Friday, October 3, 2014

Scott Watson and Leo Tolstoy: Good and Evil

I'm a correspondent of fellow poet John Bennett, whose email distro list I'm on. Likewise, for another email correspondent and fellow poet, Scott Watson. In both cases, these two poets have an unblinking dedication to truth as they see it. It has been an honor to publish the work of both poets previously, in print (Lilliput Review) and online (here at the Hut).

A little while back, two emails arrived in my box, one right after the other, Scott's first and then John's. First, I read Scott's powerful, devastating poem, IN PREPARATION FOR LOOKING AT AN A-BOMB. The poem, parenthetically, asks two very specific questions.

In his email, John passed along a quotation from Leo Tolstoy (On Good and Evil), which he saw a couple of weeks back (at the time he sent me the email, it was a day or two before) on the Writer's Almanac. In the quote, Tolstoy asks and, in a very real sense, answers, Scott's more specific questions. 

I hasten to add that, in my mind, Scott's parenthetical questions were, in fact, rhetorical, Scott's sentiment being very similar to Tolstoy's own, all of which may be gleaned in his poem, if by implication.

Or it least my feeble brain made the segue. This may be a case of the reader, myself, being way off base. Be that as it may, I want to thank both folks for permission to reprint. See what you think when what they sent, poem and quotation, rub up, one against the other.


[Why was Hiroshima chosen?]

600 meters above
on a mountain's peak
a Buddha bone--or
tiny piece of one--is composed.

Innumerable scenes
are collected here.
[No flash photography]
Eternal Flame.
A sudden enlightenment
burns away
rational. Irrational too.

[Why was the A-bomb made?]

This life we are
given took eons to evolve:
incinerated blink
of an eye gazing
Namu Amida Butsu
Mercy, compassion--
  fire blowing winds
          nothing can be done

and it rains
      human myth

skin drips off mama melting river flames.

I move with you
  through this exhibition
      seeing slowly
          as a lifelong

to know,
  touch, feel
          how this can be.

There must be something wrong with me
      that is me too
          wanting to

Reduced to this.

Scott Watson

Tolstoy on good and evil...

"...In 1854, Tolstoy was promoted and sent to the front to fight in the Crimean War. He was horrified by the violence of war, and in 1857, he witnessed a public execution in Paris, which affected him deeply as well. He wrote:

"During my stay in Paris, the sight of an execution revealed to me the instability of my superstitious belief in progress. When I saw the head part from the body and how they thumped separately into the box, I understood, not with my mind but with my whole being, that no theory of the reasonableness of our present progress could justify this deed; and that though everybody from the creation of the world had held it to be necessary, on whatever theory, I knew it to be unnecessary and bad; and therefore the arbiter of what is good and evil is not what people say and do, nor is it progress, but it is my heart and I."


not a devil
not a saint...
just a sea slug
translated by David G. Lanoue


PS  Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku.


Andrea Grillo said...

Thank you for this powerful pairing and your astute attentiveness to the subtle yet synchronistic messages arriving in your mailbox and through your poet's heart. And to sum it all up through Master Issa! Bravo to Scott Watson for his continuing call to poet the difficult truths. It does help to know, that within the firestorm of history, there are always those who rise within and outside themselves to speak and meet the truth as they see it.

always changing
blue and white sky

ayaz daryl nielsen said...

yes, brings to mind Tolstoy's three questions - what is: the right moment, the right person, and the right action - Tolstoy realized the right moment is always now, the right person is the one you are with now, the right action is being with (doing all one can) for the person one is with - (slightly paraphrased) - well done, Don!

Scott Watson said...

Thank you Don for sharing this. The parenthetical bits in the poem work as they do, rhetorically as you suggest, or however they might work for each reader. Originally they are to be found inside the A-bomb Museum in Hiroshima. They are there on a wall along with other questions in both Japanese and English, and there are explanations/answers following.

All the best,

Bart said...

You're not off base at all Don, the connection is there. And of course the absolutely clarity of Issa's 3 lines.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Andrea ... beautiful, incisive ku to bring your point home.

Yes, to Scott - and thanks to John Bennett for sending the Tolstoy my way.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Daryl ...

Your observation on Tolstoy brings instantly to mind the Eight-Fold Path.

And Scott's pointed me, too, back to Tolstoy's essay collection, The Kingdom of God."

Here is the the title essay.