Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hemingway's Longest Sentence

"A writerʼs style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

The River of Sand
 My first exposure to Hemingway began with a high school book report for The Old Man And 
The Sea. I remember the grade in red ink and a cursive "C+ ... Syntax." 

 Next in college, for an english literature course report, I chose For Whom The Bell Tolls.  The bluebook was returned with a "B ... You captured his thoughts but not his style." Style?

Then came advanced infantry training at Fort Jackson and from a top bunk at a pace of about 20 minutes a night I read A Moveable Feast.  Daily, when not constantly chanting - "the two types of people on the battlefield, the quick and the dead!," -  my thoughts would dream visions of being in Paris -  the picture frame -  sitting on a corner curb with a piece of cheese in one hand, a torn slice of bread in the other and an uncorked bottle of wine between my sandals. Alas. 

Fast forward past an entry job, courtships,  a wedding, children, careers, homes, mortgages, grandchildren, and then, next to the final gong, retirement and a new found hobby, fly fishing.

After retirement my fly fishing experiences began to accelerate. The first Turnip Truck became my steed and places that Gierach, Whitlock, Travers, and Hemingway wrote about became landed pins in a map, connected by bright yellow felt tip lines marking the roadways.  Along the way I met a retired professor and a retired wild life officer - both from Michigan and both said  "come on up to fish." Preparations began for a trip to the waters where Trout Unlimited began and Hemingway's Nick Adams returned to heal.

Famous Au Sable River Boat

While planning the trip to Michigan, I decided to visit with Hemingway again.  The most recent historical research had occurred a few years back in Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West - no substance or style - just 100 proof rum and BFF, well (before fly fishing).  I did not think the Cuban years would add value, so I skipped them.  Idaho was a bucket list trip planned for next year, so those Hemingway years were overlooked.

To connect Michigan to Hemingway I looked to  Nick Adams and the story, Big Two Hearted River.
My goal was for Nick Adams to lead me to river locations where Hemingway may have typed with controlled economy, a line or two.  I wanted to write about this trip.  Thus, I began a simple plan for having the spirit of Papa looking over my shoulder as a perfectly formed cast of my words would come to rest upon a glassy pool of short, powerfully concise and simplistic in style sentences.  I would capture his words once again, maybe even his style.  Well, Ms. Lawton, am I doing  a little better? Ha!  In the style of Hemingway? I know, I know ... put away the red ink pen. 

Could This Be The "Storied" Big Two Hearted River?

The story, Big Two-Hearted River places the reader and Nick Adams in some previously scorched, but recovering pine boughs of northern-Michigan. The only remaining signs of life in the fire-leveled town of Seney are some adaptive black grasshoppers and pooled trout.

The setting of the scene and Hemingway's language of clarity begins.

“Nick looked down into the pool from the bridge. It was a hot day. A kingfisher flew up the stream. It was a long time since Nick had looked into a stream and seen trout. They were very satisfactory.”

This is pure Hemingway, concise, simple and controlled as the paragraph continues.

“As the shadow of the kingfisher moved up the stream, a big trout shot upstream in a long angle, only his shadow making the angle, then lost his shadow as he came through the surface of the water, caught the sun, and then, as he went back into the stream under the surface, his shadow seemed to float down the stream with the current, unresisting, to his post under the bridge where he tightened facing up into the current.”

Whoa! ...Hemingway wrote this? Seventy nine words, eight commas and a period...have I just read Hemingwayʼs longest sentence?

I was fascinated. I keyed a Google search  ...”hemingwayʼs style” find a link to his own words: 

“A writerʼs style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous.”

Yes, but, seventy nine words? I Googled again...”hemingwayʼs longest sentence”... only to discover my count to be dwarfed. Hemingwayʼs longest sentence appears in his Green Hills of Africa with four hundred twenty four words.  

The heck with style I thought, enjoy the story.  With word research complete and the story read, I continued preparations for my trip into early Hemingway country having formed these thoughts:

We rejoice in nostalgia and comfort as we return to familiar waters, we all wade into trout streams with a history, both good and bad, and our collective thoughts and skills are often interrupted by a fluttering heron or a soaring osprey that triggers the darting escape of a sought-after trout. We may laugh or curse, yet we do wade in again.

Pinpointing spots on the Big Two-Hearted also proved elusive. There is a Two Hearted River, but it is not the flow fictionalized by Papa. If you ask a Michigander, youʼll hear, “Oh, it was the Boardman he was talking about.” Another will state, “it was the Betsy,” or “I know it was the Jordan.”  Historical societies have reached a consensus that the river described was the Fox, with the name Big Two-Hearted chosen for both Hemingway's and the reader's romantic tastes. 

Hemingway provided for our detailed visit to the river to frame Nickʼs cleansing. The exact location mattered not.

Snook on the Pere Marquette River
Six Mile Bridge~Little Manistee River


I ventured off to Michigan and fished historic streams, the Au Sable, The Manistee, the Pere Marquette, the Little Manistee, and the Rogue.  My host's shared their rivers well. Many fish were released.   

To a fly fisher of moderate skills, a river with two hearts is one that allows a dayʼs catch or not. There is nothing more simple than that. With Hemingwayʼs Nick Adams it was a simple existential sentence that cradled the story of a two hearted river, and by far, one more analyzed than my discovery of seventy nine words; 
                                                               “The river was there.”    

 Simple and vigorous.  


A Well Cast Fly To The Sound of a Rise
Ask anyone familiar with the Grayling area and they will all tell you that the local waters are far better for having Rusty Gates (R.I.P.) steward their protection. He launched just behind us on a Mason Tract float and we jokingly exchanged positions throughout the day. Fish were caught but the real privilege was to share the river with someone so respected for his actions.  He assembled some very fine results oriented residents who continue to both promote and protect the trout habitat of Northern Michigan - Hemingway country. 

1 comment:

  1. This is your first blog post I've read. Excellent!