Monday, March 9, 2015

Thinking About Hemingway

I constantly think about Ernest Hemingway. Yesterday, thinking about his reference to the hot springs at Lake Manyara, Tanzania, I picked up his Green Hills of Africa, intending to read his actual words.

I randomly opened the book and found myself on page 108, which is not what I was looking for. I started reading it anyway, and was engrossed by it, as usually happens when I read Hemingway. Although I had read and taught this book several times, it seemed as if I was reading his words for the first time:

P.O.M. was reading Spanish Gold, by George A. Birmingham, and she said it was no good. I still had the Sevastopol book of Tolstoi and in the same volume I was reading a story called "The Cossacks" that was very good. In it were the summer heat, the mosquitoes, the feel of the forest in the different seasons, and that river that the Tartars crossed, raiding, and I was living in that Russia again....

I finished this page and read the next, from which I wish to quote the following section:

A country, finally erodes and the dust blows away, the people all die and none of them were of any importance permanently, except those who practiced the arts, and these now wish to cease their work because it is too lonely, too hard to do, and is not fashionable. A thousand years makes economics silly and a work of art endures for ever, but it is very difficult to do and now it is not fashionable. People do not want to do it any more because they will be out of fashion and the lice who crawl on literature will not praise them. Also it is very hard to do. So what? I would go on reading about the river that the Tartars came across when raiding, and the drunken old hunter and the girl and how it was then in the different seasons.

I see echoes in this passage of Hemingway's Nobel Prize speech and of his reflections, in other contexts, on writing. I admire Hemingway for many reasons, one of which being his philosophical insights, although people rarely talk about Hemingway as a philosopher. Yet he has a unique perspective on various subjects, from women to drinking, hunting, and writing. His meditations on life in the second passage I have quoted above is a case in point. It reminds me of Shakespeare's Macbeth who, upon being told that his wife has died, responds as follows:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing
(William Shakespeare,
Macbeth. V, V, 19-30).

All this happened yesterday. I better return to Green Hills of Africa, to read Hemingway's words about the hot springs ("maji moto") at Lake Manyara.

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