So Far So Good by Ursula K. LeGuin

So Far So Good: Le Guin, Ursula K.: 9781556595387: Books

Written over the last four years before her death, Ursula LeGuin’s (1929-2018) So Far So Good is a fascinating study of nature, aging, the past, and the end.

I’ve been reading LeGuin’s oeuvre for quite some time now- and this final book did not disappoint whatsoever. I have previously expressed admiration for her variations in vocabulary and style while still maintaining a crystal-clear theme; nowhere in her works was this more prominent than in So Far So Good. The subject matter is far more narrow in this book than it is in others, limited to only discussions of her past and the nature that surrounds her in her present- which I suppose is in keeping with her approaching the close of her life.

However, even with this narrow subject matter, LeGuin does not disappoint. Her vivid, lush imagery, and adept skill at painting landscapes was clear as day in this book- her musings about the afterlife and the ancestors also never fail to captivate and spark thought. I would highly recommend this book, and this author, to anyone looking for a meditative, easily digestable, and quick poetry read.

-Vaidehi B.

So Far So Good by Ursula K. LeGuin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Timeless Qualities The Odyssey Holds

Taking Inspiration from Past Works

Cover image for The Odyssey / Homer ; translated by Robert Fagles ; introduction and notes by Bernard Knox.

Leaders of the world today face many types of challenges, such as the ability to resist temptations, and should take inspiration from past qualities of leaders displayed in literature. In The Odyssey, an epic poem by Homer, Odysseus faces obstacles that test his leadership skills on his journey home to Ithaca following the Trojan War. Odysseus develops as a leader by encountering anxiety-filled challenges that exhibit his leadership skills of self-restraint and knowledge of life lessons, many of which can still be applied to readers’ lives today.

Throughout Odysseus’ journey, he faces a variety of different experiences that develop him as a leader. The lessons he learns while at sea will ultimately aid him in killing the suitors and taking control of his home in Ithaca. These lessons act as inspiration for readers’ everyday lives. An important lesson readers take away when reading The Odyssey is that “the gods don’t hand out all their gifts at once, not build and brains and flowing speech to all” (8:193). Odysseus acknowledges this concept when speaking to Broadsea after being accused of not having “skill in any” sports (8:168). Even though Odysseus’ disk ends up flying “away past all the other marks,” (8:223) he reminds readers that nobody is perfect and everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. In addition to this aspect, readers also learn that some things are unavoidable, no matter how many hardships they have faced. The main takeaway from these obstacles is to learn from past experiences and apply them to real-life situations. For example, at the beginning of the epic poem, readers learn the outcome of Odysseus’ journey. Even though he fought hard and long to return home to the people of Ithaca, “the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all” (1:4-9). Odysseus did all he could to return home and save Ithaca, but the people were already doomed from the start, and he could do nothing to help them. As demonstrated, Odysseus develops as a leader by experiencing a variety of difficult situations while embarking on the hero’s journey.  These timeless lessons Odysseus faces apply to social, emotional, and physical problems one might meet today, keeping the continued appeal.

One of Odysseus’ most essential leadership traits is self-restraint, which acted in times of crisis. When talking to Circe about the journey home to Ithaca, Odysseus learns of the Sirens, the “creatures who spellbind any man alive, whoever comes their way” (12:44-47). The Sirens are temptresses, and despite being warned of the deadly consequences, they can still be hard to resist. Even though readers do not necessarily face the same challenges Odysseus did, humans constantly face temptations and have to display self-restraint to resist those and complete the task at hand. Another act of self-restraint demonstrated by Odysseus is when he feels the urge to kill all the suitors at once for being disloyal to Penelope and sleeping with the maids. However, Odysseus resists the urge when “he struck his chest and curbed his fighting heart” (20:20). Seeing Odysseus face and overcome these barriers in his journey inspires readers to face their challenges head-on with self-restraint.

Odysseus and his crew face many challenges beyond their control while voyaging home. He uses his intelligence and leadership to guide his men through tough times and his quality of self-resistance comes in handy when being thrust into temptations. Readers take away powerful lessons and leadership traits that can be applied to certain situations that might be uncomfortable. Although The Odyssey is one of the oldest works of Western literature, it keeps its continued appeal based on timeless qualities, like self-restraint, as it is something all humans strive for.

-Abby V.

The Odyssey by Homer is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Poem of the Day: Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening

I recently came across the poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, and really enjoyed it, so I thought I would share it here!

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening -

On the surface, this seems like a very simple poem, speaking of a traveler and his horse stopping on a snowy forest, on an unknown plot of land. The woods here represent wildness, and nature in its purest form- they are past the outskirts of the village, past the bounds of human settlement. Still, the speaker acknowledges his humanness and worldly responsibilities, sadly admitting that he must keep them. However, this poem has a darker undertone- and there are other reasons that the speaker cannot stay in the woods. They are to be admired from afar- if the traveler becomes trapped in the snow and loses his way, he may well freeze and die. The horse, representing human society, seems confused at his owner’s admiration of the woods- representing society’s inability to appreciate nature in its fullest, rawest capacity.

-Vaidehi B.

Poem of the Day: Dulce Et Decorum Est

Content Warning: This poem contains violent descriptions.

I recently read the poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen, and found it a heartbreaking but realistic message of what war is like, especially the World Wars. Read it below!

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
– My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen was a soldier during World War I, and later in his life, he suffered from severe PTSD. This poem details the horrors of chemical agents used in the war- such as sulfur and mustard gas. Owen speaks in gruesome detail of how he watched one of his fellow soldiers die from breathing in this gas. At the end, he also rebukes the supporters of the war (and all wars), saying that they know nothing of what war is really like, and simply send young men off to their horrible deaths. He mocks the saying dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. This is a patriotic Latin saying, meaning it is sweet and honorable to die for your country.

-Vaidehi B.

Poem of the Day: Mirror

“Mirror” by Sylvia Plath is one of my favorite poems. Plath’s writing style is calm and matter of fact, but the poem is still filled with beautiful symbolism and imagery. Read it below!

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Antiques Atlas - A Dainty French Rococo Oval Gilt Wall Mirror

To me, this poem symbolizes a fear of aging and death. It is told from the perspective of a cold and objective mirror- whose owner looks into it constantly, and is constantly horrified by what she sees there. However, the mirror is not completely objective- it only reflects physicality, so the owner does not gain a true sense of themselves when looking into it. The poem beautifully describes the passage of time- the mirror details how it has witnessed the woman that is its owner pass through childhood and into adulthood, becoming more and more horrified by her age. Plath uses the descriptor “a terrible fish” to show how the idea of mortality horrifies the woman. Plath also tackles themes of feminism in this poem- youth and beauty are very valued in a patriarchal society, and women are expected to conform to very strict beauty standards.

-Vaidehi B.