One of the remarkable things about Ernest Hemingway, and for that matter, many of the "prose only" American authors of the mid 20th century, is the tendency for them to drop little moments of reflective musings into their novels. A paragraph here, a short quip there, and then perhaps an aphoristic observation. A good bit more than a descriptive device to set up the scene, the particular breed of segment to which I refer is more as if the author had slipped into the world of his novel, succumbed to his own creation, and was thinking out loud in that little pocket reality without perhaps even realizing it.

Kurt Vonnegut, for example, had this tendency in spades, yet it was most often filtered through Kilgore Trout, and was often aggravatingly self conscious.

For Hemingway, this impulse is expressed in a number of passages, most frequently in A Farewell to Arms, and The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway's filter however, was not an alter ego, but prose. By this I mean Hemingway's often stunningly gorgeous moments of thinking out loud seem as though they were poems, which consciously or unconsciously, were strung together as prose and placed lightly into the flow of the novel.

My favorite example of this is a paragraph from chapter 34 of A Farewell to Arms. The "hero" (debate that descriptor as you will.) has left the army at risk of death, and is schmoozing about with Catharine, right before the novel becomes unbearably more beautiful than it had been before.

I include the beloved paragraph (Although it flows and reads enough like poetry in its original prose, I can't help indulging myself.) how I feel it's spacing might be if it were written as a poem. I leave the original punctuation intact and unaltered, so to read it in prose form, simply squish it all back into a block...Hemingway, too manly to admit even to himself that there was a gushy poet inside! Play around with your own spacings, or better yet, add your own favorite paragraph.

I hope you enjoy this great example of the innocuous and beautiful treasures hidden away deep in your library's American Literature section.

Poem:

That night at the hotel, in our room

with the long empty hall outside and
our shoes outside the door,
a thick carpet on the floor of
the room,

outside the windows

the rain falling and
in the room
light and
pleasant and
cheerful,

then the light out and it
exciting
with smooth sheets and the bed
comfortable,

feeling that
we had come home,
feeling no longer alone,
waking in the night to find
the other one there,
and not gone away;

all other things
were
unreal.

We slept
when
we were
tired and if
we woke

the other one woke too
so one was not alone.

Often a man
wishes to be alone
and a girl
wishes to be alone too
and if they love each other
they are
jealous of that in each other,

but I can truly say we never felt that.

We could feel alone
when we were together,
alone against the others.

It has only
happened
to me
like that
once.

I have been alone while I was with many girls
and that is the way that you can be most lonely.

But we were never lonely
and never afraid
when we were together.

I know that the night is
not the same as the day:

that all things are different,
that the things of the night
cannot be explained in the day,

because they do not then exist, and
the night can be a dreadful
time for lonely people
once their loneliness has started.

But with Catherine there
was almost no difference
in the night except
that it was
an even better
time.

If people bring
so much courage to
this world
the world
has to
kill them to break them,

so of course it kills them.

The world breaks every
one
and afterward
many are
strong

at the broken places.

But those that will not break it kills.

It kills the very good
and
the very gentle
and
the very brave
impartially.

If you are none of these
you can be sure it will kill you too


but there will be no special hurry.





Original Prose: (It really does appear in the book as one big block of text.)

That night at the hotel, in our room with the long empty hall outside and our shoes outside the door, a thick carpet on the floor of the room, outside the windows the rain falling and in the room light and pleasant and cheerful, then the light out and it exciting with smooth sheets and the bed comfortable, feeling that we had come home, feeling no longer alone, waking in the night to find the other one there, and not gone away; all other things were unreal. We slept when we were tired and if we woke the other one woke too so one was not alone. Often a man wishes to be alone and a girl wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others. It has only happened to me like that once. I have been alone while I was with many girls and that is the way that you can be most lonely. But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together. I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started. But with Catherine there was almost no difference in the night except that it was an even better time. If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.


I do dearly love the idea of this node.

Prose? Poetry? Both?

Does it really matter? Words all, no?

My choice for most poetic Hemingway comes from pages 49 and 50 of The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway's most lyrical, and most seemingly effortless, work.

Poetry indeed.





He remembered the time 
he had hooked one 
of a pair 
of marlin.  

The male fish always let 
the female fish feed first 
and the hooked fish 
the female 

made a wild 
    panic-stricken 
           despairing fight 
                   that soon exhausted her 

and all the time the male had stayed with her 
crossing the line and circling with her on the surface.  

He had stayed so close 
the old man was afraid 
he would cut the line
with his tail which was 

sharp as a scythe and 
almost of that size and shape.  

When the old man had 
           gaffed her and 
                  clubbed her 

holding the rapier bill with its sandpaper edge and 
clubbing her across the top of her head until 

her colour turned to a colour almost 
like the backing of mirrors 

and then 
with the boy’s aid 
hoisted her aboard 

the male fish had stayed by the side of the boat.  

Then, while the old man was 
clearing the lines and 
preparing the harpoon 

the male fish jumped high 
into the air beside the boat 
to see where the female was 
and then went down deep 

his lavender wings 
that were his pectoral fins 
spread wide and 
all his wide lavender stripes showing.  

He was beautiful, the old man remembered 
and he had stayed.  

That was the saddest thing 
I ever saw with them 
the old man thought.  

The boy was sad too and 
we begged her pardon and 
butchered her promptly.


Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.