Editorial: Spring is the season of E.B. White

Friday, May 05, 2017

Sixty years ago, nearly to the day, Elwyn Brooks White wrote, “No matter what changes take place in the world, or in me, nothing ever seems to disturb the face of spring.”

Although E.B. White split his time between New York City and Maine, he has always seemed to us to be a purely New England writer. Even when musing about New York (“The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.”), White’s language feels pastoral. And feel is the correct word – one doesn’t so much read White’s words as experience them.

Today is the midpoint of spring, a season we tend to associate with White. So it seems only proper to turn over the rest of this space to him. Here, then, are some of our favorite passages from The Essays of E.B. White and One Man’s Meat:

THERE IS ANOTHER sort of day that needs celebrating in song – the day of days when spring at last holds up her face to be kissed, deliberate and unabashed. On that day no wind blows either in the hills or in the mind, no chill finds the bone. It is a day that can come only in a northern climate, where there has been a long background of frigidity, a long deficiency of sun.” (“Spring”)

THE ROBINS STILL love the elms of New England villages at sundown. There is enough of the thrush in them to make song inevitable at the end of day, and enough of the tramp to make them hang round the dwellings of men. A robin, like many another American, dearly loves a white house with green blinds.” (“Walden”)

THE FIRST SIGN OF SPRING here is when the ice breaks up in the inkwell at the post office. A month later the ice leaves the lakes. And a month after that the first of the summer visitors shows up and the tax collector’s wife removes the town records from her Frigidaire and plugs it in for the summer.” (“Town Meeting”)

I WOULD FEEL MORE OPTIMISTIC about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.” (“Coon Tree”)

THE LAND, even though it has been mistreated, can still support the population – that we know. The question is whether the population has the temperament and the ingenuity to support the land – that is, to return its goodness, not just sap it.” (“Farm Paper”)

I HAVE YET TO SEE a piece of writing, political or nonpolitical, that doesn’t have a slant. All writing slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular, although many men are born upright. The beauty of the American free press is that the slants and the twists and the distortions come from so many directions, and the special interests are so numerous, the reader must sift and sort and check and countercheck in order to find out what the score is. This he does. It is only when a press gets its twist from a single source, as in the case of government-controlled press systems, that the reader is licked.” (“Bedfellows”)

A POET’S PLEASURE is to withhold a little of his meaning, to intensify by mystification. He unzips the veil from beauty but does not remove it.” (“Poetry”)

WHAT I MOST VIVIDLY and longingly recall is the sight of my grandson and his little sunburnt sister returning to their kitchen door from an excursion, with trophies of the meadow clutched in their hands – she with a couple of violets, and smiling, he serious and holding dandelions, strangling them in a responsible grip. 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”)