E.B. White

Elwyn Brooks White / 1899–1985 / Mount Vernon, New York, USA / Writer


To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every year.

“A Winter Diary,” Harper’s Magazine, December, 1936.


Democracy is itself, a religious faith. For some it comes close to being the only formal religion they have.

“Democracy,” The New Yorker, July 3, 1943.


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,” Atlantic Monthly, October, 1937.


Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.

Letter to Mr. Nadeau, March 30, 1959, in Letters of E.B. White (1976).


A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered.

“The Bookmobile,” The New Yorker, March 17, 1956.


We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.

A Slight Sound at Evening,” Harper’s Magazine, October, 1945.


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

Letter to James Thurber, February 19, 1956, in Letters of E.B. White (1976).

A poet dares be just so clear and no clearer; he approaches lucid ground warily, like a mariner who is determined not to scrape his bottom on anything solid.

“Poetry,” The New Yorker, April 20, 1929.

The Natural World

The world was white as yogurt or a lily or a sheet of typing paper, the new day carved out of a block of ice.

“Blizzard,” The New Yorker, January 10, 1948.

We should not see faces in things—only a sense of what might exist in them.

“The Ring of Time,” Harper’s Magazine, January, 1956.

New York

No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.

Here Is New York (1949).


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

“Prejudice,” The New Yorker, August 17, 1946.

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

“Doors,” The New Yorker, February 17, 1928.

White on White

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

“The Second Tree from the Corner,” The New Yorker, May 23, 1947; reprinted in The Second Tree from the Corner (1954).

I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that I’m going to be positive and not wake up feeling desperate.

Letter to Stanley Hart White, June 11, 1977, in Letters of E.B. White (1976).

All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.

“Once More to the Lake,” Harper’s Magazine (1941).

I would like to say that every sentence I write is a love letter to someone.

Interview with George Plimpton, The Paris Review, Spring, 1969.


Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.

The Elements of Style, with William Strunk, Jr. (1959).

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.

Letter to a fan, October 3, 1947, in Letters of E.B. White (1976).

I don’t believe in the imagination. If you stand out there long enough, the imagination shows up, but if you run out to meet it, it’s not there.

Interview with George Plimpton, The Paris Review, Spring, 1969.