bunn (bunn) wrote,

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A thin book but worth it (Walking in Cornwall : Ursula Le Guin)

I stumbled upon this thin volume recently. It is only by courtesy a book.  It contains three poems, none of them long, written about a holiday in the 1970's :

  1. Chûn
  2. Mên-an-Tol, The Nine Maidens, Dingdong Mine and Lanyon Quoit
  3. Castle An Dinas and Chysauster Village
It is padded out with some reproductions of paintings by local artists, bibliographies of the author and of the publisher, a very short biography of the author, several versions of the title page, and (with an air of faint desperation) several pages that are completely blank.   

I suspected as much from the obscurity of the work.  But as I love Le Guin's writing and live in Cornwall, I wanted to read it, and the chances of getting hold of it without buying it seemed poor, so I bought it anyway.   I was not disappointed. The description is very beautiful and very Cornish, and also, oddly, reminded me a little of Rocannon's World.  

It would not be fair to quote the whole thing, as it is still in print (on demand) but here are some of my favorite bits:

... Here's a grave turned inside out.
They set the stone slabs up, set the great roofstone on
Laid the bodies in the room of rock
piled the earth all over in a mound
a rounded barrow. And grass and gorse and heather 
grew over all, no doubt.  But roots
have trouble holding, in a wind
that blows across five thousand miles of sea
for twenty centuries...
Chûn is a name
in a tongue that no one speaks now
but rocks and larks 

... and up we go
and find nine maidens where the map says none 
old maidens, low and lumpy; some have fallen 
some got staggering drunk in 99 B.C.
Small maidens, very old, not saying much...

...All quiet now, up here, all gone to grass;
the tin is mined out; the miners have gone home

The Isles of Tin! The Misty Isles! 
"It was not certain" Caesar says "That Britannia 
existed, till I went there"  

Nothing is certain, Caesar bach.

That 'nothing is certain, Caesar bach' is lovely.  The viewpoint switch indicated by one word of Welsh, the way she jokes with the Roman diminutive/ insult 'brittunculus' without actually mentioning it...  Awesome.

And then this about the little second-third century abandoned village at Chysauster, where she really has captured the place perfectly:  

It was home once, Chysauster village was.
Nine families, their cattle, their hearthfires.
O small cold hearths, so old, so old
yet you could light a fire in them tonight.
It would be the same fire.
We don't need very much:
Water and warmth and walls, the flickering ring of faces.
There is a room as round as any coin
and filled brimful with sunlight.
That was a woman's room, I think.
The roofs are off, the wooden walls are gone
the centerposts are gone, but not the hollowed stones...

Although you kneel beside the little hearths 
you cannot hear the arguments,
the stories or the snores on winter nights.
 But if you sat a while in the round room 
you might hear, I don't know, you might - 
a woman singing to a sleepy child. 

A woman singing softly. Now and then

The laughter of my children 
far off among the ways among the stones

The laughter of her children

And the wind as sweet as honey in the mouth. 

Tags: books, cornwall, le guin, poetry

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