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"once having given a pig an enema there is no turning back,"
February 26, 2013 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Death Of A Pig, E.B. White.
I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting. Even now, so close to the event, I cannot recall the hours sharply and am not ready to say whether death came on the third night or the fourth night. This uncertainty afflicts me with a sense of personal deterioration; if I were in decent health I would know how many nights I had sat up with a pig.
posted by the man of twists and turns (32 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
No one tell Charlotte's descendants.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:52 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


S O M E P I G
posted by trip and a half at 11:57 AM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have come to believe that there is in hostesses a special power of divination, and that they deliberately arrange dinners to coincide with pig failure or some other sort of failure.

Seriously this is the story of my life.
posted by trip and a half at 12:01 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


That is a beautifully written piece. The way he flutters back and forth over the line of ironic overstatement is just masterful. Oh, and don't google erysipelas if you don't like icky photos of medical conditions.
posted by yoink at 12:02 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


So we're piling on with the pigs today, are we?

(Regardless, E.B. White. God, he was good!)
posted by Naberius at 12:07 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


We read this piece in one of my creative nonfiction classes along with Orwell's 'Shooting an Elephant.' Good things.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:09 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


And this:
From the lustiness of a healthy pig a man derives a feeling of personal lustiness; the stuff that goes into the trough and is received with such enthusiasm is an earnest of some later feast of his own, and when this suddenly comes to an end and the food lies stale and untouched, souring in the sun, the pig's imbalance becomes the man's, vicariously, and life seems insecure, displaced, transitory.
A cat, frozen in death by the side of the road -- the FOOMF of a car striking a chicken -- the piglet, mysteriously dead at the hut's entrance while its brothers and sisters trot around it -- the rooster, out of his territory and savaged by the shepherd -- all of these failures I couldn't prevent. My insides cave in, and I know I'll never be able to do enough in the face of random illness, violence, death. Sometimes I cry. Then I get gloves and shovel and bury the animal.

TMOTT: Thank you. White speaks to me.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:20 PM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


This was wonderful; I clearly haven't read enough E.B. White. This essay has an effortless conversational wit that reminds me of a less hyperactive P.G. Wodehouse, or a more humane Rex Stout. Or maybe a proto-David Sedaris. I love it.
posted by eugenen at 12:30 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


"The scheme of buying a spring pig in blossom time, feeding it through summer and fall, and butchering it when the solid cold weather arrives, is a familiar scheme to me and follows an antique pattern. It is a tragedy enacted on most farms with perfect fidelity to the original script. The murder, being premeditated, is in the first degree but is quick and skillful, and the smoked bacon and ham provide a ceremonial ending whose fitness is seldom questioned."

Why can't modern authors write like this anymore? Check out how clearly and easily this reads, even though it is a very complex paragraph.

Sometimes I think modern writing has been too infected with the mid-century American disease that Hemingway had.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:33 PM on February 26, 2013 [10 favorites]


This was wonderful; I clearly haven't read enough E.B. White. This essay has an effortless conversational wit that reminds me of a less hyperactive P.G. Wodehouse, or a more humane Rex Stout. Or maybe a proto-David Sedaris. I love it.

...

Why can't modern authors write like this anymore? Check out how clearly and easily this reads, even though it is a very complex paragraph.

Why, it's almost as though he wrote the book on style. Or at least co-wrote it...
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:39 PM on February 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


I can't quite pinpoint or explain why, but I enjoy White's work the same way I do Twain's.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:40 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jeez, that's a heck of a last line. You've all read Once More to the Lake, of course. (pdf)
posted by not that girl at 12:44 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why can't modern authors write like this anymore? Check out how clearly and easily this reads, even though it is a very complex paragraph.

Yeah, came to add what Strange Interlude did. Omit needless words, and what's left is spare and purposeful.
posted by mosk at 12:44 PM on February 26, 2013


Yes, I'm reading Charlotte's Web to my younger son, and it really is quite good. There's marvelous cadence to his descriptions (the fairgrounds, for example).
posted by Chrysostom at 12:46 PM on February 26, 2013


Damn this is finely written.

I hung up. My throat felt dry and I went to the cupboard and got a bottle of whiskey. Deep hemorrhagic infarcts - the phrase began fastening its hooks in my head. I had assumed that there could be nothing much wrong with a pig during the months it was being groomed for murder; my confidence in the essential health and endurance of pigs had been strong and deep, particularly in the health of pigs that belonged to me and that were part of my proud scheme. The awakening had been violent and I minded it all the more because I knew that what could be true of my pig could be true also of the rest of my tidy world.

I mean, damn.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:55 PM on February 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


So we're piling on with the pigs today, are we?

Shall the day be Pig Day then?
posted by JHarris at 1:06 PM on February 26, 2013


Oh, and thirding the writing here. It is writing to aspire to.
posted by JHarris at 1:11 PM on February 26, 2013


(A Metafilter Special Days calendar, currently sparse.)
posted by JHarris at 1:15 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of All Creatures Great and Small (with its scenes of a vet up to his armpit in a horse's or cow's back half), as well as parts of John Thorne's Serious Pig.

Gold ol' E.B White, always a pleasure to read: "It was about four o'clock in the afternoon when I first noticed that there was something wrong with the pig. He failed to appear at the trough for his supper, and when a pig (or a child) refuses supper a chill wave of fear runs through any household, or icehousehold."
posted by wenestvedt at 1:20 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've raised pigs. I've had pigs die on me. This essay perfectly captures the feeling of having a pig die.
posted by Lord Force Crater at 1:31 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


What a weird coincidence. A neighbor now has pigs and today was the first sighting of four black porkers trotting along the fence line.
posted by maxwelton at 1:42 PM on February 26, 2013


That was great. If you're interested in further reading about our porcine equals I heartily recommend William Hedgepeth's The Hog Book.
posted by Lorin at 1:47 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read "Charlotte's Web" to my daughter last year and it was a joy to read aloud. I made my husband read the end though, as it made my allergies go something fierce.
posted by mogget at 2:15 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I learned long ago, never give a pig an enema... you get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.
posted by spicynuts at 2:23 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I learned long ago, never give a pig an enema... you get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.
posted by spicynuts at 2:23 PM on February 26


See? You give that mouse a cookie and it's pig enemas all the way down.
posted by basicchannel at 2:35 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think every story is improved by the inclusion of a vile old dachshund.
posted by Lou Stuells at 4:02 PM on February 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm an EB White nut, and this is one of my favorite pieces. But my all-time favorite is this letter to the ASPCA about his dog.
I have your letter, undated, saying that I am harboring an unlicensed dog in violation of the law. If by "harboring" you mean getting up two or three times every night to pull Minnie's blanket up over her, I am harboring a dog all right. The blanket keeps slipping off. I suppose you are wondering by now why I don't get her a sweater instead. That's a joke on you. She has a knitted sweater, but she doesn't like to wear it for sleeping; her legs are so short they work out of a sweater and her toenails get caught in the mesh, and this disturbs her rest. If Minnie doesn't get her rest, she feels it right away. I do myself, and of course with this night duty of mine, the way the blanket slips and all, I haven't had any real rest in years. Minnie is twelve.
"That's a joke on you" is just about the best phrase ever written.
posted by Charity Garfein at 5:24 PM on February 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


Charity, that letter is the first thing that has made me love White more than I thought I could:
[The dachshund Fred] loved life — that is, he loved life if by "life" you mean "trouble," and of course the phone is almost synonymous with trouble.
Thank you for showing it to me!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:48 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everything about this last scene seemed overwritten - the dismal sky, the shabby woods, the imminence of rain, the worm (legendary bedfellow of the dead), the apple (conventional garnish of a pig).


What a gem this story is.
posted by aryma at 6:55 PM on February 26, 2013


A thing of beauty.
posted by benzenedream at 9:39 PM on February 26, 2013


The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig.

I can't count the number of times I've reread this essay.
posted by Transl3y at 6:32 AM on February 27, 2013


Oh, my goodness, that ASPCA letter: "Fred was an exceptional dog (his name was Fred)."
posted by not that girl at 10:53 AM on February 27, 2013


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