Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front (Chapter 12)

It is autumn. There are not many of the old hands left. I am the last of the seven fellows from our class.

Everyone talks of peace and armistice. All wait. If it again proves an illusion, then they will break up; hope is high, it cannot be taken away again without an upheaval. If there is not peace, then there will be revolution.

I have fourteen days rest, because I have swallowed a bit of gas; in the little garden I sit the whole day long in the sun. The armistice is coming soon, I believe it now too. Then we will go home.

Here my thoughts stop and will not go any farther. All that meets me, all that floods over me are but feelings – greed of life, love of home, yearning for the blood, intoxication of deliverance. But no aims.

Had we returned home in 1916, out of the suffering and the strength of our experiences we might have unleashed a storm. Now if we go back we will be weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope. We will not be able to find our way any more.

And men will not understand us – for the generation that grew up before us, though it has passed these years with us already had a home and a calling; now it will return to its old occupations, and the war will be forgotten – and the generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to ourselves, we will grow older, a few will adapt themselves, some others will merely submit, and most will be bewildered; – the years will pass by and in the end we shall fall into ruin.

But perhaps all this that I think is mere melancholy and dismay, which will fly away as the dust, when I stand once again be neath the poplars and listen to the rustling of their leaves. It cannot be that it has gone, the yearning that made our blood unquiet, the unknown, the perplexing, the oncoming things, the thousand faces of the future, the melodies from dreams and from books, the whispers and divinations of women; it cannot be that this has vanished in bombardment, in despair, in brothels.

Here the trees show gay and golden, the berries of the rowan stand red among the leaves, country roads run white out to the sky line, and the canteens hum like beehives with rumours of peace.

I stand up.

I am very quiet. Let the months and years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear. The life that has borne me through these years is still in my hands and my eyes. Whether I have subdued it, I know not. But so long as it is there it will seek its own way out, heedless of the will that is within me.

*****

He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.


Public Domain

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Erich Maria Remarque (born Erich Paul Remark; 1898 – 1970) was a German novelist who created many works about the horrors of war. His best known novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1928), about German soldiers in the First World War, was made into an Oscar-winning film. His book made him an enemy of the Nazis, who burned many of his works.

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Ed. note: This passage was submitted by John Samuel Tieman who says:

The Armistice went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. 11:00 AM on 11 November 1918. 100 years ago today.
 
We play down the original bitterness of the end of World War I.  We forget that some of the greatest exemplars of “The Lost Generation” were Jay Gatsby, Paul in All Quiet, and James Cagney as the gangster Eddie Bartlett in “The Roaring Twenties.”
 
I am often struck that, after a war, many want to make it almost a sentimental memory.   But this is what the veterans wanted to read — and write.
 
When I came home from Vietnam, years passed before I could read this.   Even now, this chapter moves me.
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2 comments on “Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front (Chapter 12)

  1. Saleh razzouk
    November 11, 2018

    Very passionate and influential narrative. We studied it here in syria in the 80s when anti imperialism movements were in rise. Of course Hitler was an enimy as same as white racial politics in South Africa.

    Liked by 1 person

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