Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems


"She never loses touch with her reverence for the immense what is." — Margaret Atwood

Though internationally known and honored for her imaginative fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin started out as a poet, and since 1959 has never ceased to publish poems. Finding My Elegy distills her life's work, offering a selection of the best from her six earlier volumes of poetry and introducing a powerful group of poems, at once earthy and transcendent, written in the first decade of the ...

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Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems

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"She never loses touch with her reverence for the immense what is." — Margaret Atwood

Though internationally known and honored for her imaginative fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin started out as a poet, and since 1959 has never ceased to publish poems. Finding My Elegy distills her life's work, offering a selection of the best from her six earlier volumes of poetry and introducing a powerful group of poems, at once earthy and transcendent, written in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

The fruit of over a half century of writing, the seventy selected and seventy-seven new poems consider war and creativity, motherhood and the natural world, and glint with humor and vivid beauty. These moving works of art are a reckoning with a whole life.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this collection of new and selected poems, National Book Award winner Le Guin (Lavinia), best known for her sf and fantasy novels, writes about life's sharp edges as if she were conversing calmly with a friend. Places and people exchange stories of identity and fear in poems that meld the abstract and the concrete, as Le Guin writes passionately about a range of themes from environmental and existential to sociopolitical and autobiographical. Using clear, precise language that frequently employs folk and mythical symbols, Le Guin uses comical and surreal images: "crows are the color of anarchy/ and close up they are a little bit scary/ an eye as bright as anything/ Having a pet crow will be/ like having Voltaire on a string." Often, the poems celebrate nature's fertile beauty as if it furnished spiritual redemption, yet while they provoke a kind of Zen tranquility one can still hear the defiant tone of the romantic poets. VERDICT Le Guin turns her rich experiences into luminous poems that incite meaning and beauty. Recommended for all readers.—Sadiq Alkoriji, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547858203
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/18/2012
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 781,001
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Ursula K.  Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929. Over the course of her career she has published more than sixty books of fiction, fantasy, science fiction, children’s literature, poetry, drama, criticism, and translation, and is the multiple winner of the highest awards in several fields. Among her honors are a National Book Award, a PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction, five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, twenty-one Locus Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband.


Speculative fiction, magic realism, "slipstream" fiction -- all these terms could apply to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin. Unfortunately, none was in common use when she started writing in the early 1960s. As a young writer, Le Guin weathered seven years of rejections from editors who praised her novels' elegant prose but were puzzled by their content. At a time when the only literary fiction was realistic fiction, as Le Guin later told an interviewer for The Register-Guard in Portland, Oregon, "There just wasn't a pigeonhole for what I write."

At long last, two of her stories were accepted for publication, one at a literary journal and one at a science-fiction magazine. The literary journal paid her in copies of the journal; the science-fiction magazine paid $30. She told The Register-Guard, "I thought: 'Oooohhh! They'll call what I write science fiction, will they? And they'll pay me for it? Well, here we go!' "

Le Guin continued to write and publish stories, but her breakthrough success came with the publication of The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969. The novel, which tells of a human ambassador's encounters with the gender-changing inhabitants of a distant planet, was unusual for science fiction in that it owed more to anthropology and sociology than to the hard sciences of physics or biology. The book was lauded for its intellectual and psychological depth, as well as for its fascinating premise. "What got to me was the quality of the story-telling," wrote Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. "She's taken the mythology, psychology -- the entire creative surround -- and woven it into a jewel of a story."

Since then, Le Guin has published many novels, several volumes of short stories, and numerous poems, essays, translations, and children's books. She's won an arm's-length list of awards, including both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and a National Book Award for The Farthest Shore. Over the years, she has created and sustained two fictional universes, populating each with dozens of characters and stories. The first universe, Ekumen, more or less fits into the science-fiction mode, with its aliens and interplanetary travel; the second, Earthsea, is a fantasy world, complete with wizards and dragons. As Margaret Atwood wrote in The New York Review of Books, "Either one would have been sufficient to establish Le Guin's reputation as a mistress of its genre; both together make one suspect that the writer has the benefit of arcane drugs or creative double-jointedness or ambidexterity."

More impressive still is the way Le Guin's books have garnered such tremendous crossover appeal. Unlike many writers of science fiction, she is regularly reviewed in mainstream publications, where her work has been praised by the likes of John Updike and Harold Bloom. But then, Le Guin has never fit comfortably into a single genre. As she said in a Science Fiction Weekly interview, "I know that I'm always called 'the sci-fi writer.' Everybody wants to stick me into that one box, while I really live in several boxes. It's probably hurt the sales of my realistic books like Searoad, because it tended to get stuck into science fiction, where browsing readers that didn't read science fiction would never see it."

Le Guin has also published a translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, a book that has influenced her life and writing since she was a teenager; she has translated fiction by Angelica Gorodischer and a volume of poems by Gabriela Mistral; and, perhaps most gratifyingly for her fans, she has returned to the imaginary realm of Earthsea. Tehanu, which appeared in 1990, was subtitled "The Last Book of Earthsea," but Le Guin found she had more to tell, and she continued with Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. "I thought after 'Tehanu' the story was finished, but I was wrong," she told Salon interviewer Faith L. Justice. "I've learned never to say 'never.' "

Good To Know

The "K" in Ursula K. Le Guin stands for Le Guin's maiden name, Kroeber. Her father was the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber; her mother, the writer Theodora Kroeber, is best known for the biography Ishi in Two Worlds.

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    1. Hometown:
      Portland, Oregon
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 21, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

From Wild Angels (1960–1975)

I made a poem going to sleep last night, woke in sunlight, it was clean forgotten.
If it was any good, gods of the great darkness where sleep goes and farther death goes, you not named,
then as true offering accept it.

The Maenads
Somewhere I read that when they finally staggered off the mountain into some strange town, past drunk,
hoarse, half naked, blear-eyed,
blood dried under broken nails and across young thighs,
but still jeering and joking, still trying to dance, lurching and yelling, but falling dead asleep by the market stalls,
sprawled helpless, flat out, then middle-aged women,
respectable housewives,
would come and stand nightlong in the agora silent together as ewes and cows in the night fields,
guarding, watching them as their mothers watched over them.
And no man dared that fierce decorum.

From A Book of Songs

The Old Lady
I have dreed my dree, I have wooed my wyrd,
and now I shall grow a five-foot beard and braid it into tiny braids and wander where the webfoot wades among the water’s shining blades.
I will fear nothing I have feared.
I’m the queen of spades, the jack of trades,
braiding my knives into my beard.
Why should I know what I have known?
Once was enough to make it my own.
The things I got I will forget.
I’ll knot my beard into a net and cast the net and catch a fish who will ungrant my every wish and leave me nothing but a stone on the riverbed alone,
leave me nothing but a rock where the feet of herons walk.

Creation of the Horse
The salt green uncle-god, the Earthquaker,
thought of a creature with muscles like sea-swells to leap across the beaches like a breaker and beat on the earth like the waves with its feet.
So he struck a startled island with his trident and then himself stood back in surprise at the fiery uprearing, the white mane flying,
the foam-spattered flanks and the earth-dark eyes.

The Arts of Old Age
written in the airport
I learn the arts of old age day by day:
the expertise of being lame; the sense of unimpatient impotence;
the irony of all accomplishments;
the silent, furtive welcome of delay.

The Whirlwind
Will fear of the foreboding dream avert or invite the prophecy?
How to foretell the paths of dust caught in this visionary whirl,
this standing wind, this spiral stream?
A breath breathed out will set me free.
I’ll choose to do the thing I must.
The world dreamed me, I dream the world.

January Night Prayer
Bellchimes jangle, freakish wind whistles icy out of desert lands over the mountains. Janus, Lord of winter and beginnings, riven and shaken, with two faces,
watcher at the gates of winds and cities,
god of the wakeful:
keep me from coldhanded envy and petty anger. Open my soul to the vast dark places. Say to me, say again,
nothing is taken, only given.

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Table of Contents

Wild Fortune: Selected Poems, 1960–2005

From Wild Angels (1960–1975) 15
          Offering 15
          A Lament for Rheged 16
          There 19
          Ars Lunga 21
          Song 22
          Tao Song 23
From Hard Words (1975–1980) 24
          Invocation 24
          The Mind Is Still 25
          The Marrow 26
          The Writer to the Dancer 27
From The Dancing at Tillai 28
          Middle 28
          At Three Rivers, April ’80 29
          Slick Rock Creek, September 30
          Winter Downs 31
          Peak 32
          The Child on the Shore 34
          Tui 35
From Wild Oats and Fireweed (1980–1987) 36
          Wild Oats and Fireweed 36
From In the Red Zone: Mount St. Helens, October 1981 39
          To Walk In Here 39
          While the Old Men Make Ready to Kill 41
          For the New House 43
          The Maenads 44
          Inventory 45
          A Meditation on a Marriage 47
From Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences (1987) 49
          The Crown of Laurel 49
From Going Out with Peacocks (1988–1994) 53
          The Pacific Slope 53
          Riding the “Coast Starlight” 54
          Sleeping with Cats 55
          Waking: Two Poems 56
          The Vigil for Ben Linder 57
          The Queen of Spain, Grown Old and Mad, Writes to the Daughter She Imagines She Had by Christopher Columbus 60
          Song for a Daughter 62
          The Hard Dancing 64
From No Boats (chapbook, 1991) 65
          From “McKenzie Voices” 65
          At Cannon Beach 66
From Blue Moon Over Thurman Street (1993) 67
          The Aching Air 67
From Sixty Odd (1994–1999) 70
          Read at the Award Dinner, May 1996 70
          Hexagram 45 71
          When there aren’t any 72
          Rodmell 74
          For Gabriela Mistral 75
          Hexagram 49 77
          Infinitive 78
          “The scarcity of rhinos” on the television 79
          Field Burning Debated, Salmon Fate Discussed 81
          Morning Service 82
          Late Dusk 83
          A Blue Moon: June 30 84
          Repulse Monkey 85
          “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” 86
From Incredible Good Fortune (2000–2006) 87
          Incredible Good Fortune 87
          April in San Jose 88
          Mount Rainier from Amtrak 90
          The Cactus Wren 91
From A Book of Songs 92
          The Old Lady 92
          The Forsaken Shepherdess 93
From Notes from a Cruise 94
          Antigua: The Silence of the Mountain 94
          Pelicans 95
          Talk Shows 96
          Here, There, at the Marsh 97
          American Wars 98
          The Lost Explorer 99
          Ille 100
          Invocation 101
          Dance Song 102
          English 103
          Taking Courage 104
          A Request 105
          For Naomi 106
          Learning Latin in Old Age 107
          Futurology 108

Life Sciences: New Poems, 2006–2011

I. Socioesthetics 111
          Distance 111
          Pretty Things 112
          In England in the Fifties 113
          The City of the Plain 114
          Watching the Fractal Set 115
          The Mistake 116
          The Next War 117
          The Crest 118
          Soldiers 119
          The Curse of the Prophetess 122
          Every Land 124
          The Elders at the Falls 125
          An Old Yurok Basket 127
          Almost and Always 128
          Lieder Singer 129
          Writers 130
          After the Fire 131
          Lorca’s Duende 132
          Meters 133
          Exegi monumentum aere perennius 135
          She Remembers the Famous Poets 136
II. Botany and Zoology 137
          Two Crow Poems 137
          Learning the Name 138
          The Greater Forest 139
          Red Alders in March 140
          Pinus Sabiniana 141
          Creation of the Horse 143
          The Clydesdale Mare 144
          I think of them 145
          Grace 146
          Raksha 147
          At the Clackamas County Fair 150
          Extinction 151
III. Meteorology and Geography 152
          Mendenhall Glacier 152
          A Measure of Desolation 153
          Coast Range Highway, November 154
          Seasonal Quatrains 156
          Morning in Joseph, Oregon 157
          Hour of the Changes 158
          Summer Morning on the Volcano 159
          For My Traveling Companion 160
          Up the Columbia 161
          Navna: The River-running, by Intrumo of Sinshan 162
          At Kishamish 163
IV. Developmental Ontology 168
          At the Center 168
          Early Memory: Jocken 169
          The Merchant of Words 170
          Stammersong 172
          GPS 173
          The House Is Soft 174
          Seven Lines to Elisabeth 175
          Final Destination 176
          Ghazal at the Oasis of Mara 177
          Travel 178
          Pillowtalk 179
          Low Barometer 180
          My Birthday Present 181
          The Arts of Old Age 182
          Sometimes it seems 183
          The Body of the World 184
          When They Came 185
          Hindsight 186
          Body of Water 187
          Aubade 188
          Votum 189
V. Philosophy and Theology 190
          Finding My Elegy 190
          The Whirlwind 193
          Intimations 194
          Some Mornings 195
          In the Borderlands 196
          Jewel and Gravel 197
          Science 199
          Tout rêve . . . 200
          Morning Star 201
          Uncaged 202
          A God I Know 203
          January Night Prayer 204
          The Conference 205

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