Before I dive into the world of music composition, and the common blood it shares with writing, I need to indulge my Hemingway literary fix and just get that out of my system.
So about that post title. That's how "The Sun Also Rises" by Hemingway ends. Plenty of essays have been written about that one line (understatement). It summarizes the Lost Generation - those kids who came of age after World War I, many of them embittered by the experiences of the war. Cynical. Disillusioned. Dreaming of ideals and what could have been in society, but slapped in the face one too many times by harsh reality. It shaped Earnest Hemingway's voice as a writer: short sentences as dry and bare as thin logs stacked in a shed for kindling. Yet he could write a stunningly beautiful passage at the drop of a hat that made all of the dry prose that preceded it come together in a way you couldn't imagine. The logs made a big fire when Hemingway got around to lighting them.
I'm tempted to draw comparisons between the Lost Generation and current times. But I'll leave that to someone else.
What amazes me about that line is how it contains both elements of the Lost Generation in one short phrase. All these Lost Generation writers knew beauty. They loved beauty. They loved ideals. One wouldn't think that by how cynical they were. But maybe that's what cynicism is. It's the tough fibrous outer layer that a person builds to protect themselves because they love beauty too much. They're former idealists wounded too deeply to go on. The writers of the Lost Generation were mourners. You can feel the mourning soaked through every page of their books.
"Isn't it pretty to think so." Hemingway quoted Ecclesiastes as a way of explaining what he was getting at with this phrase. "There is nothing new under the sun. All is vanity." The act of thinking about ideals and what could have been or should have been, or what could be or should be someday, is in itself "pretty." The act of daydreaming provides its own glory. But Hemingway implies there is nothing else. That line implies that it is not so. Wishing it was so feels good. Thinking about it being so feels good. But it isn't so, and despair comes. Hemingway knew despair well. He committed suicide in the '50s.
But I'm not in that boat. I refuse to give that kind of despair and cynicism the time of day. I won't deny that I've felt it to my bones at certain points of my life - we all do. But God, in His mercy, has opened countless doors of hope before us and has shoved us through some of them, even when it felt better to wallow in sorrow and self-pity.
"Isn't it pretty to think so." Somewhere it is so. Where that somewhere is is another post for another day.
Hemingway can be a very hard writer to like. He is an aquired taste for many. Old Man and the Sea is still one of my favorite books of all time. I still can't get that picture of the lions out of my head - where the lions were roaming up and down the beaches of Africa in the moonlight, calling out to the sea with roars as the young boy sailed by them in the dead of night.