E.B. White’s essay, "Once More to the Lake," ends with his feeling "the chill of death." This phrase is a haunting and initially abrupt end for the essay, especially since on first reading the essay seems to be merely a pleasant description of a lakeside vacation. With a little attention, though, it’s easy to see how the essay leads naturally to a sense of death’s approach or inevitability.
On the literal level, White feels an actual chill. As he watches his young son pull on a pair of wet swimming trunks after a storm, he recalls the sensation of doing the same thing, and his body copies the uncomfortable shudder his son is experiencing. But on the figurative level, that physical shudder becomes a more spiritual one, and the chill of wet trunks becomes the chill of the grave.
Despite plenty of pleasant descriptions—White’s father comically rolling over in a canoe, the reverence for the silent lake in the early morning, the young waitresses, the walk to the farmhouse for dinner, the pleasures of boating and fishing, the taste of soda, the laughter of other campers clowning around in the rain—little hints of melancholy and uncertainty emerge as the essay develops, and lead toward the chill of death at the end.
White seeks the calm of the lake because " . . . there are days when the restlessness of the tides and the fearful cold of the sea water and the incessant wind that blows across the afternoon and into the evening make me wish for the placidity of a lake in the woods." He embarks on the trip in part "to revisit old haunts." On the journey, White wonders "how time would have marred this unique, this holy spot . . ." and "in what other ways it would be desolated."
Once at the lake, White "began to sustain the illusion that he was I, and therefore, by simple transposition, that I was my father. This sensation persisted, kept cropping up all the time.". . . It gave me a creepy sensation." Watching a dragonfly buzzing at the tips of...
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