Tuesday, March 26, 2013

the great E. B. White

You'll be relieved to know that though I am listening to CBC radio, I am not at this time crying. My memoir, to be entitled "Sobbing to the CBC: the Beth Kaplan story." No, Jian is playing a pleasant French band and I am quite calm.

On my way to return a book to the library: "E.B. White, Writings from the New Yorker, 1925-1976." He is so spare and precise, not one extra word, and so witty and dry - inspiring. Wanted to share a little piece or two with you. The book explains that he was forced to use the royal "we."

Published the 29th of October, 1949.

A Dane told us the other day (and he seemed neither melancholy nor wholly cheerful) that Denmark has two moose. Denmark used to have only one moose (a bull), but a second arrived - swam over from Sweden, or took the ferry. The Danes were worried lest the new arrival prove to be a female. "Denmark is such a small country; we cannot have it too full of mooses." The second moose, however, was another bull. People felt relieved, but they know that it is only a question of time before some Swedish cow moose learns that there are extra men south of the border. 

And here's another, much sharper and more political, written in July 1944 as WW2 wore the nation down.

The thing we remember of the Republican keynote speech, as it came over the air, is the summer heat in the long grasses of the June night outside the window, and our own feeling of sin and futility. It was the same feeling a boy has at the country fair, on the hot midway in the suggestive summertime, as he pauses before a barker outside a girl-show tent, with the smell of fried food in his nostrils and the enticements of girls in his mind, lost in the immemorial sheepishness of humanity and its deliberate exploitation by the ancient devices of oratory. The keynoter in Chicago indicated that the Republicans were against aggression, New Dealism, and the man-eating shark. There was to be no more aggression because Republicans do not tolerate any evil thing like aggression. The speaker gave no indication that the reorganization of a shattered world would require anything more than a mere extension of American culture and habits, as exemplified by past and present Republicans. In the summer night, we felt that we were a million boys, armed, bloody, and tired, standing and listening to this slick spiel, outside this gaudy and unlikely tent - listening and knowing all the while that we were about to be taken.

Plus ca change, as the French say - nothing changes. Nearly 70 years later, Republican hucksters are still the same. What an eye, what a voice, had this writer.

P.S. As the U.S. Supreme Court tackles the issue of gay marriage today, this beautiful essay is making the rounds of the internet again. It's about great love - of a father for his son, of his son for someone else's son. And it's about very good writing.


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