Here is New York is an essay written by E.B. White, the author of great children’s books such as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. White’s ode to the city begins with the paradox of its nosiness and the loneliness that often comes along with living there. Perceptive, funny, and nostalgic, E.B. White’s stroll around Manhattan remains the quintessential love letter to the city, written by one of America’s foremost literary figures.
The New York Times has named Here is New York one of the ten best books ever written about the metropolis, and The New Yorker calls it “the wittiest essay, and one of the most perceptive, ever done on the city. The central idea of this book is what is New York to a person who was born and raised here and what is New York to a person that moves here to find herself himself, hope, opportunity, dreams, and fulfilment.
E.B. White’s essay, written during a heat wave in the summer of 1948, is really remarkable: well written, eloquent, a bit on the nostalgic side, smooth, sweet, and rather prescient. White tells how the City compresses all life into a small island, and then turns out a miracle of literary compactness that misses none of the City’s color, or flavor, or changing mood. His analyses of the City and of the creatures who dwell in it are diamond bright, yet touched with softness. They lay bare the City’s ugliness as well as its beauties, but nowhere do the words fall harshly. The distillate is always crystal-clear.
Tenement groups squatting on orange crates on a hot summer night, soundless men and women handling endless papers behind office windows, the Queen Mary blatting her way downstream to the sea, the forces set to work when New York brushes its teeth, the ponderous machinery that moves the letter written by a young man in Manhattan to his girl in Brooklyn, the endless irritations and tensions of City existence–all pulse and throb in this small volume.
“Another hot night I stop off at the band concert in the Mall in Central Park. The people seated on the benches fanned out in front of the band shell are attentive, appreciative. In the trees the night wind sings, bringing leaves to life, endowing them with speech; the electric lights illuminate the green branches from the under side, translating them into a new language.
On a bench directly in front of me, a boy sits with his arm around his girl; they are proud of each other and are swathed in music. The cornetist steps forward for a solo, begins, “Drink to me only with thine eyes. . .” In the wide, warm night the horn is startlingly pure and magical. Then from the North River another horn solo begins–the “Queen Mary” announcing her intentions. She is not on key; she is a half tone off. The trumpeter in the bandstand never flinches. The horns quarrel savagely, but no one minds having the intimation of travel injected into the pledge of love. “I leave,” sobs Mary. “And I will pledge with mine,” sighs the trumpeter.
Along the asphalt paths strollers pass to and fro; they behave considerately, respecting the musical atmosphere. Popsicles are moving well. In the warm grass beyond the fence, forms wriggle in the shadows, and the skirts of girls approaching on the Mall are ballooned by the breeze, and their bare shoulders catch the lamplight. “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” It is a magical occasion, and it’s all free.”
You can read this amazing love letter to Big Apple here.