Once More to the Lake

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"Once More to the Lake" is an essay first published in Harper's magazine in 1941 by author E. B. White. It chronicles his pilgrimage back to a lakefront resort, Belgrade Lakes, Maine, he visited as a child. [1]

In "Once More to the Lake," White revisits his ideal boyhood vacation spot. He finds great joy in his visit, which ironically causes him to struggle to remember that he is now a man.

Interpretations of the essay[edit]

The story shows White engaging in an internal struggle between acting and viewing the lake as he did when a boy and acting and viewing it as an adult, or as his father would have. Although White sees the lake as having remained nearly identical to the lake of his boyhood, technology mars his experience and the new, noisier boats disturb the serene atmosphere at the lake. This could be taken to suggest that technology is impure or damaging, except that the same paragraph contains a lengthy reminiscence in which White rhapsodizes about his boyhood affection for an old one-cylinder engine. The memory balances the theme of technology, suggesting that certain kinds of technology, if a person can "get close to it spiritually," are able to become almost a natural part of one's self. [2]

Throughout the essay, White writes that he often finds himself "seeing the lake through his son's eyes." This is due to the similarities of the lake at the present time compared to his childhood memory of the lake. For example, White states that he had gone fishing on the lake when he was a boy, and that while his rod was out, a dragonfly would repeatedly land on the tip of his pole. When he takes his son fishing during the trip, the same thing happens to the boy, and White says:

"I looked at the boy, who was silently watching his fly, and it was my hands that held his rod, my eyes watching. I felt dizzy and didn't know which rod I was at the end of."

The essay also shows White's realization of the life cycle. He takes his father's place on the trip, just as his son takes White's boyhood role. White, once the son, has become the father, and realizes that he will soon pass on as his own father presumably has. White references this in the final lines:

"I watched him, his hard little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up around his vitals the small, soggy, icy garment.

As he buckled the swollen belt suddenly my groin felt the chill of death."

An alternate interpretation of the above quote elaborates on the last phrase regarding looming death. By watching his son's movements on the shores of the lake, White vicariously feels danger as he is reminded of perhaps a childhood encounter with death at the lake. Ultimately, White suggests that nature reminds us of mortality.