Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014

Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014

by Ursula K. Le Guin


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“There is no writer with an imagination as forceful and delicate as Ursula K. Le Guin's.”  —Grace Paley
Late in the Day, Ursula K. Le Guin’s new collection of poems (2010–2014) seeks meaning in an ever-connected world. In part evocative of Neruda’s Odes to Common Things and Mary Oliver’s poetic guides to the natural world, Le Guin’s latest give voice to objects that may not speak a human language but communicate with us nevertheless through and about the seasonal rhythms of the earth, the minute and the vast, the ordinary and the mythological. As Le Guin herself states, “science explicates, poetry implicates.” Accordingly, this immersive, tender collection implicates us (in the best sense) in a subjectivity of everyday objects and occurrences. Deceptively simple in form, the poems stand as an invitation both to dive deep and to step outside of ourselves and our common narratives. The poems are bookended with two short essays, “Deep in Admiration” and “Some Thoughts on Form, Free Form, Free Verse.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781629631226
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 12/18/2015
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 781,971
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Ursula K. Le Guin is a mentor to two generations of radical feminist and progressive writers. Her novels and stories have won every major science fiction and fantasy award as well as the Pen/Malamud and the National Book Award. Her works include The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness, and A Wizard of Earthsea. In 2014, she was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation, a lifetime achievement award. She lives in Portland, Oregon.


Portland, Oregon

Date of Birth:

October 21, 1929

Place of Birth:

Berkeley, California


B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952

Read an Excerpt

Late in the Day

Poems 2010-2014

By Ursula K. Le Guin

PM Press

Copyright © 2016 Ursula K. Le Guin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62963-213-1



    The Small Indian Pestle at the Applegate House

    Dense, heavy, fine-grained, dark basalt
    worn river-smooth all round, a cylinder
    with blunt round ends, a tool: you know it when
    you feel the subtle central turn or curve
    that shapes it to the hand, was shaped by hands,
    year after year after year, by women's hands
    that held it here, just where it must be held
    to fall of its own weight into the shallow bowl
    and crush the seeds and rise and fall again
    setting the rhythm of the soft, dull song
    that worked itself at length into the stone,
    so when I picked it up it told me how
    to hold and heft it, put my fingers where
    those fingers were that softly wore it down
    to this fine shape that fits and fills my hand,
    this weight that wants to fall and, falling, sing.


    for H.F.

    The match-flame held to the half-inch block
    catches, and I blow it out.
    The flame grows and flashes
    gold, then shrinks and almost dies
    to a drop of spectral blue
    that detaches, floats,
    a wisp of fire in air, dances
    high, a little higher, is gone.
    from the incense smouldering
    sweet smoke of cedar rises
    a while like memory.
    Then only ashes.

    Kitchen Spoons


    My spoon of Spanish olive wood
    from the Olive Pit in Corning,
    Tehama County, California,
    just off the I-5,
    is light but has a good heft.
    Short and well rounded,
    the right size to stir with,
    it's at home in my hand.
    Matte brown of olive meat,
    dark streaks like olive skin,
    its grain is clear and fluent.
    The grain of a wood
    is the language of the tree.
    I oil the spoon with olive oil
    and it tells me grey-green leaves,
    brief fragrant blossom-foam,
    tough life, deep roots, long years.
    Spain that I have never seen.
    California, and summer, summer.


    My plated steel mixing spoon
    is from our first apartment,
    on Holt Avenue in Macon,
    Georgia, in 1954, the downstairs
    of widow Killian's house, furnished
    with her furniture and kitchenware.
    An ordinary heavy tablespoon,
    plain, with a good balance,
    the left side of the end of the bowl
    misshapen, worn away
    by decades, maybe a century,
    of a right-handed person
    mixing and beating with it.
    First Mrs Killian, then me.
    I liked it so well that when we moved
    I asked her could I take it.
    That old thing? My goodness, yes,
    with a soft laugh,
    take it if you want it, child.


    Old clay pot
    stained brown
    cooked a lot
    used to be
    full of beans
    in the oven
    over and over
    washed clean
    time and again
    baked clay
    some day
    had to crack
    bones words
    all go back


    Very slowly burning, the big forest tree
    stands in the slight hollow of the snow
    melted around it by the mild, long
    heat of its being and its will to be
    root, trunk, branch, leaf, and know
    earth dark, sun light, wind touch, bird song.

    Rootless and restless and warmblooded, we
    blaze in the flare that blinds us to that slow,
    tall, fraternal fire of life as strong
    now as in the seedling two centuries ago.

    Western Outlaws

    I celebrate sagebrush,
    scrub-oak, digger pine, juniper,
    the despised and rejected
    or grudgingly accepted
    because nothing else grows here.

    They're the ones who won't give in
    to us, ornament our garden,
    be furniture, or food,
    and firewood only in a pinch
    because nothing else grows here.

    Theirs is the dour hardihood
    of growing on serpentine and hardpan
    with little or no water but what you steal
    from your nextdoor neighbors,
    so that nothing else grows here

    I celebrate the gnarled cranky stem,
    grey-green pungent leaf or scaly needle,
    heavy cone, bitter berry, tiny blossom,
    and the grand, rank smell of cat-spray,
    since nothing else grows here.

    Citizens of a hard and somewhat toxic land,
    unsociable, undocile, willful,
    they share nothing, yet they clothe
    a naked indigent soil with life,
    growing where nothing else grows, here.

    The Canada Lynx

    We know how to know and how to think,
    how to exhibit what is known
    to heaven's bright ignorant eye,
    how to be busy and to multiply.

    He knows how to walk
    into the trees alone not looking back,
    so light on his soft feet he does not sink
    into the snow. How to leave no track,
    no sound, no shadow. How to be gone.

    The One Thing Missing

    Finally the fireflies came across the Rockies, drifting
    on damp, soft breezes blowing westward
    that lifted them over the salt and poisoned deserts
    and the terrible white-toothed Sierra
    to the quietness of California valleys
    where I saw them in a dream from the verandah
    of Kishamish, all the little airy fires
    coming and going in the summer dusk nearby
    and farther in the forests toward the mountain
    glimmering in the darkness ever finer, fainter,
    meadows of innumerable motes of silver.



    In Ashland

    Across the creek stood a tall complex screen
    of walnut and honey-locust branch and leaf.
    In a soft autumn sunrise without wind

    my daughter in meditation on the deck
    above the quietly loquacious creek
    observed a multitude of small

    yellow birds among the many leaves
    coming and going quick as quick
    into sight and out of sight again.

    She said to me, they were
    like thoughts moving in a mind,
    the little birds among the many leaves.

    My House

    I have built a house in Time,
    my home province. Up in the hills
    not far from the city, it looks west
    over fields, vineyards, wild lands
    to the shore of the Eternal. Many years
    went to building it as I wanted it to be,
    the sleeping porches, the shady rooms,
    the inner gardens with their fountains.
    Above the front door, a word in a language
    as yet unknown may perhaps mean Praise.
    Windows are open to the summer air.
    In winter rain patters in the courtyards
    and in the basins of the fountains
    and gathers to drip from the deep eaves.

    Contemplation at McCoy Creek

    Seeking the sense within the word, I guessed:
    To be there in the sacred place,
    the temple. To witness fully, and be thus
    the altar of the thing witnessed.

    In shade beside the creek I contemplate
    how the great waters coming from the heights
    early this summer changed the watercourse.
    The four big midstream boulders stayed in place.
    The willows are some thriving and some dead,
    rooted in, uprooted by the flood.
    Over the valley in the radiant light
    a raven takes its way from east to west;
    shadow wings across the rimrock pass
    as silent as the raven. Contemplation
    shows me nothing discontinuous.

    When I looked in the book I found:
    Time is the temple — Time itself and Space —
    observed, marked out, to make the sacred place
    on the four-quartered sky, the inwalled ground.

    To join in continuity, the mind
    follows the water, shadows the birds,
    observes the unmoved rock, the subtle flight.
    Slowly, in silence, without words,
    the altar of the place and hour is raised.
    Self is lost, a sacrifice to praise,
    and praise itself sinks into quietness.


    Mind draws the lines between the stars
    that let the Eagle and the Swan
    fly vast and bright and far
    above the dark before the dawn.

    Between two solitary minds
    as far as Deneb from Altair,
    love flings the unimaginable line
    that marries fire to fire.

    Hymn to Time

    Time says "Let there be"
    every moment and instantly
    there is space and the radiance
    of each bright galaxy.

    And eyes beholding radiance.
    And the gnats' flickering dance.
    And the seas' expanse.
    And death, and chance.

    Time makes room
    for going and coming home
    and in time's womb
    begins all ending.

    Time is being and being
    time, it is all one thing,
    the shining, the seeing,
    the dark abounding.


    Meditations for Melville


    Whiteness crossed the continent
    a poison fog and where it went
    villages were vacant
    hearths and ways forsaken

    Whiteness with greed and iron
    makes the deep seas barren
    Great migrations fly daylong
    into whiteness and are gone


    Whiteness in its righteousness
    bleaches creatures colorless
    tolerates no


    People walk unseeing unseen
    staring at a little screen
    where the whiteness plays
    an imitation of their days

    Plugged in their ears white noise
    drowns an ancient voice
    murmuring to bless

    Geology of the Northwest Coast

    The little towns, the driftwood fires
    all down the beaches burning ...
    It will be dark in that night when
    the deep basalt shifts and sighs,
    headlands collapse, cliffs fail.
    the tumult of the sea returning.
    And silence.
    The slow drift of stars.

    We want it to be a sentence on our sin,
    our greed, our thriftless wars,
    we claim the fault as warning.
    But what to them is any act of ours,
    the new shores at the dark night's end,
    the beautiful, remorseless morning?

    Hymn to Aphrodite

    Venus solis occasus orientisque, Dea pacifica,
    foam-borne, implacable, tender:
    war and storm serve you, and you wear
    the fiery tiara of the volcanoes.
    Young salmon swimming downriver
    and the old upstream to breed and die
    are yours, and the fog-drinking forests.
    Yours are the scattered emerald half-circles
    of islands, the lost islands. Yours
    are the sunken warships of the Emperor
    and the slow swirl of pelagic polymers.
    The moon is your hand-mirror.
    Mother of Time and daughter of Destruction,
    your feet are light upon the waters.
    Death your dog follows you down the beaches
    whining to see the breakers break
    into blossom, into immortal
    foam-flowers, where you have left
    the bright track of your passing.
    Pity your fearful, foolish children,
    O Aphrodite of Fukushima.



    Element 80

    Shifty, elegant Hermes, guide of the traveler,
    god of the stockbroker, dealer in margins,
    thief and errand-boy, heel-wing'd, swiftest of messengers,
    trusted with truth, yet lord of the liars:

    Hermes, holding the snake-wreathed staff of the healer,
    beautiful poisonous quicksilver element,
    silent Mercury, moving lightly, implacably
    ahead of us, showing the way into darkness:

    peaceful and clear are your eyes, O kindest of con-men.

    The Story

    It's just part of a story, actually quite a lot of stories,
    the part where the third son or the stepdaughter
    sent on the impossible errand through the uncanny forest
    comes across a fox with its paw caught in a trap
    or little sparrows fallen from the nest
    or some ants in trouble in a puddle of water.
    He frees the fox, she puts the fledglings in the nest,
    they get the ants safe to their ant-hill.
    The little fox will come back later
    and lead him to the castle where the princess is imprisoned,
    the sparrow will fly before her to where the golden egg is hidden,
    the ants will sort out every poppyseed for them
    from the heap of sand before the fatal morning,
    and I don't think I can add much to this story.
    All my life it's been telling me
    if I'll only listen who the hero is
    and how to live happily ever after.


    Arion, my dark-crowned guide
    through the long dream, your name
    I knew when I was waking
    in the dark today before dawn.

    Through dark seas the dolphins glide.
    Dreams are and are not what they seem.
    All that's made is in the making:
    achieved, completed, gone.

    Kind, silent presence at my side,
    was our way away, or home?
    Am I forsaken or forsaking,
    brother, lover, stranger, Arion?


    The Serrano Indians knew that earthquakes in high valleys
    of the Sierra Nevada caused changes in the level of the pools of
    the Oasis of Mara, far down in the Joshua Tree Desert.

    The waters of these quiet pools are troubled
    suddenly, sink away into the ground,
    shrink down to mud, and then flood upward, turbid,
    disturbed; the desert palms all round
    shiver in the hot silent air. A hundred
    miles away in hills a mile higher,
    a valley shudders with subsonic thunder,
    an impulse of the earth's intrinsic fire
    moving through lightless arteries to bear
    the message of the abyss, the underplaces,
    to those far ranges shining high in air
    and desert Mara's shadowy oasis.
    The shadowy springs of thought sink down or flow
    obeying impulses as deep and strange
    from the body's inwardness, and shaken, we know
    the imminence of mystery and change.

    The Dream Stone

    Seeking the knowledge I only know I lost,
    I take the intangible into my hand
    to pay the price of what is past all cost.
    It is a grey stone lying on my palm.
    Its even substance deepens to a mist
    and in it moves a fire, contained and calm,
    as in a cloudy opal or a hummingbird's
    rose-turquoise breast. These soft, colored flames
    speak in their motion without sound or words,
    to tell me what it was I knew and lost.
    By this remembrance blest, I understand
    that I am free, and have come home at last.
    I wake to find that I have paid the cost.
    I wake to look into my empty hand.

    Hermes Betrayed

    hommage à R.M.R.

    When a god grieves
    the deep stones
    at the four corners
    of the world tremble.

    Of all gods, that one!
    Lighter than Iris even,
    airy, jaunty — the feathered
    flutter at cap and ankle,

    the quick eyes, the acumen,
    the cool aplomb — equally
    at home in mid-air,
    Olympus, or the underworld —

    fleetest of messengers,
    wheelerdealer, thief
    when a thief was needed,
    persuader, trickster.

    His greatest charge
    was to meet the mortals
    who stood bewildered
    on the doorstep of their death,

    and, silent, reassuring them
    with his quicksilver smile,
    gently to guide them
    on the only way,

    the way down
    to the long fields of shadow.
    And to this task, this trust,
    he was always faithful.

    Holding his slender wand
    with the thin playful snakes
    curling round it, he led
    his flock like any shepherd.

    He never missed a soul.
    Always he took them all
    into the darkness,
    on the one path, down.

    Once, once only, was his task
    allowed to change,
    wonderfully reversed.
    That once, a girl's hand
    in his hand, he could follow,
    not lead; could go up,
    not down; up to the light.
    And his heart was light.

    The burden of his deathlessness
    weighed ever less
    at every step of that
    brightening way with her.

    And then the fool,
    the poet he followed,
    broke the promise, betrayed her,
    betrayed him — turned.

    The only time
    in all his endless being
    that he might learn
    what being mortal was:

    and it was gone,
    the one chance
    stolen from him by one
    who didn't even need it.

    His hand was empty,
    the girl already
    gone into shadow.
    She knew the way down.

    He would not grieve.
    He leapt up to the light,
    airborne and airy.
    But the deep stones shook.


Excerpted from Late in the Day by Ursula K. Le Guin. Copyright © 2016 Ursula K. Le Guin. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Small Indian Pestle at the Applegate House,
Kitchen Spoons,
Western Outlaws,
The Canada Lynx,
The One Thing Missing,
In Ashland,
My House,
Contemplation at McCoy Creek,
Hymn to Time,
Geology of the Northwest Coast,
Hymn to Aphrodite,
Element 80,
The Story,
The Dream Stone,
Hermes Betrayed,
The Salt,
Harney County Catenaries,
Artemisia Tridentata,
Written in the Dark,
Night Sounds,
The Games,
To Her Task-Master,
Definition, or, Seeing the Horse,
Dead Languages,
California Landscape Paintings at the Portland Art Museum,
My Job,
New Year's Day,
Seasonal Lines,
Sea Hallowe'en,
Writing Twilight,
The Old Music,
Crossing the Cascades,
The Old Mad Queen,
The Pursuit,
2014: A Hymn,
The Mist Horse,

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