“a thread of her devising”

Charlotte’s Web may be the book I’m most looking forward to reading with my small son. I remember my mother reading it to me, and in particular the calm, gracious way she delivered Charlotte’s classic “Salutations.”

[Actually, in many ways, my mother reminds me of Charlotte: inventive and resourceful, especially when protecting the people she loves; ready to sacrifice for her children; and possessed of a remarkable facility with language.]

E.B. White, who wrote Charlotte’s Web, and Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, is also the White in Strunk & White, whose Elements of Style is a perennial classic, the pronouncements of which I fear my writing never lives up to.

It should come as no surprise, then, that White is gifted writer in many genres. “Once More to the Lake” is a particular favorite of mine, an essay that neatly encapsulates the tension between childhood and adulthood, memory and the present. His letters are kind and witty (read a wonderful example at Letters of Note), and I’d like to find a volume of them the next time I’m haunting a used bookstore.

A used bookstore is where I found a paperback edition (1983, I believe) of Poems and Sketches of E.B. White. Someone wrote a lovely inscription on the title page that refers to White’s death in 1985:

To dear B–,

In memory of the era that ended during our ’85 visit. How sad- but he will live in our memories & his words will continue to entertain and bind us!

With much love,  K, [unclear name here] & S*

It’s a delightful book; open to any page and there’s something to amuse or interest. This week I’l be memorizing the poem “Natural History,” addressed to White’s wife, Katharine. It’s a short, delicate poem in which the speaker compares himself to a spider, attached to the point of his leaving (his wife) by a silken strand, to aid in his returning. If I were to teach the poem, it would make a lovely pairing with Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.”

*I’ve redacted the names of the recipient and the gift-givers to protect their privacy, whomever they may be.

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