Master Class

“Quotation is the highest compliment you can pay an author.”

- Samuel Johnson

“The next grammar book I bring out I want to tell how to end a sentence with five prepositions A father of a little boy goes upstairs after supper to read to his son, but he brings the wrong book. The boy says, “What did you bring that book that I don’t want to be read to out of up for?” (from Letters of EB White)

There’s no tiring of EB White’s writings and witticisms; at least not for me. I’m still making my way through White’s letters, all 685 pages of them, having put aside reading fiction for the time being.

Also I’m acquainting myself with the work of my other favourite EB, Elizabeth Bishop. I’ve been reading some of her poetry, and was most recently grabbed by her poem, Poem. Her words flow like a conversation heard at the dinner table, her descriptions so tight and clear and perfectly chosen as to send a writer either into rapture or despair. I chose rapture as I read about the little family relic:

“… the size of an old-style dollar bill,

American or Canadian,

mostly the same whites, gray greens, and steel grays

- this little painting (a sketch for a larger one?)

has never earned any money in its life.”

(From Elizabeth Bishop’s The Complete Poems, 1926-1979)

I am busy absorbing the prose styles of these two writing masters, hoping some of their economy and artistry will rub off on me. They’re both such great examples of fine and approachable writing, I can’t help but wonder where these two were, and indeed are, in the high school curriculum? What bored student wouldn’t experience at least a small flutter at the likes of this, also from EB’s Poem:

“Up closer, a wild iris, white and yellow,

fresh-squiggled from the tube.”

And furthermore, EBW’s advice to a young writing student should be mandatory reading by anyone inclined to lift a pen:

“I should not try to learn to write without learning first to be frivolous. Get yourself a pair of pedal pushers as a start. Also a Webster’s Collegiate dictionary, so you need never again misspell “apparel.” And remember that writing is translation, and the opus to be translated is yourself.

“And lots of luck – we all need that!”

Words from the wise.

(PS – Be back next Thursday - I’m off to the Big Smoke for a few days of Culture. In my idle moments I’ll try to come up with my own version of EBW’s five-preposition wonder.)


Categories: General.