From Here To Eternity

FROM From Here To Eternity by James Jones

Robert E. Lee Prewitt had learned to play a guitar long before he ever learned to bugle or to box. He learned it as a boy, and with it he learned a lot of blues songs and laments. In the Kentucky Mountains along the West Virginia Line life led him swiftly to that type of music. And this was long before he ever seriously considered becoming a member of The Profession. In the Kentucky Mountains along the West Virginia Line guitar playing is not considered the accomplishment it is most places. Every wellbred boy learns to chord a guitar when he is still small enough to hold it like a string bass. The boy Prewitt loved the songs because they gave him something, an understanding, a first hint that pain might not be pointless if you could only turn it into something. The songs stayed with him, but the guitar playing did not give him anything. It left him cold. He had no call for it at all.

He had no call for boxing either. But he was very fast and had an incredible punch, developed by necessity on the bum, before he entered The Profession. People always find those things out. They tend to become manifest. Especially in The Profession where sports are the nourishment of life and boxing is the most manly sport. Beer, in The Profession, is the wine of life. To tell the truth, he had no call for The Profession. At least not then. As a dissatisfied son of a Harlan County miner he just naturally gravitated toward it, the only profession open to him. He really had no call for anything until the first time he handled a bugle.

It started as a joke on a battalion beer convention and he only held it and blew a couple of bleats, but he knew at once that this was something different. It was somehow something sacred, the way you sit out at night and watch the stars and your eye consciously spans that distance and you wonder if you’re sitting on an electron that revolves around a proton in a series of infinite universes, and you suddenly see how strange a tree would look to one who had never lived upon the earth.

He had wild visions, for a moment, of having once played a herald’s trumpet for the coronations and of having called the legions to bed down around the smoking campfires in the long blue evenings of old Palestine. It was then he remembered that hint about pointlessness that the blues songs and laments had given him; he knew then that if he could play a bugle the way he thought a bugle he would have found his justification. He even realized, all at once, holding the bugle, the reason why he had ever got into The Profession at all, a problem that had stumped him up till then. That was actually how much it meant to him. He recognized he had a call.

He had heard a lot about The Profession as a boy. He would sit on the railless porch with the men when the long tired, dirty-faced evening rolled down the narrow valley, thankfully blotting out the streets of shacks, and listen to them talk. His Uncle John Turner, tall, raw-boned and spare, had run away as a boy and joined The Profession, to find Adventure. He had been a corporal in the Philippine Insurrection.

The boy Prewitt’s father and the others had never been beyond the hills, and in the boy’s mind, already even then bludgeoning instinctively against the propaganda of the walls of slag as the foetus kicks frantically against the propaganda of the womb, this fact of The Profession gave to Uncle John Turner a distinction no one else could claim.

The tall man would squat on his hams in the little yard – the coal dirt was too thick on all the ground to sit – and in an abortive effort to dispel the taste of what the Encyclopaedias call ‘Black Gold’ he would tell them stories that proved conclusively there was a world beyond the slag heaps and these trees whose leaves were always coated black.

National Book Award Winner


Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 2:46 PM  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. nice writing

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