Pastoral prose poet: E.B. White

pastoral: of or pertaining to the the country or country life; having the qualities of idealized country life, such as charming simplicity and a leisurely, carefree pace.

I’m celebrating the birthday today of E.B. White, one of my all time top favorite writers, not even counting his children’s books. His essays on the “pastoral” life are as alive now as they were when he wrote them decades ago – poetry in prose. My favorite, “Death of a Pig,” makes me smile just to think of it.

From today’s Writer’s Almanac:

Today is the birthday of the man who gave us Charlotte’s Web, E.B. (Elwin Brooks) White, born in Mount Vernon, New York (1899). He was a writer for many years for The New Yorker magazine. He later moved with his wife to a farmhouse in Maine.

E.B. White wrote, “Just to live in the country is a full-time job. You don’t have to do anything. The idle pursuit of making a living is pushed to one side, where it belongs, in favor of living itself, a task of such immediacy, variety, beauty, and excitement that one is powerless to resist its wild embrace.”

White was a solid liberal whose political writings before and during World War II were especially thoughtful.

He was also a witty aphorist. Here are a few of my favorites:

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.

A good farmer is nothing more nor less than a handy man with a sense of humus.

I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.

I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving he can outwit nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.

It is easier for a man to be loyal to his club than to his planet; the bylaws are shorter, and he is personally acquainted with the other members.

Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.

A writer is like a bean plant, he has his little day, and then he gets stringy.

The trouble with the profit system has always been that it was highly unprofitable to most people.

The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.

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