Quotes from The Road Back

Erich Maria Remarque ·  352 pages

Rating: (3.4K votes)


“Educationalists who think they can understand the young are enthusiasts. Youth does not want to be understood; it wants only to be let alone. It preserves itself immune against the insidious bacillus of being understood. The grown-up who would approach it too importunately is as ridiculous in its eyes as if he had put on children's clothes. We may feel with our youth, but youth does not feel with us. That is its salvation.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“I have been running all about; I have knocked again at all the doors of my youth and desired to enter in there; I thought, surely it must admit me again, for I am still young and have wished so much to forget; but it fled always before me like a will-o'-the-wisp; it fell away without a sound; it crumbled like tinder at my lightest touch. And I could not understand.--Surely here at least something of it must remain? I attempted it again and again, and as a result made myself merely ridiculous and wretched. But now I know. I know now that a still, silent war has ravaged this country of my memories also; I know now it would be useless for me to look farther. Time lies between like a great gulf; I cannot get back. There is nothing for it; I must go forward, march onward, anywhere; it matters nothing, for I have no goal”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“Because we were duped I tell you, duped as even yet we hardly realize; because we were misused, hideously misused. They told us it was for the Fatherland, and meant the schemes of annexation of a greedy industry.--They told us it was for Honor, and meant the quarrels and the will to power of a handful of ambitious diplomats and princes.--They told us it was for the Nation, and meant the need for activity on the part of out-of-work generals!...Can't you see? They stuffed out the word Patriotism with all the twaddle of their fine phrases, with their desire for glory, their will to power, their false romanticism, their stupidity, their greed of business, and then paraded it before us as a shining ideal! And we thought they were sounding a bugle summoning us to a new, a more strenuous, a larger life. Can't you see, man? But we were making war against ourselves without even knowing it!...
There is only one fight, the fight against the lie, the half-truth, compromise, against the old order. But we let ourselves be taken in by their phrases; and instead of fighting against them, we fought for them. We thought it was for the Future. It was against the Future. Our future is dead; for the youth is dead that carried it. We are merely the survivors, the ruins. But the other is alive still--the fat, the full, the well content, that lives on, fatter and fuller, more contented than ever! And why? Because the dissatisfied, the eager, the storm troops have died for it.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“И внезапно ме обзема неизразимата печал на отлитащото време - то тече ли, тече и променя всичко, а когато се върнеш, не заварваш нищо от предишното. Ех, сбогуването е тежко, ала завръщането понякога е още по-тежко.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“Дали и сега тя не е съвършено различен човек, дали не води някакъв свой живот, в който никога не ще проникна? Дали няма да си остане такава, дори да пламна с всички пожари на любовта? Ах, любовта... Факел, който пада в бездна и едва тогава показва колко дълбока е тя.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back



“Опитвам се да го утеша. Ала той гледа встрани. Думите ми не го убеждават, но поне на мен ми олеква. Но нали така е винаги, когато утешаваш.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“One part of my life was given over to the service of destruction; it belonged to hate, to enmity, to killing. But life remained in me. And that in itself is enough, of itself almost a purpose and a way. I will work in myself and be ready; I will bestir my hands and my thoughts. I will not take myself very seriously, nor push on when sometimes I should like to be still. There are many things to be built and almost everything to repair; it is enough that I work to dig out again what was buried during the years of shells and machine guns. Not every one need be a pioneer; there is employment for feebler hands, lesser powers. It is there I mean to look for my place. Then the dead will be silenced and the past not pursue me any more; it will assist me instead. How simple it is—but how long it has taken to arrive there! And I might still be wandering in the wilderness, have fallen victim to the wire snares and the detonators, had Ludwig’s death not gone up before us like a rocket, lighting to us the way. We despaired when we saw how that great stream of feeling common to us all—that will to a new life shorn of follies, a life recaptured on the confines of death—did not sweep away before it all survived half-truth and self-interest, so to make a new course for itself, but instead of that merely trickled away in the marshes of forgetfulness, was lost among the bogs of fine phrases, and dribbled away along the ditches of social activities, of cares and occupations. But to-day I know that all life is perhaps only a getting ready, a ferment in the individual, in many cells, in many channels, each for himself; and if the cells and channels of a tree but take up and carry farther the onward urging sap, there will emerge at the last rustling and sunlit branches—crowns of leaves and freedom. I will begin. It will not be that consummation of which we dreamed in our youth and that we expected after the years out there. It will be a road like other roads, with stones and good stretches, with places torn up, with villages and fields—a road of toil. And I shall be alone. Perhaps sometimes I shall find some one to go with me a stage of the journey—but for all of it, probably no one. And I may often have to hump my pack still, when my shoulders are already weary; often hesitate at the crossways and boundaries; often have to leave something behind me, often stumble and fall. But I will get up again and not just lie there; I will go on and not look back. —Perhaps I shall never be really happy again; perhaps the war has destroyed that, and no doubt I shall always be a little inattentive and nowhere quite at home—but I shall probably never be wholly unhappy either—for something will always be there to sustain me, be it merely my own hands, or a tree, or the breathing earth. The”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“I dislike his talk; it goes against my grain to hear him speak so contemptuously of cobblers. They made as good soldiers as the finer folk, anyway. Adolf Bethke was a cobbler, for that matter,--and he knew a sight more about war than a good many majors. It was the man that counted with us, not his occupation.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“The things here are stronger--the things that differentiate us from one another are too powerful. The common interest is no longer decisive. It has broken up already and given place to the interest of the individual. Now and then something still will shine through from that other time when we all wore the same rig, but already it is dwindled and dim. These others here are still our comrades and yet our comrades no longer--that is what is so sad. All else went west in the war, but comradeship we did believe in; now only to find that what death could not do, life is achieving; it is driving us asunder.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“Unspoiled by education, frank and unsuspecting as young an8imals, they came up to school from their meadows, their games, and their dreams. The simple law of life was alone valid for them; the most vital, the most forceful among them was leader; the rest followed him. But little by little, with the weekly portions of tuition, another, artificial set of values was foisted upon them: he who knew his lesson best was termed excellent and ranked foremost, and the rest must emulate him. Little wonder, indeed, if the more vital of them resist it! But they have to knuckle under, for the ideal of the school is the good scholar.--But what an ideal! What ever came of the good scholars in the world?--In the hothouse of the school they do enjoy a short semblance of life, but only the more surely to sink back afterward into mediocrity and insignificance. The world has been bettered only by the bad scholars.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back



“And growth has no end. One part of my life was given over to the service of destruction; it belonged to hate, to enmity, to killing. But life remained in me. And that in itself is enough, of itself almost a purpose and a way. I will work in myself and be ready; I will bestir my hands and my thoughts. I will not take myself very seriously, nor push on when sometimes I should like to be still. There are many things to be built and almost everything to repair; it is enough that I work to dig out again what was buried during the years of shells and machine guns. Not every one need be a pioneer; there is employment for feebler hands, lesser powers. It is there I mean to look for my place. Then the dead will be silenced and the past not pursue me any more; it will assist me instead. How simple it is—but how long it has taken to arrive there! And I might still be wandering in the wilderness, have fallen victim to the wire snares and the detonators, had Ludwig’s death not gone up before us like a rocket, lighting to us the way. We despaired when we saw how that great stream of feeling common to us all—that will to a new life shorn of follies, a life recaptured on the confines of death—did not sweep away before it all survived half-truth and self-interest, so to make a new course for itself, but instead of that merely trickled away in the marshes of forgetfulness, was lost among the bogs of fine phrases, and dribbled away along the ditches of social activities, of cares and occupations. But to-day I know that all life is perhaps only a getting ready, a ferment in the individual, in many cells, in many channels, each for himself; and if the cells and channels of a tree but take up and carry farther the onward urging sap, there will emerge at the last rustling and sunlit branches—crowns of leaves and freedom. I will begin. It will not be that consummation of which we dreamed in our youth and that we expected after the years out there. It will be a road like other roads, with stones and good stretches, with places torn up, with villages and fields—a road of toil. And I shall be alone. Perhaps sometimes I shall find some one to go with me a stage of the journey—but for all of it, probably no one. And I may often have to hump my pack still, when my shoulders are already weary; often hesitate at the crossways and boundaries; often have to leave something behind me, often stumble and fall. But I will get up again and not just lie there; I will go on and not look back. —Perhaps I shall never be really happy again; perhaps the war has destroyed that, and no doubt I shall always be a little inattentive and nowhere quite at home—but I shall probably never be wholly unhappy either—for something will always be there to sustain me, be it merely my own hands, or a tree, or the breathing earth. The”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“—Might! I say to myself, Might, always Might—and be it no more than an inch it is merciless.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“A man has to have something he can put faith in.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“Къде са изчезнали изобилието, трепетът, светлината, блясъкът, неизразимото? Нима споменът ми е бил по-жив от действителността? Дали той не се е превърнал в действителност, а тя се е отдръпвала и спаружвала, докато от нея не е останало нищо друго освен гол скелет, на който някога са се развявали пъстроцветни знамена? Нима споменът се е откъснал от действителността и сега витае над нея като печален облак?”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“This dirty, damp patch of grass—was this really the setting of those years of my childhood, so radiant and winged in my memory? This waste, dreary square with the factory yonder—can this be that quiet corner of earth we called “Home” and which alone amid the waters of destruction out there meant hope to us and salvation from perishing in the flood? Or was it not rather a vision of some far other place than this grey street with its hideous houses that rose up there, over the shell holes, like some wild, sad dream in the grudging intervals between death and death? In my memory was it not far more shining and lovely, more spacious, and abounding with ten thousand things? Is that no longer true, then? Did my blood lie and my memory deceive me?”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back



“The talk here makes me quite ill. I would rather we had never come together again; then at least we might still have preserved a memory. In vain do I try to picture all these fellows in dirty uniforms again, and this Konersmann’s restaurant as a canteen in the rest area. It cannot be done. The things here are stronger—the things that differentiate us from one another are too powerful. The common interest is no longer decisive. It has broken up already and given place to the interest of the individual. Now and then something still will shine through from that other time when we all wore the same rig, but already it is dwindled and dim. These others here are still our comrades and yet our comrades no longer—that is what is so sad. All else went west in the war, but comradeship we did believe in; now only to find that what death could not do, life is achieving; it is driving us asunder.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“The spires of the town below shimmer green, the roofs steam, and smoke rises silver from the chimneys. Georg points downward. “Like spiders they lurk there in their offices, their shops, their professions, each one of them ready to suck the other man dry. And then the rest hanging over each one of them—families, societies, authorities, laws, the State! One spider’s web over another! True, one may call that life, if one likes, and a man may even pride himself on crawling about under it his forty years and more; but I learned at the Front that time is not the measure of life. Why should I climb down forty years? I have been putting all my money for years now on one card and the stake has always been life. I can’t play now for halfpence, and small advances.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“That they have, indeed! My sisters tell how they had to scrounge to get the supper together. Twice the gendarmes took everything from them at the station. The third time they sewed the eggs inside their cloaks, put the sausages into their blouses and hid the potatoes in pockets inside their skirts. That time they got through.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“Smoke cigars, do you?” asks my father in surprise and almost reprovingly. I look at him with a certain wonderment. “But of course,” I reply. “They were part of the ration out there. We got three or four every day. Will you have one?” He takes it, shaking his head meanwhile. “You used not to smoke at all, before.” “Oh, yes, before—” I say and cannot help smiling that he should make such a story out of it. There are a lot of things I used not to do before, that’s a fact. But up the line there one soon lost any difference before one’s elders. We were all alike there.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“The sky hangs like lead over the low shrubbery of the Luisenplatz, the trees are bare, a loose window is clashing in the wind, and amid the frowsy alder bushes in the garden of the square squats the November twilight, dank and cheerless. I peer over into it; and suddenly it is as if I saw it all today for the first time, so unfamiliar that I hardly know it again. This dirty, damp patch of grass—was this really the setting of those years of my childhood, so radiant and winged in my memory? This waste, dreary square with the factory yonder—can this be that quiet corner of earth we called “Home” and which alone amid the waters of destruction out there meant hope to us and salvation from perishing in the flood? Or was it not rather a vision of some far other place than this grey street with its hideous houses that rose up there, over the shell holes, like some wild, sad dream in the grudging intervals between death and death? In my memory was it not far more shining and lovely, more spacious, and abounding with ten thousand things? Is that no longer true, then? Did my blood lie and my memory deceive me? I”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back



“I observe her in astonishment, she is so changed. Has memory played me false here too, then? Did it grow and grow too, until it has outgrown the reality? —This rather loud girl sitting here at the table and talking much too much is a stranger to me. But concealed under that manner must there not be perhaps some one that I do know better? Does a thing become so distorted then, just because one gets older? —Perhaps it is the years, I say to myself. It is more than three years now—she was sixteen then and a child; now she is nineteen and grown up. And suddenly I am conscious of the nameless sadness of Time that runs and runs on and changes, and when a man returns he shall find nothing again. —Yes, it is a hard thing to part; but to come back again, that is sometimes far harder.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“So that is over, think I to myself; so that is over too! Not because she thinks me dull; not because she has altered—no, not for any of these things, but because I see now that it has all been in vain. —I have been running about and about; I have knocked again at all the doors of my youth and desired to enter in there; I thought, surely it must admit me again, for I am still young and have wished so much to forget; but it fled always before me like a will-o’-the-wisp; it fell away without sound; it crumbled like tinder at my lightest touch. And I could not understand. —Surely here at least something of it must remain? I attempted it again and again, and as a result made myself merely ridiculous and wretched. —But now I know. I know now that a still, silent war has ravaged this country of my memories also; I know now it would be useless for me to look farther. Time lies between like a great gulf; I cannot get back. There is nothing for it; I must go forward, march onward, anywhere; it matters nothing, for I have no goal.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“I have been in many dugouts, Ludwig,” he goes on. “And we were all young men who sat there around one miserable slush lamp, waiting, while the barrage raged overhead like an earthquake. We were none of your inexperienced recruits, either; we knew well enough what we were waiting for and we knew what would come. —But there was more in those faces down in the gloom there than mere calm, more than good humour, more than just readiness to die. There was the will to another future in those hard, set faces; and it was there when they charged, and still there when they died. —We had less to say for ourselves year by year, we shed many things, but that one thing still remained. And now, Ludwig, where is it now? Can’t you see how it is perishing in all this pig’s wash of order, duty, women, routine, punctuality and the rest of it that here they call life? —No, Ludwig, we lived then! And you tell me a thousand times that you hate war, yet I still say, we lived then. We lived, because we were together, and because something burned in us that was more than this whole muck heap here!” He is breathing hard. “It must have been for something, Ludwig! When I first heard there was revolution, for one brief moment I thought: Now the time will be redeemed—now the flood will pour back, tearing down the old things, digging new banks for itself—and, by God, I would have been in it! But the flood broke up into a thousand runnels; the revolution became a mere scramble for jobs, for big jobs and little jobs. It has trickled away, it has been dammed up, it has been drained off into business, into family, and party. —But that will not do me. I’m going where comradeship is still to be found.” Ludwig stands up. His brow is flaming, his eyes blaze. He looks Rahe in the face. “And why is it, Georg? Why is it? Because we were duped, I tell you, duped as even yet we hardly realize; because we were misused, hideously misused. They told us it was for the Fatherland, and meant the schemes of annexation of a greedy industry. —They told us it was for Honour, and meant the quarrels and the will to power of a handful of ambitious diplomats and princes. —They told us it was for the Nation, and meant the need for activity on the part of out-of-work generals!” He takes Rahe by the shoulders and shakes him. “Can’t you see? They stuffed out the word Patriotism with all the twaddle of their fine phrases, with their desire for glory, their will to power, their false romanticism, their stupidity, their greed of business, and then paraded it before us as a shining ideal! And we thought they were sounding a bugle summoning us to a new, a more strenuous, a larger life. Can’t you see, man? But we were making war against ourselves without knowing it! Every shot that struck home, struck one of us! Can’t you see? Then listen and I will bawl it into your ears. The youth of the world rose up in every land, believing that it was fighting for freedom! And in every land they were duped and misused; in every land they have been shot down, they have exterminated each other! Don’t you see now? —There is only one fight, the fight against the lie, the half-truth, compromise, against the old order. But we let ourselves be taken in by their phrases; and instead of fighting against them, we fought for them. We thought it was for the Future. It was against the Future. Our future is dead; for the youth is dead that carried it. We are merely the survivors, the ruins. But the other is alive still—the fat, the full, the well content, that lives on, fatter and fuller, more contented than ever! And why? Because the dissatisfied, the eager, the storm troops have died for it. But think of it! A generation annihilated! A generation of hope, of faith, of will, strength, ability, so hypnotised that they have shot down one another, though over the whole world they all had the same purpose!” His”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“We thought to build us houses, we desired gardens with terraces, for we wanted to look out upon the sea and to feel the wind, but we did not think that a house needs foundations. We are like those abandoned fields full of shell holes in France, no less peaceful than the other ploughed lands about them, but in them are lying still the buried explosives, and until these shall have been dug out and cleared away, to plough will be a danger both to plougher and ploughed.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“Children, now we shall try to write a capital letter L,” I say and go to the blackboard. “Ten lines of L’s, then five lines of Lina, and five lines of Larch.” I write out the words slowly with chalk. A shuffling and rustling begins behind me. I expect to find that they are laughing at me and turn around. But it is only the notebooks being opened and the slates put in readiness. The forty heads are bent obediently over their task. —I am almost surprised. The slate pencils are squeaking, the pens scratching. I pass to and fro between the forms. On the wall hangs a crucifix, a stuffed barn owl and a map of Europe. Outside the windows the clouds drive steadily by, swift and low. The map of Germany is coloured in brown and green. I stop before it. The frontiers are hatched in red, and make a curious zigzag from top to bottom. Cologne—Aachen, there are the thin black lines marking the railways; Herbesthal, Liège, Brussels, Lille—I stand on tiptoe—Roubaix, Arras, Ostend—Where is Mount Kemmel then? It isn’t marked at all; but there is Langemarck, Ypres, Bixschoote, Staden. How small they are on the map—tiny points only, secluded, tiny points—and yet how the heavens thundered and the earth raged there on the 31st of July when the Big Offensive began and before nightfall we had lost every officer. I turn away and survey the fair and dark heads bending zealously over the words, Lina and Larch. Strange—for them those tiny points on the map will be no more than just so much stuff to be learned—a few new place names and a number of dates to be memorized by note in the history lesson—like the Seven Years’ War or some battle against the Romans. A”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back



“Thoughtfully I resume my patrolling to and fro between the benches. Now and again I catch a searching glance above the edge of a copy book. I stand still near the stove and look at the young faces. Most of them are good-natured and ordinary, some are sly, others stupid; but in a few there is a flicker of something brighter. For these life will not be so obvious and all things will not go so smoothly. Suddenly”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“Suddenly a great sense of despondency comes over me. To-morrow we shall take the prepositions, I think to myself—and next week we shall have a dictation. In a year’s time you will have by heart fifty questions from the Catechism; in four years you will start the larger multiplication tables. —And so you will grow up, and Time will take you in his pincers—one dumbly, another savagely, or gently or shatteringly. Each will have his own destiny and thus or thus it will overtake you. What help shall I be to you then with my conjugations and enumerations of all the rivers of Germany? Forty of you—forty different lives standing behind you and waiting. How gladly would I help you, if I could. But who can really help another here? Have I even been able to help Adolf Bethke? The bell rings. The first lesson is over.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“the most progressive minister must shipwreck if he has a block of reactionary bureaucrats against him. And in Germany the bureaucrats all have their jobs still. —These pen-pushing Napoleons are invincible.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“There she stands before me, and old woman with an anxious, care-worn face. Her hands are clasped—weary, toil-worn hands with a soft, wrinkled skin, where the veins stand out bluish; hands become so for my sake. —I never thought of that before. There is a lot I did not think of before; I was too young. But now I understand how it is that to this withered, little woman I am something different from any other soldier in the world: I am her child. To her I have always remained so, even as a soldier. In the war she has seen only a pack of wild beasts threatening the life of her child. It has never occurred to her that this same threatened child has been just such another wild beast to the children of yet other mothers. My”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back


“Listlessly we trudge onward. We had pictured our entry into our own country after the long years out there rather differently from this. We imagined that people would be waiting for us, expecting us; now we see that already every one is taken up with his own affairs. Life has moved on, is still moving on; it is leaving us behind almost as if we were superfluous already. This village, of course, is not Germany; all the same, the disappointment sticks in our gizzard and a shadow passes over us and a queer foreboding.”
― Erich Maria Remarque, quote from The Road Back



About the author

Erich Maria Remarque
Born place: in Osnabrück, Germany
Born date June 22, 1898
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BookQuoters is a community of passionate readers who enjoy sharing the most meaningful, memorable and interesting quotes from great books. As the world communicates more and more via texts, memes and sound bytes, short but profound quotes from books have become more relevant and important. For some of us a quote becomes a mantra, a goal or a philosophy by which we live. For all of us, quotes are a great way to remember a book and to carry with us the author’s best ideas.

We thoughtfully gather quotes from our favorite books, both classic and current, and choose the ones that are most thought-provoking. Each quote represents a book that is interesting, well written and has potential to enhance the reader’s life. We also accept submissions from our visitors and will select the quotes we feel are most appealing to the BookQuoters community.

Founded in 2018, BookQuoters has quickly become a large and vibrant community of people who share an affinity for books. Books are seen by some as a throwback to a previous world; conversely, gleaning the main ideas of a book via a quote or a quick summary is typical of the Information Age but is a habit disdained by some diehard readers. We feel that we have the best of both worlds at BookQuoters; we read books cover-to-cover but offer you some of the highlights. We hope you’ll join us.