A brief reflection on the prettiest passage in literature: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Written by Cole Schafer


Back in 1950, The New Yorker gave Ernest Hemingway some high praise, calling him “the greatest living American Novelist and short story writer”.

Fast-forward seven decades and he’s sadly remembered less for his brilliant understated writing style and more for his bizarre (and at times badass) antics off the page.

Ironically, it was often the latter that allowed for the former. Hemingway’s most beloved novel, A Farewell To Arms, was in many ways a reflection on his experiences in World War I.

In 1918, well before his prose had caught the eye of The New Yorker, Hemingway was volunteering on the Italian front for the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver. It was late. He was handing out chocolate and cigarettes to soldiers.

Suddenly, an Austrian mortar shell came screaming through the sky hitting Hemingway and a few soldiers in close proximity –– shrapnel from the explosion carved up his left leg like a Thanksgiving Turkey and knocked him out cold.

When he regained consciousness, Hemingway shoved cigarettes into his gaping wounds to clout the bleeding and then carried a badly injured soldier next to him to a nearby medical tent.

For his bravery, he was later awarded the Italian medal of valor, the Croce de Guerra.

From this experience and later him falling head over heels for the nurse that saw to his wounds, A Farewell To Arms was born.

And with it, his most heavily recited line.

Hemingway is perhaps most famous for the following line that appears within this great novel…

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

It’s been recited to the point of ad nauseam on places like Pinterest and has practically become a tattooed right of passage for affectation-riddled hipsters in modern America.

Unfortunately, like most lines curated from literature, it’s but the tip of a much vaster iceberg.

Here’s the masterpiece in its entirety…

*Ernest Hemingway is writing now*

“That night at the hotel, in our room with the long empty hall outside and our shoes outside the door, a thick carpet on the floor of the room, outside the windows the rain falling and in the room light and pleasant and cheerful, then the light out and it exciting with smooth sheets and the bed comfortable, feeling that we had come home, feeling no longer alone, waking in the night to find the other one there, and not gone away; all other things were unreal.

We slept when we were tired and if we woke the other one woke too so one was not alone. Often a man wishes to be alone and a girl wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others. It has only happened to me like that once.

I have been alone while I was with many girls and that is the way you can be most lonely. But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together. I know that the night is not the same as the day: that all things are different, that the things of the night cannot be explained in the day, because they do not then exist, and the night can be a dreadful time for lonely people once their loneliness has started.

But with Catherine there was almost no difference in the night except that it was an even better time. If people bring so much courage to the world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Fuck me six ways to Sunday.

It’s a strange and enchanting excerpt that reads more like poetry than prose. If I had enough skin and could find a font worthy of its beauty, I’d one up the hipsters and get the whole goddamn piece tattooed.

But for now, I’ll pay the late, great Hemingway respect by advising the following… in a world littered with short shallow writing (looking at you Medium and LinkedIn), it’s worthwhile to not only read deeper, but further.

By Cole Schafer.