Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Poetry Review: LATE IN THE DAY, by Ursula K Le Guin

Ursula K Le Guin
LATE IN THE DAY: Poems 2010 -2014
PM Press, 2015
112 pages

Ursula K Le Guin has written some phenomenal books over the years. Whether it is fantasy or science fiction, she always masters the genre. She’s a prolific novelist, and very much deserves her popularity. And here she has delved into the world of poetry. To say I was excited about this book is to evoke a huge understatement. 

She’s been writing this poetry for five years, and it shows in the variety she displays here. She does not adhere to a particular form or style, but instead branches out across many. She gives her reasoning in a short essay at the end of the book: she does not what to be restricted by a particular rhyme scheme or meter, but instead wants to create poetry that works however it may come to work. So she plays around and experiments with the ultimate result of an eclectic variety of poems.

The poems vary from accounts of real world things such as New Year’s Day and kitchen spoons to those that draw on elements of classicism and fantasy. I enjoyed in particular the four line poems that did wonders at evoking a single emotion or place. They were strong and visceral. The one that stood out to me though in the entire collection was one called “Dead Languages.” I’ve quoted the first stanza of it here: 

“Dreadful, this death, dragging
so many lives and lively minds along

after it into unmeaning,

endless, imbecile silence.”

How ominous it sounds. The language of a people has died, and with it has come woe and misery. What is left of the culture has no meaning; it has only silence. This is never ending because when it has been undone it cannot be remade as it once was. With language comes meaning, a way of viewing the world and a way of transporting culture and history. Kill a man’s language, and you kill the man’s past; thus, what is left is the imbecile. Whatever the language once was will never be understood; hence, the fall into unmeaning silences. Le Guin ends with the lines:

“to speak the tongues unspoken

and hear a human music otherwise unheard.”

The word music is the key. For culture rich in oral tradition, the language literally held so much of what constituted the people. For it to be unspoken is for it to be lost entirely. This poem has particular relevance in a postcolonial word where so much of traditional African culture was destroyed by the actions of the West. For me this poem reads like a lament, a statement of grief of what the world has lost and will never get back.

So this is just one of many poems in here. It’s a highly creative book, one that proves that Le Guin can write poetry just as well as she can prose. I would recommend this to fans of her novels, and also for those who want to read a little bit of contemporary poetry. There are many current themes explored in here, all of which are embellished by a modern sounding voice


Bookworm Sean is a book obsessed English student who can usually be found over on Goodreads raving about his latest read. Recently, poetry has become one of his favorite literary forms of expression; thus he has started to read more and more of it.

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