The first novels I read by Ursula K. Le Guin were her Earthsea books. In graduate school I read and later taught The Left Hand of Darkness. So it was with foolish but thrilled surprise that I discovered she wrote poetry, that she has written and published poetry for years.
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in 1929 in Berkeley, and lives in Portland, Oregon. As of 2013, she has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many honors and awards including Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud. Her most recent publications are Finding My Elegy (New and Selected Poems, 1960-2010)and The Unreal and the Real (Selected Short Stories), 2012. [From her website.]
I’ve savored my slow reading of Finding My Elegy since I purchased it last year. I’m only about half-way through the book, but that is enough to recommend it. Le Guin is a writer, a story-teller. In the poems I’ve read so far, I’ve sensed echoes of Earthsea and other of her worlds and characters. She unashamedly writes her love of land, of California. All the elements I adore in her fiction dance and twirl through her poetry. Happily for me, this volume is collects earlier works as well as containing previously unpublished poems. If you’ve never read Le Guin, then your reading of her poetry will be fresh. If you have, you’re certain to hear the familiar hearthtale voice.
I had a hard time choosing, but here are three short selections from Finding My Elegy (New and Selected Poems from 1960-2010).
I love my native language
the great advantage
a mouthful of pebbles
a welling of water
crashbangs faint echoes
the word if you can find it
for what is and
what is beyond it
We make too much history.
With or without us
there will be the silence
and the rocks and the far shining.
But what we need to be
is, oh, the small talk of swallows
in evening over
dull water under willows.
To be we need to know the river
holds the salmon and the ocean
holds the whales as lightly as the body holds the soul
in the present tense, in the present tense.
For the New House
May this house be full of kitchen smells
and shadows and toys and nests of mice
and roars of rage and waterfalls of tears
and deep sexual silences and sounds
of mysterious origin never explained
and troves and keepsakes and a lot of junk
and a flowing like a warm wind only slower
blowing the leaves of trees and books and the fish-years
of a child’s life silvery flickering
quick, quick, in the slow incessant gust
that billows out the curtains for a moment
all those years from now, ago.
May the sills and doorframes
be in blessing blest at every passing.
May the roof but not the rooms know rain.
May the windows know clearly
the branch and flower of the apple tree.
And may you be in this house
as the music is in the instrument.