changing minds through poetry

Ursula Le Guin's writings over many decades are of the genre speculative fiction. Bridging sci fi and fantasy, speculative fiction helps us with the hard job of seeing the world in a new way. One of her themes is the idea of seeing the natural world as kin, as family. If people felt they were related to animals, plants and rocks, that they were as important as their human family members, the natural world wouldn't be in the precarious state it's in today.

At the present time, lots of people see nature as resources to be exploited to help humans - to make money, and to provide them with power and food. Real, profound shifts occur in societies when people change their minds, opening their minds to new possibilities. I think this has to happen before we can change our behaviour.

' To use the world well, to be able to stop wasting it and our time in it, we need to relearn our being in it.'

Le Guin reminds us what ecology has taught us, that our environments consist of a web of connections, of which we humans are one part.

'Descartes and the behaviourists wilfully saw dogs as machines, without feeling. Is seeing plants as without feelings a similar arrogance? ... 

I guess I'm trying to subjectify the universe because look where objectifying it has gotten us? ... 

Poetry is the human language that can try to say what a tree or a rock or a river is, that is, to speak humanly for it... by relating the quality of an individual human relationship to a thing, a rock or river or tree, or simply by describing the thing as truthfully as possible...'

In her poem The Salt Le Guin expresses the inseparable inter-relationship between humans and the natural world.

The salt in the small bowl looks up at me
with all its little glittering eyes and says:
I am the dry sea.
Your blood tastes of me.

Seeing human nature as part of a fragile ecosystem is also a recurrent theme in Michael Leunig's work. 

For Le Guin, science and poetry complement each other, science describing things accurately from the outside, poetry describing things subjectively, from the inside. Physics deals with space, time, energy and matter, and the relationship between them. In Hymn to Time Le Guin also deals with space, time, energy and matter - poetically, without the need for mathematical formulas. It's another perspective on what it means to be human.

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.


  1. I read a lot of Ursula Le Guin's fiction decades ago but nothing recently; however, I remember that I enjoyed it. I seldom read poetry but this is intriguing so I'll look for it.

    1. I read her too decades ago, and didn't realize until recently that she hasn't stopped writing and she is now in her 80s. Hope you enjoy the poetry book.

  2. I love (and still reread) a lot of Ursuala Le Guin's work. Ditto for Michal Leunig though his sister's work is usually too dark for me.
    Someone (Rumi?) said that poetry is the language of the heart. Which makes sense to my word loving self.
    And how I wish that more of us saw, marvelled, cherished, protected the interconectedness of our world.

    1. PS: This short video also says a lot about the need for other species/other things. The link is through FB but you don't have to be on the book of faces to view it.

    2. Thanks for the video, absolutely love it. Interesting what you said about Mary Leunig. I think if I had to choose between whimsy and dark, I'd choose dark. Luckily I don't have to choose ...

  3. I so agree with you. I find the arrogance of humans, with their entrenched belief in superiority, distasteful.

    1. thanks, Susan, lovely to hear from you.

  4. Read recently - earth is our home not a supermarket!

    Between boreholes and 'happy' plans to divvy up our seabed and mine for phosphates oil whatever is out there - I despair some.

    1. We are having a struggle at the moment - the plan is a new coal mine near the Great Barrier Reef!!!!!

  5. Our life a tiny flick of light
    between two infinite nights.
    Can we make brighter the world
    with our instant's spark?

    1. what a superb little poem. Did you write it, HB? Brilliant, I absolutely love it.

  6. I haven't read any of her poetry, but Left Hand of Darkness is one of my favorite books.

    Her poetry sounds akin to A Sand County Almanac.

    1. I hadn't heard of A Sand County Almanac, so I googled and it looks wonderful. I'm putting it on list of books to read. The Left Hand of Darkness is one of my favourites, too. It influenced me deeply when I read it many years ago.

  7. that one about the salt is very interesting and thought provoking

  8. I am not a fan of poetry and never have been. But I've read Ursula LeGuin so she must have written a book about writing. I agree that we should see the natural world as kin. Thirty years ago, I apologized in advance to a bunch of pine trees that had to make way for my abode.


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