Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ernest Hemingway: A Touch Of Class, A Touch Of Beauty

By Lars Trodson

Whatever mysterious reason there is that moves people to read a particular writer has certainly taken hold of me these past few weeks. I’ve been reading Ernest Hemingway. I read “A Moveable Feast”, which I wouldn’t think is one of his more popular works, and then I read “Death In the Afternoon”, which is about bullfighting. I read a paperback of “Across the River and Into the Trees”, which was both interesting and interminable.

I would unthinkingly say that I have no interest in bullfighting, but I have read “Death In the Afternoon” more than once, if only as a study in journalism. I feel the book to be true. And it stays true to Hemingway’s maxim that work, hard work, and writing, and writing what you know about is the credo to live by. Hemingway always says that if you want to write well you can’t talk about it you just have to do it. He also had the unwavering belief that good writing would last, and in that at least he might have been right.

I know that Hemingway is known as much for his carousing and drinking and fishing and other aspects of his out-sized life, but in the between all of that he obviously had to sit down and write because his output was immense. So he was true to his word that writing was the most important thing.

I have this copy of “Death In the Afternoon” -- the pages are musty and smell of ink. It’s a Collier edition, published in 1938, and anyway it’s just a good sturdy old book. And I finished the book and it doesn’t ruin anything to quote the end of it, and I do so because it is a lesson to anyone, including myself, who wants to write.

It has that odd mixture of the personal, the esoteric, and the universal that made Hemingway unique. He was never embarrassed about his writing. So for the sake of beauty, and the cadence of language, here is the end of “Death In the Afternoon.” I found it oddly in sync with our times, as it talks about change, and the loss that change brings.

A lot of people think Hemingway is a brute, but if you believe that, listen. This is the last page of “Death In the Afternoon”:

“What else should it contain about a country you love very much? Rafael says things are very changed and he won’t go to Pamplona any more. La Libertad I find is getting like Le Temps. It is no longer the paper where you could put a notice and know the pickpocket would see it now that Republicans are all respectable and Pamplona is changed, of course, but not as much as we are older. I found that if you took a drink that it got very much the same as always. I know that things change now and I do not care. It’s all been changed for me. Let it all change. We’ll all be gone before it’s changed too much and if no deluge comes when we are gone it still will rain in summer in the north and hawks will nest in the Cathedral at Santiago and La Granja, where we practiced with the cape on the long gravelled paths between the shadows, it makes no difference if the fountains play or not. We never will ride back from Toledo in the dark, washing the dust out with Fundador, nor will there be that week of what happened in the night in that July in Madrid. We’ve seen it all go and we’ll watch it go again. The great thing is to last and get your work done and see and hear and learn and understand; and write when there is something that you know; and not before; and not too damned much after. Let those who want to save the world if you can get to see it clear and as a whole. Then any part you make will represent the whole if it’s made truly. The thing to do is work and learn to make it. No. It is not enough of a book, but still there were a few things to be said. There were a few practical things to be said.”