Remarque demonstrates a mastery of language, which he manipulates to suit rapid shifts of tone, characterization, and theme, depending on his varying needs for graphic, blunt description, lyricism, dialogue, or lament. Passages illustrating these rhetorical devices are listed in the following sections.
"Then [the sergeant major] steams off with Himmelstoss in his wake."
"My arms have grown wings and I'm almost afraid of going up into the sky, as though I held a couple of captive balloons in my fists."
"The wind plays with our hair; it plays with our words and thoughts."
"Darknesses blacker than the night rush on us with giant strides, over us and away."
"Over us Chance hovers."
"At the same time he ventilates his backside."
"All at once he remembers his school days and finishes hastily: 'He wants to leave the room, sister.'"
"To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and often forever."
"The front is a cage in which we must await fearfully whatever may happen."
"I recognize the characteristic outline of the Dolbenberg, a jagged comb, springing up precipitously from the limits of the forests."
"Earth! — Earth! — Earth!"
"Dawn approaches without anything happening — only the everlasting, nerve-wracking roll behind the enemy lines, trains, trains, lorries, lorries; but what are they concentrating?"
"A man dreams of a miracle and wakes up to loaves of bread."
"It is as though formerly we were coins of different provinces; and now we are melted down, and all bear the same stamp."
"My feet begin to move forward in my boots, I go quicker, I run."
"The wood vanishes, it is pounded, crushed, torn to pieces."
"No longer do we lie helpless, waiting on the scaffold, we can destroy and kill, to save ourselves, to save ourselves and to be revenged."
"Like a big, soft jelly-fish, [gas] floats into our shell-hole and lolls there obscenely."
"He had collapsed like a rotten tree."
"When Kat stands in front of the hut and says: 'There'll be a bombardment,' that is merely his own opinion; but if he says it here, then the sentence has the sharpness of a bayonet in the moonlight, it cuts clean through the thought, it thrusts nearer and speaks to this unknown thing that is awakened in us, a dark meaning — 'There'll be a bombardment.'"
"Immediately a second [searchlight] is beside him, a black insect is caught between them and tries to escape — the airman."
"I don't know whether it is morning or evening, I lie in the pale cradle of the twilight, and listen for soft words which will come, soft and near — am I crying?"
"Our being, almost utterly carried away by the fury of the storm, streams back through our hands from thee, and we, thy redeemed ones, bury ourselves in thee, and through the long minutes in a mute agony of hope bite into thee with our lips!"
"The evening benediction begins."
". . . dark, musty platoon huts, with the iron bedsteads, the chequered bedding, the lockers and the stools! Even you can become the object of desire."
"Ah! Mother, Mother! You still think I am a child — why can I not put my head in your lap and weep?"
"The gun emplacements are camouflaged with bushes against aerial observation, and look like a kind of military Feast of the Tabernacles."
"The guns and the wagons float past the dim background of the moonlit landscape, the riders in their steel helmets resemble knights of a forgotten time; it is strangely beautiful and arresting."
"They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting things there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades."
"In the evening we are hauled on to the chopping-block."
"Why have I always to be strong and self-controlled?"
"If one wants to appraise it, it is at once heroic and banal — but who wants to do that?"
"No soldier outlives a thousand chances."
". . . terror can be endured so long as a man simply ducks — but it kills, if a man thinks about it."
"The national feeling of the tommy resolves itself into this — here he is."
"I pass over the bridge, I look right and left; the water is as full of weeds as ever."
"'I can sleep enough later,' she says. . . . Her face is a white gleam in the darkness."
"On the landing I stumble over my pack, which lies there already made up because I have to leave early in the morning."
"Give 'em all the same grub and all the same pay."
"And the war would be over and done in a day."
"It is not fear."
"Life is short."
Cause and effect
"Our faces are neither paler nor more flushed than usual; they are not more tense nor more flabby — and yet they are changed."
"They have taken us farther back than usual to a field depot so that we can be re-organized."
"The shells begin to hiss like safety-valves — heavy fire — . . . ."
". . . a high double wall of yellow, unpolished, brand-new coffins. They still smell of resin, and pine, and the forest."
"Thus momentarily we have the two things a soldier needs for contentment: good food and rest.'
"I have killed the printer, Gérard Duval."
"It is all a matter of habit — even the front-line."
"The days, the weeks, the years out here shall come back again, and our dead comrades shall then stand up again and march with us, our heads shall be clear, we shall have a purpose, and so we shall march, our dead comrades beside us, the year at the Front behind us — against whom, against whom?"
"Pen-holders, a shell as a paper-weight, the ink-well — here nothing is changed."
"The man gurgles."
". . . smash through the johnnies and then there will be peace."
"'Heathen,' she chirps but shuts the door all the same."
"The satisfaction of months shines in his dull pig's eyes as he spits out: 'Dirty hound!'"
"What would become of us if everything that happens out there were quite clear to us?"
"Now red points glow in every face. They comfort me: it looks as though there were little windows in dark village cottages saying that behind them are rooms full of peace."
"Outside the window the wind blows and the chestnut trees rustle."
"But first you have to give the Froggies a good hiding."
"The storm lashes us, out of the confusion of grey and yellow the hail of splinters whips forth the child-like cries of the wounded, and in the night shattered life groans painfully into silence."
"And now get on with it, you old blubber-sticker, and don't you miscount either."
"You get off scot free, of course."
"That cooked his goose."
"Kat has lost all his fun since we have been here, which is bad, for Kat is an old front-hog, and can smell what is coming."
Note: Because this version is the work of translator A. W. Wheen, the creation of images based on English sound — that is, onomatopoeia, alliteration, euphony, cacophony, and slang — cannot be credited to Remarque.