After delving recently into The Story of E.B. White by Michael Sims (which I loved – scroll down for review), I’ve been on an E.B. White kick.
(Image from amsaw.org)
I’ve read Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan, of course, but had only read snippets from White’s essays and letters. But after reading his biography I was fascinated by this wise and witty man, who wrote prolifically for The New Yorker and other publications (and who loved dachshunds as I do). So I’ve been savoring his essays on my daily commute – often smiling, sometimes chuckling, at his observations.
Here, some of the lines that have moved me:
Familiarity is the thing – the sense of belonging. It grants exemption from all evil, all shabbiness. A farmer pauses in the doorway of his barn and he is wearing the right boots. A sheep stands under an apple tree and it wears the right look, and the tree is hung with puckered frozen fruit of the right color. […] Or so it seems to the homing traveler. (“Home-Coming”)
Children hold spring so tightly in their brown fists, just as grownups, who are less sure of it, hold it in their hearts. (“A Report in Spring”)
I bought a puppy last week in the outskirts of Boston […]. There had been talk in our family of getting a “sensible” dog this time, and […] after a period of uncertainty and waste motion my wife suddenly exclaimed one evening, “Oh, let’s just get a dachshund!” (“A Report in Spring”)
All writing slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular, although many men are born upright. (“Bedfellows”)
The subtlest change in New York is something people don’t speak much about but that is in everyone’s mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now. (“Here is New York,” written in 1949)
In the fury of the storm, thought was impossible; the future was expunged by wind and water; I lived at last in the present, and the present was magnificent – rich and beautiful and awesome. It gave me all the things I wanted from life, and it was as though I drank each towering wave as it came aboard, as though I would ever after be athirst. (“The Years of Wonder”)
The slowness of rail travel is not because the Horse is incapable of great speed but because the railroad is a gossip; all along the line it stops to chat at back porches, to exchange the latest or borrow a cup of sugar. (“The Railroad”)
If our future journeys are to be little different from flashes of light, with no interim landscape and no interim thought, I think we will have lost the whole good of journeying and will have succumbed to a mere preoccupation with getting there. (“The Railroad”)
[Walden] is distilled from [Thoreau’s] vast journals, and this accounts for its intensity: he picked out bright particles that pleased his eye, whirled them in the kaleidoscope of his content, and produced the pattern that has endured – the color, the form, the light. (“A Slight Sound at Evening”)