On Ursula K. Le Guin

The poet’s task is to find the right words, or the true names of things. And in A Wizard of Earthsea, that’s the task of wizards too. You find the thing’s true name by capturing its essence: by seeing what is true of it, at the deepest level, beneath its surface. A thing is named for the way it appears to the keenest eyes. So it takes the eye of a poet or wizard to find this truest name for a thing.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea is a book about a boy, whose true name is Ged, who is on the path to becoming a wizard. And he grows up and goes on his first quest, to rid the world of an evil shadow that has entered his world from another realm. Published in 1968, the book is a classic of the fantasy genre, and a great work of literature. Le Guin was a poet, and conjured up a deep rich world for us to enjoy, as real-seeming as any in fiction.

“Light is a power. A great power by which we exist, but which exists beyond our needs, in itself. Sunlight and starlight are time, and time is light. In the sunlight, in the days and years, life is.”

Three things human beings have in abundance are life, light, and time. It takes a long time to get poetry right, to find the right words and the right names for things. But there is always time enough, and life enough, and light enough to see by, should the poet choose to use them for this purpose. Though Ursula K. Le Guin is now gone, I’m cheered to think that she used the abundances in her long life to find the right words for us, time and again, to create realities that deepened our own world and show us again and again the essences of things.

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