Three Comrades

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Illustration by de:w:Robert Liebknecht for Three Comrades, 1938

Three Comrades (German: Drei Kameraden) is a 1936 novel by the German author Erich Maria Remarque. English translation of the novel was done in 1958 by Arthur Wheen.



Chapter 1

  • After all, I had every reason to be content. I was not so badly off really; I had work, I was strong, I did not tire easily, I was healthy as things go. . . But it was better not to think too much about all that—when alone, at any rate; and especially at night. For every now and then things had a way of rising up suddenly out of the past and staring at one with dead eyes. It was against such times that one kept a bottle of schnapps.
  • Birthdays weigh heavily on one's self-esteem. Early in the morning especially.
  • "Karl," we christened him—Karl, the Road Spook
Erich Maria Remarque in 1927

Chapter 2

  • Keep things at arm's length, Köster used to say. If you let anything come too near you want to hold on to it. And there is nothing a man can hold on to.
  • Modesty and conscientiousness receive their reward only in novels. In life they are exploited and then shoved aside.

Chapter 3

  • In times of realism be romantic, that's the trick. Opposites attract.
  • "Rum," said I—happy to have found something I could talk about—"rum has very little to do with taste. It isn't just a simple drink—it is a-friend, more. A friend who makes everything easier. It changes the world.

Chapter 4

  • He looked at me sideways. "You mean, and then mixed things up a bit? Never apologise. Never talk. Send flowers. No letter. Only flowers. They cover up everything. Even graves."
  • The day of great dreams for the future of mankind was past. The busy-bodies, the self-seekers triumphed. Corruption . . . Misery . . .

Chapter 5

  • What's piety but the sense of guilt? People want to square off all the things they have wished and done to the beloved dead while they were alive.
  • It's no shame to be born stupid. Only to die stupid.
  • "We live only on, illusions and credits. [...] On illusions out of the past, and credits on the future." Then he turned to me again. "
    'Simplicity,' I said, Bob. Only envious people call it stupidity. Don't you worry on that score. It's not a weakness; it's a gift." [...] You know what I mean. A simple courage, not yet eaten away by skepticism and over-intelligence. Parsifal was stupid. If he had been bright, he would never have conquered the Holy Grail. Only the stupid conquer in life; the other man foresees too many obstacles and becomes uncertain before he starts. In difficult times simplicity is the most priceless gift—a magic cloak that conceals dangers into which the super-intelligent run headlong as if hypnotized"

Chapter 6

  • "Well, pros't!" said he. "May our children have rich parents."

Chapter 7

  • A woman is not a piece of steel furniture; she is a flower—she does not ask for reality; she wants the warm, gay sun of flattery. It is better to say something pretty to her every day, than to slave grimly for her all your life.

Chapter 8

  • "Doesn't this make you sad, Ferdinand?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Cynical, if you like. One is sad when one thinks about life—cynical when one -sees what people make of it."
  • After all, isn't it just as well, Bob, that they should have their bit of fun that is so important to them? It keeps them going, staves off the evil day when they will be alone. And to be alone, really alone, without illusion, that way lies madness—and suicide.
  • must make the best of it if one is to get even a little bit of what is called happiness.
  • Happiness is the most uncertain thing in the world and has the highest price.
  • Life's too short, Frida, and full of accidents and perils. People should stand together these days. Let's make peace.

Chapter 9

  • Come close to me—else the mist will bear you away.

Chapter 11

  • I knew too well that all love has the desire for eternity and that therein lies its eternal torment. Nothing lasts. Nothing.
  • Only people who think they're not superficial, are

Chapter 12

  • Tact is a tacit agreement to ignore mutual failings instead of ridding yourself of them. That is to say a despicable compromise.
  • Ferdinand fished a lace-wing out of his wine and wiped it carefully on the table.
    "Look at that now," said "he: "this fly. Gossamer is a floorcloth to it. And they live one day, and then it's over." He surveyed us all. "Do you know what is the most uncanny thing in the world, brothers?"
    "An empty glass," replied Lenz.
    Ferdinand obliterated him with a gesture. "The most degrading thing in the world for a man, Gottfried, is to be a joker." He turned to us again. "The most uncanny thing in the world, brothers, is time. Time. The monument through which we live and yet do not possess." He pulled a watch from his pocket and held it in front of Lenz's eyes. "This here, you upin-the-air romantic. This infernal machine, that ticks and ticks, that goes on ticking and that nothing can stop ticking. You can stay an avalanche, a landslide—but not this."
    "I don't want to," declared Lenz. "I want to grow peacefully old. And anyway, I like change."
    "It cannot abide man," said Grau ignoring him. "Neither can man abide it. So he has concocted a dream for himself. The old, pathetic, hopeless human dream, eternity."
    Gottfried laughed. "The worst disease in the world, Ferdinand, is thought. It's incurable."
    "If it were the only one, you'd be immortal," replied Grau.
    "You parcel of carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorus and a little iron, for a moment of time on the earth, Gottfried Lenz!" Gottfried beamed complacently. Ferdinand shook his lion head. "Life is a disease, brothers, and death begins already at birth. Every breath, every heartbeat, is a moment of dying—a little shove toward the end."
    "Every gulp, too," replied Lenz. "Pros't, Ferdinand. Death can be damned pleasant sometimes."
    Grau raised his glass. A smile passed over his big face like a soundless storm. "Pros't, Gottfried, you waterskipper on the running surface of time. What were the powers that move us thinking of when they made you, I wonder."
    "They must settle that among themselves," said Gottfried.
    "In any case it's not for you to speak disparagingly of such things. If human beings were immortal, you'd be out of work, you old parasite on death."
  • "I'm crazy about lilac," said the last of the romantics.
  • Night is nature's protest against the leprosy of civilization, Gottfried. No decent man can withstand it for long. He begins to notice that he has been turned out of the silent company of the trees, the animals, the stars, and unconscious life." He smiled his queer smile; one could never be sure if it were sad or not. "Come inside, children. Let's warm our hands over memories. Ach, the wonderful time, when we were horsetails and mudfish—fifty, sixty thousand years ago—God, but how low we have fallen since then.
  • "Do you love me really?" I asked.
    She shook her head. "Do you me?"
    "No. Lucky, isn't-it?"
    "Then nothing can happen to us, eh?"
    "Nothing," she replied and felt for my hand under the coats.

Chapter 13

  • "Extraordinary creatures you young people are, altogether. The past you hate, the present you despise, and the future is a matter of indifference. How do you suppose that can lead to any good end?"
    "Well, what do you mean by a good end?" I asked. "An end can be good only if everything before it has been bad. So a bad end is better."
  • Pat's face was full of mystery, irradiated by the light from the stage. She was wholly surrendered; and I loved her that she did not lean toward me or reach for my hand, yes, did not once look at me, but appeared not to think of me at all and to have quite forgotten me. I hate it when people mix things, I hate the cowlike yearning toward one another while the beauty and the power of a great work breaks over one; I hate the swimming looks of lovers, the foolish blissful cuddling, the indecent sheepish happiness that can never rise above itself; I hate all the talk of becoming one through love; it seems to me we cannot sufficiently be two nor remove ourselves from one another often enough in order to meet again. Only those who are constantly alone know the joy of being together. Anything else breaks the spell of the tension. And what can more powerfully penetrate the magic circle of solitude than the uprush of emotion, the surrender to a shock, the might of the elements, storm, night music? And love . . .
  • "A man can't have a row with a woman. You can be annoyed with them at the most."
    "Those are too fine distinctions for three o'clock in the morning. I've had rows with every one. If you don't have rows it's soon over."

Chapter 14

  • "Balance, Herr Lohkamp, always balance—that's the whole secret of life."
    "If you can."
    He winked. "Quite; to be able, that's the secret, of course. We know too much, and can do too little. Because we know too much." He laughed. "Forgive me—after lunch I'm always a bit philosophical."
  • "Pure superstition," explained Blumenthal. "I never miss a deal by which I stand to make."
    "Fine superstition," I replied.
    He wagged his shining pate. "You don't believe-it—well, it's right. So that nothing shall go amiss with me—in other things. To neglect a deal to-day is to tempt Providence. And there's none of us can afford that."
  • There is new and new—according as you are buying or selling.
  • All decent people are melancholy when evening comes. Not for any particular reason. Just on general grounds.

Chapter 15

  • She propped her arms on the ground. "It really is a shame the way man runs about the earth and yet knows nothing at all about it. Not even a few names."
    "Don't grieve," said I, "a much greater shame is that man doesn't even know what he runs about the earth for. And a few names more or less won't help there much."
  • A true idealist strives for money. Money is mental freedom. And freedom is life. [...] One shouldn't talk scornfully about money. It's money brings many a woman a lover. Love on the other hand makes many a man avaricious. Money therefore furthers the ideal—love versus materialism. The man [...] only becomes avaricious as a result of the woman's desires. If there weren't women there wouldn't be money, and the men would be a race of heroes. In the trenches there were no women—it didn't count for much there, either, how well off a man was. It came back to what he was as a man. And that's not to say anything for the trenches; that's only to show love up in its true light. It rouses the evil instincts in man—the urge to possession, standing, profits, comfort. It's not for nothing dictators like to see their subordinates married—that way they are less dangerous. And not for nothing do Catholic priests have no wives—they would never be such bold missionaries otherwise.
  • Man is always large in his intentions. In execution not so. Therein lies his charm.
  • But not enough has been thought about idleness. It is the foundation of all happiness and the end of all philosophy.

Chapter 16

  • Now I suddenly saw that I could be something to someone, simply because I was there, and that that person was happy because I was with her. Said like that, it sounds very simple; but when you think about it, it is a tremendous thing, a thing that knows no end It is something that can break and transform one. It is love and yet something more —something for which one can live. A man cannot live for love. But for a human being, perhaps . .
    I wanted to say something, but I could not. It is difficult to find words when one really has something to say. And even if one knows the right words, then one is ashamed to say them. All these words belong to other, earlier centuries. Our time has not the words yet to express its feelings. We can only be offhand—anything else rings false.
  • Work, work, work . . . an abominable obsession—and always under the illusion it will be different later. And it never is different. Queer, isn't it, that anyone should do that with his life?

Chapter 17

  • Haven't you ever observed how we live in an age of self-persecution? What a lot of things there are one might do that one doesn't—and yet why, God only knows. Work has become so tremendously important to-day, because so many have none, I suppose, that it kills everything else.
  • Romantics are a following—not an escort

Chapter 18

  • Purposes make life bourgeois.
  • You can't know anything beforehand. The incurable can survive the healthy. Life is a strange phenomenon.
  • "I've been waiting for you."
    "But you shouldn't wait for me. Never. It's terrible waiting for someone."
    She shook her head. "You don't understand, Robby. It's only terrible to have nothing to wait for."
  • seemed to me a woman ought not to tell a man that she loves him. Pat's eyes became only radiant and happy, and thereby she said more than many words.

Chapter 19

  • The more we know one another, the more we misunderstand one another. And the nearer we know one another, the more estranged we become. Look at the Hasses, for instance— they know everything about each other and yet are more distasteful to one another than total strangers.
  • "What you said then is only half-true, Robby."
    "That's the way with all truths," I replied. "We never get further than that. That's what makes us human. And God knows we make trouble with our half-truths. With the whole truth we couldn't live at all."

Chapter 20

  • They were thinking of bread, always and only of bread and occupation; but they came here to escape from their thoughts for a few hours—and amongst the clean-cut Roman heads and the imperishable grace of white, Greek female figures they wandered around with the dragging gait, the bowed shoulders of men who have no purpose—a shocking contrast, a cheerless picture of what humanity had been able, and unable, to achieve in a thousand years—the summit of eternal works of art, but not even bread enough for each of their brothers.
  • I stood by and listened to her and laughed and thought what a damned business it was to love a woman and yet be poor.
  • He smiled. "You don't need to thank me. We are every one of us in God's hands." He looked at me a moment, his head bowed a little to one side, and it seemed as if something passed over his face. "Only trust," said he. "The Heavenly Father helps. He always helps, even when sometimes we do not understand." Then he nodded to me and went.
    I followed him with my eyes until I heard the door shut behind him. Yes, thought I, if it were so simple. He helps, He always helps—but did He help Bernhard Wiese when he lay wounded in the stomach, yelling in Houthoulst Wood? Did He help Katczinsky, who fell at Handzaeme, leaving a sick wife and a child he had never seen? Did He help Müller and Leer and Kemmerich? Did He help little Friedmann and Jurgens and Berger, and millions more? No, damn it, too much blood had flowed in the world for that sort of belief in the Heavenly Father.

Chapter 21

  • So long as a man doesn't give in, he is still more than his fate. That's an old Army rule.

Chapter 22

  • "You keep quiet, Gottfried." Ferdinand turned his great head on Lenz. "A romantic like you is only a grasshopper on the verge of life. He understands it all wrong and manufactures his sensations out of that. You lightweight, what do you know about Nothing?"
    "Enough to be content to remain a lightweight," declared Lenz. "Decent people show a proper respect for Nothing. They don't go rooting about in it like moles."
  • Only the unhappy man appreciates happiness. The happy man is a mannequin for the life-feeling. He displays it merely; he doesn't possess it. Light doesn't shine in the light; it shines in the dark. A health to the dark. The man who has once been in the storm can't handle delicate electric apparatus any more. To hell with the storm. Blessed be our bit of life. And because we do love it we're not prepared to invest it in five per cents; we prefer to burn it. Drink, my boys. There are stars still shining that blew up ten thousand light-years ago. Drink while there is yet time. Long live unhappiness. Long live the dark.

Chapter 23

  • Pity is the most useless article in the world. [...] It's the reverse side of gloating, you ought to know that.

Chapter 24

  • "Otto," said I to Köster, who was walking in front of me, "I know now what those people are wanting. They don't want politics at all. They want substitute religion."
    He looked around. "Of course. They want to believe in something again—in what, it doesn't matter. That's why they are so fanatical, too, of course."
  • Mortality is man's invention; not in the logic of life.
  • It is easier to be alone without love.

Chapter 25

  • I looked out the window at the grey satin-hung mountain. It just isn't true all this, thought I; just isn't real, it doesn't go like this. This is only a stage where they act a bit at death. When men die it's in grim earnest—I should have liked to follow these young folk and shake them by the shoulders and say to them "It is so, isn't it? This is just a charade of death, and you mere facetious amateurs acting at dying? You'll get up again after and bow, won't you? People just don't die this way, from a bit of fever and noisy breathing—it takes bullets and wounds, I know that.

Chapter 26

  • She took the cigarette but soon laid it aside. "I don't like the taste, Robby. I just don't like it any more."
    I laughed. "It's always so when you've been deprived of anything for a long time."
    "You were deprived of me for a long time," said she.
    "It's so only with poisons," I replied: "Schnapps and tobacco."
    "Human beings are a much worse poison than schnapps or tobacco, darling."
    I laughed. "You are a clever child, Pat."

Chapter 27

  • If you want to live still, then there must be something you love. It's harder, but it's easier too. You see, I had to die; and now I'm just thankful I have had you. I might easily have been alone and unhappy. Then I would have been glad to die. Now it is hard; but to make up, I'm quite full of love, as a bee is full of honey when it comes back to the hive in the evening. If I had to choose, of the two I would still choose the same.
  • About the only thing I can think of now—about living and dying. Then when I am sad and understand nothing any more, I say to myself that it's better to die while you still want to live, than to die and want to die.
  • "What is it, Pat?" I asked.
    "It ticks so loud," she whispered.
    "What? The watch?"
    She nodded. "It's so threatening—"
    I took the watch off my wrist.
    She looked anxiously at the second hand. "Throw it away."
    I took the watch and flung it against the wall. "There, it's not ticking any more now. Now time is standing still. We've torn it in two. Now only we two are here; we two, you and me and no one else."
    She looked at me. Her eyes were very big.
    "Darling—" she whispered.
    I could not bear her glance. It came from far away and passed through me to some place beyond.
    "Old lad," I murmured, "dear, brave, old lad."
  • "Pat," said I. "Pat."
    And for the first time she did not answer me.
  • The morning came and it was she no longer.
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Full text of Three Comrades in English, Popular Library edition, 1958