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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Arrow and the Song

(Untitled fabric-work by Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010,
French-born American sculptor and artist, known as
The Spider Woman for her large spider structures and
web-like images)

Any study of friendship must include Charlotte’s Web, the classic tale of the life-and-death drama that unfolds in a barn on the Arable farm. The struggle to rescue Wilbur the Pig involves humans like Fern, the farmer’s little daughter, who wants “to rid the world of injustice.” She is joined by animals like Templeton the rat, who is often out only for himself, and other assorted residents of the farmyard, including the sheep and the geese. The heroine is Charlotte A. Cavatica, a spider who goes into battle with only her wit and a finely woven web.

The book ends with three sentences that form one of the finest tributes bestowed on a friend.

“Mr. Zuckerman took fine care of Wilbur all the rest of his days, and the pig was often visited by friends and admirers, for nobody ever forgot the year of his triumph and the miracle of the web. Life in the barn was very good — night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.

“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart.

“She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

~ E. B. White (1899-1985), American novelist and writer, and co-author, with William Strunk, Jr., of the best guide to writing good prose, The Elements of Style


I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), American poet

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