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Tolstoy Journal, August 7, 2017: When I have scooped the sea dry, then I shall stop.

The featured image is of Tolstoy and his wife taken from Tolstoy and Tolstaya: A Portrait of a Life in Letters. I am up to page 164 of Volume XV of The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi, and will start a section called “Yasnaya Polyana School.” I have read the front matter of Tolstoy and Tolstaya up to the introduction.

The stories I have read recently were written by Tolstoy for his students. They are simple and didactic but in a relaxed way. Most of what I read yesterday were called “Fables.” They are like Aesop’s fables, I suppose, but I had heard of only one of them before, “The Tsar and the Elephants,” about the blind men describing the elephant. This is one I have read in books on Zen Buddhism. Now I see that the title of this section is, “Fables: Paraphrased From the Indian, and Imitations.”

Here are a few:


“The Water-Sprite and the Pearl

“A man was sailing in a boat, and dropped a precious pearl into the sea. The man returned to land, and took a pail, and began to scoop up the water and pour it on the shore.

“For three days unweariedly he scooped and poured.

“On the fourth day a Water-sprite came up out of the water, and asked:–

“‘Why art thou scooping?’

“The man replied:–

“‘I am scooping because I have lost a pearl.’

“The Water-sprite asked:–

“‘Are you going to stop before long?’

“The man replied:–

“‘When I have scooped the sea dry, then I shall stop.’

“Then the Water-sprite returned into the depths, and brought up the very same pearl, and gave it to the man.”

This one seems to me a parable of perseverance and made me think of writing as a vocation.


“The Two Horses

“Two horses were carrying two loads. The front Horse went well, but the rear Horse was lazy. The men began to pile the rear Horse’s load on the front Horse; when they had transferred it all, the rear Horse found it easy going, and he said to the front Horse:–

“‘Toil and sweat! The more you try, the more you have to suffer.’

“When they reached the tavern, the owner said:–

“‘Why should I fodder two horses when I carry all on one? I had better give the one all the food it wants, and cut the throat of the other; at least I shall have the hide.’

“And so he did.”

Here is another fable but “From the New Speller” section:


“Life Dull Without Song

“In the upper part of a house lived a rich barin, and on the floor below lived a poor tailor. The tailor was always singing songs at his work, and prevented the barin from sleeping.

“The barin gave the tailor a purse full of money not to sing. The tailor became rich, and took good care of his money, and refrained from singing.

“But it grew tiresome to him; he took the money and returned to the barin, saying:–

“‘Take back your money and let me sing my songs again, or I shall die of melancholy.'”

This is going to be a shorter blog today because I have a short review to write. The above fable reminds me of Tigger in the Winnie the Pooh stories, the one wherein Rabbit somehow gets Tigger to stop bouncing but then Tigger gets melancholy. Finally Rabbit relents and lets him bounce again.

I can’t think of another writer who has covered as much territory as Tolstoy, in the sense of how many different kinds of writing he did. Lewis did a lot but did not write an epic novel; he spread out his wares more thinly, did not go as deep as Tolstoy.


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