In "Once More to the Lake", what fresh and vivid imagery does White use to bring life to his abstract ideas, and how does this imagery further the development of ideas? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While E.B.White is recognized for his accomplished prose and his expert advice in The Elements of Style, the writer has tried his hand long enough with poetry that the musicality and even the rhythm of poetry still echo in words, phrases, and sentences of his essays such as "Once More to the Lake." Certainly, his is a poetic--if not existential--thought as White writes of his return to the lake of his halcyon boyhood where he fished and camped with his father, but now brings his own son:

I began to sustain the illusion that he was I, and therefore, by simple transposition, that I was my father....I seemed to be living a dual existence.

During this dual experience of memory and present, White takes his boy out on the lake in a boat to fish. The interior of the "same green boat" has the same dried moss dragged in on the line, the same blood smears from the barbed hooks, the same dead helgramite, the same rusty, bent fish hook. And, when a dragon fly alights upon the tip of the fishing rod, While observes,

It was the arrival of this fly that convinced me beyond any doubt that everything was as it always had been, that the years were a mirage and there had been no years. 

Thus, with the details of the old-fashioned green boat and its contents, White utilizes images that bring to life the abstract vision of a father and son together on a lake re-enacting a tradition. In addition, the imagery conjures a nostalgic old photo, or a yellowed postcard that has written on its back, "Having a great time!" Further, the timelessness of their experience is underpinned by his observation, 

When we got back for a swim before lunch, the lake was exactly where we had left it, the same number of inches from the dock, and there was only the merest suggestion of a breeze.

More vivid imagery, visual, tactile, and auditory, immerses the reader into the scene White describes,

In the shallows, the dark,water-soaked sticks and twigs, smooth and old, were undulating in clusters on the bottom against the clean ribbed sand, and the track of the mussel was plain. A school of minnows swam by, each minnow with its small, individual shadow, doubling the attendance, so clear and sharp in the sunlight.

Then, White writes of the dusty road with two paths, his nostalgia for the third path in which horses trekked as they pulled wagons, leaving dried, flaky manure as evidence of their passing. After this image, the intrusion of the contemporary world and its outboard motors that charge viciously across the water as opposed to the purring of the one or two-cylinder motors of old invades the morning lake, disturbing the peace--"the only thing that was wrong"--invades the halcyon vacation. It is not the recurrence of a memory, after all; he has but been allowed to return to the lake for the creation of a new memory for his son. As White watches his son don his swimsuit to play in the rain, he has sadly been reminded of his temporality by those intruding sounds and images of a newer world, and he suddenly feels "the chill of death."

Surely, the reader can hear, see, and feel the scenes described; and, with such abundant imagery, White ignites in the minds of readers those memories of vacation lakes, fishing trips, rainy swims in the heat, storms, cooling summer breezes by which they once drifted into sleep. Imagery in E. B. White's "Once More to the Lake" embellishes descriptions, ignites memories in readers, expands ideas into a certain timelessness and nostalgia.

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