be a cadet and see action for the first time. Two of the hussars are wounded and one “knocked out” (meaning–?)

This was a little more useful, but still doesn’t have a good map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Amstetten

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Poem # 2 (Week of March 22)

One Art

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Note for Kai: We talked about villanelles on the phone last week, because Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is one of your favorites (I post his poem below, for good measure). I mentioned this poem by Bishop, an American poet, as another famous villanelle that I love and that, like Thomas’s, deals with really tough things: Thomas struggling with the impending death of his father; Bishop’s speaker (also probably a stand-in for herself) struggling with losing a lover. I hope you’ll have time to read it aloud several times to figure out how you would read across the line breaks to capture and contain the emotions. (Needless to say, every poem needs to be read aloud. They are made for that and do not come fully alive without it.)

The rules for villanelles are strict (and I quote a dictionary definition: “a nineteen-line poem with two rhymes throughout, consisting of five tercets and a quatrain, with the first and third lines of the opening tercet recurring alternately at the end of the other tercets and with both repeated at the close of the concluding quatrain”). Thomas abides by them exactly–he makes the entire first and third line repeat–but Bishop riffs on the form and changes some words around when she comes back around to the first and third line of the first stanza in the following stanzas.

But I still think that what we said the other day still holds true: because the strict form of the villanelle is an especially tight box, formally speaking, it can be used to hold in things that are so painful that they can almost not be said. This is how I read both of these poems, and I cannot read either one without choking up (reading them out loud is especially difficult). They feel like emotional truth bombs that would explode, that would be too much if they were not kept in such a small box. I always notice it especially in Bishop’s last line, because that is where she breaks out of the form and tells us that the formal frame of the poem is bursting, even with the typography “(Write it!)”

If we make art (words, music, images) to process the world and to help others (who read, hear, see that art) to process it, maybe that kind of small, tight box is necessary to process it when the world is especially emotional and painful: when there is death, breaking up, loss, nothingness to contemplate. I can’t really explain why that thought, and the form of the villanelle that exemplifies it so powerfully, is comforting to me. But I think it’s because I do believe in catharsis; art like this makes me go on an emotional journey from which I emerge feeling better, feeling reassured that when beauty emerges from pain and suffering, that is a good thing (for the artist, for us as readers, listeners, viewers) and not just some cheesy feel-good mechanism that prettifies and trivializes sad and evil things.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.